food / travel

A Mouth-Watering Visit With Yotam Ottolenghi, London's Superstar Veggie Chef

Ottolenghi's famous London eateries offer a feast for the eyes and stomach. Though not a vegetarian himself, the Israeli-born entrepreneur has developed into a world-renowned master of meat-less cuisine.

Lentils with grilled aubergine, from Ottolenghi's
Lentils with grilled aubergine, from Ottolenghi's
Lorraine Haist

LONDON - Notting Hill is a gorgeous cliché. On an early summer morning in the London neighborhood, men look like Hugh Grant and women like Julia Roberts in the eponymous movie. White Victorian townhouses with lush front gardens gleam in the sun. "Yummy Mummies" wearing clothes the color of meringue are visiting the boutiques, which mainly sell young French designer fare for beautiful mothers and their beautiful children.

The whole vibe makes me feel like indulging in a delicious little snack. As I stroll past the boutique of handbag designer Anya Hindmarch, my attention is captivated by the window display of an entirely white shop with "Ottolenghi" discreetly lettered in red on the front. I suddenly get the feeling that my snack might become a whole lot bigger.

Framed by a decorative pattern of eggplants and limes, filling shelves and boards and bright porcelain dishes, is a tumble of elegant colorful sweet food -- raspberry, hazelnut and cinnamon kisses as big as birds' nests, apple and pistachio galettes, lemon mascarpone tart, dark chocolate cake, blackberry vanilla cupcakes: The display is so rich I don't know where to look first, much less what to eat.

It's behind this shop front and this sugary array of foods so reminiscent of brightly-colored produce at a Mediterranean street market that I will meet one of the biggest names on the international food scene: 42-year-old Yotam Ottolenghi, the pop star of vegetarian cooking. The Notting Hill branch is but one of four Ottolenghi eateries in London.

Prepared fresh daily

Inside, arranged on and around large stoneware surfaces, are mountains of prepared dishes: lentils with gorgonzola, red onions with herbs, baby potatoes with tomatoes, wild garlic, sorrel with smoked pepper, green beans with quinoa, shallots, tarragon, red basil (100 grams cost between 2 and 4 pounds). The sheer amount of what's on offer, which includes small vegetable cakes, sandwiches, quiches, sour dough bread, cookies, is so vast it's impossible to take it all in.

Any of the foods, prepared fresh daily, can be bought to go or eaten right there at a communal table -- filled at this hour mostly with women drawn both by the healthy, figure-friendly vegetable dishes and the irresistible sweets.

Here in front of me are the very things that have made Jerusalem-born-and-raised Ottolenghi a global name: the variety, the opulence of the presentation, the gaudy colors and lavish use of spices, and particularly this confidence with vegetables, this ability to tease extraordinary taste out of even the most unlikely looking tuber.

It's all about abundance, exuberance, being open to the new, linking the traditional and the contemporary. It's about inclusivity.

Ottolenghi's second best-selling cookbook, Plenty, published in 2010, is based on four years of his "New Vegetarian" columns written for the Guardian weekend magazine. The dishes in the book are not only wonderfully unexpected, they are the exact opposite of the dull, bland recipes in so many vegetarian cookbooks -- the Studio 54 counterpart to the church hall tea dance. Since Ottolenghi came on the scene, the taste and look of vegetarian food has, quite simply, never been so laid back, so extravagant, so unconventional.

Oven-baked eggplant with buttermilk sauce and pomegranate seeds makes a colorful starter that manages to look elegant and rustic at the same time. The green bean salad with sugar snap peas, coriander, mustard and black cumin seed would be as feasible to make during the winter as in the summertime. Brussels sprouts, served with tofu and a sweet-and-sour sauce, are sheer delight. Cauliflower, when baked with saffron, raisins and red onions, seems like a whole other vegetable. Garlic and lemon dominate in many dishes: they remind Ottolenghi of his sunny, southern homeland. Ottolenghi talks about creating "drama in the mouth" -- a fine image for his principle of always coming from a place of generosity and abundance.

However, on this morning in Notting Hill, he himself is sticking to black tea and a simple croissant. He doesn't look remotely like any of the cheffy stereotypes you can think of: much more like the Tel Aviv philosophy and literature student he once was. He's tall, slim, with dark brown eyes and a winning laugh; hard to believe he also has enemies.

The "new vegetarian" isn't a vegetarian

Ottolenghi says that many vegetarians "can't stand me" because he isn't a vegetarian. He eats both meat and fish, and will occasionally recommend accompanying one of his vegetable dishes with one or the other.

The chef entrepreneur feels that people limit themselves too much by thinking in "either/or" patterns: vegetarian or meat eater. He's anti categories. His approach also offers an appealing way to reduce consumption of meat, which he nevertheless enjoys.

Ottolenghi, the son of a chemistry professor of Italian descent and a mother with German roots (his great uncle was architectural historian Julius Posener), says that food and eating, played a big role in his family. His parents were both wonderful cooks, but they still weren't keen when he decided to break off his university education to pursue a culinary career. In 1997, he came to London, a city where multicultural cooks abound, and enrolled at the Cordon Bleu cooking school. He also worked as a pastry chef in various restaurants, and today calls that experience "extremely important."

Then in 1999, when he was employed at Baker & Spice, a small and exclusive chain of deli-cafés that Ottolenghi establishments share a number of similarities with, he met the man who would become his business partner: Sami Tamimi.

It was a stroke of luck. The superstitious might call it fate. Sami Tamimi, co-author of the first book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, is the chef who oversees the kitchens at all four delis, the Ottolenghi brasserie called Nopi and its bakery in Camden. By chance he grew up just a few kilometers from his associate -- in the Arab, eastern part of Jerusalem. He is Palestinian.

A Jew and a Palestinian at the stove together: It's like some romantic reconciliation fantasy. They are both part of the same story, and their food is part of that common heritage, as is the vision they began implementing in 2002 in this very Notting Hill deli.

And very much a part of that vision is that "eating must also be a feast for the eyes," says Ottolenghi, who as a student was interested in the theory of aesthetics. Which is why he and his team are always looking for ways to make dishes look "even more spectacular" -- and why he never cuts vegetables into small pieces. In fact, he prefers to leave them as they are, grilling them with a bit of olive oil instead of cooking them to death in water.

His life philosophy centers around the idea of mindful enjoyment. It comes from a place of fullness instead of the droopy mindset of abstemiousness. The "new vegetarians" have it pretty good.

Read the original story in German

Photo - tristanf

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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