IF you’re a Yotam Ottolenghi fan, switch on your TV tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday (February 26,27 and 28) and watch M-Net. The chef of the moment on local screens, DIANE DE BEER spotlights his latest book Sweet by Ottolenghi and Helen Goh (Edbury Press):
If you haven’t heard of Yotam Ottolengi yet, now’s your chance. He is currently the inspiring celebrity chef on the Australian Masterchef season being broadcast on DStv’s M-Net and should be there until mid-week.
He’s an amazing chef and first caught the world’s attention with his first cookbook, Ottolenghi, which he did together with Sami Tamimi. Jewish from Italian and German descent, he met Tamimi, an Arab-Palestinian at a London artisanal pastry shop where the two of them worked together discovering that they had grown up in Jerusalem only a few miles apart – naturally on opposite sides of the conflict which makes their (in-the-kitchen) coming together all the more special.
It is an intriguing tale of these two men who had to travel all the way to London and meet at their place of work, in a kitchen, after which they opened their first deli together. In their book Jerusalem, they tell the story of how the flavours and smells of the city is “their mother tongue. Everything we cook and everything we taste is filtered through the prism of our childhood experiences: foods our mothers fed us, wild herbs picked on school trips, days spent in markets, the smell of soil on a summer’s day, goat and sheep roaming the hills, fresh pitas with minced lamb, chopped parsley, chopped liver, black figs, smoky chops, syrupy cakes crumbly cookies.”
Their books tell you everything about the chefs and in his latest Sweet, Ottolenghi has teamed up with Helen Goh, someone he has come to appreciate for the finest qualities she brought with her all the way from Australia where she had a professional history as a pastry chef and a psychotherapist. “What we shared,” he writes in Sweet’s introduction is “this kind of intensity and commitment that has been a constant throughout Helen’s different roles in Ottolenghi.”
While she I accomplished and has many talents, more than anything else, it is with her cakes – and, he says, he uses the term very loosely here, to mean anything from “a dreamy chocolate chip cookie, to a light-as-a-feather meringue roulade, to a rum and raisin bundt with caramel dripping down its sides – that Helen carved her inspired mark on our food.”
He also makes it clear that Sweet as the title suggests is a book filled with sugar. “There’s so much sugar in this book that we thought about calling it, well, Sugar. It’s all about celebrating the sweet things in life. Even though they are aware of the current concerns about the adverse effects of sugar, this is a recipe book full of over 110 wonderful sweet things.”
If you want to know how to slip into Ottollenghi’s heart, it’s around a spread of food. “I bonded with Sami in this way all those years ago, then with Ramael Scully, co-author of Nopi: The Cookbook, who taught me to love miso and appreciate a few new cooking techniques. My friendship with Helen was formed mostly around a piece of cake.”
If sweet things are your passion, there can be no better test than this one. Flipping through the pictures featured are enough to get those juices flowing and when you realise how passionate the two pastry specialists are about cakes and anything sweet, that has to be your ultimate yardstick. You cannot take sweet advice from someone who doesn’t completely buy into the celebratory confection of it all. It’s easy to see that these two do.
And if you haven’t met Ottolenghi and his amazing recipes yet, first catch him on M-Net tonight, tomorrow and possibly Wednesday as well (they did say all week and the first one was last Thursday), turn on the TV at 5.45pm and see this amazing man in action.
He says this is the first time he has agreed to participate in this kind of competition, because he felt that this Masterchef was more about the personal development of the contestants than the competition.
You will lose your heart to the chef and his food.