For chef, writer, and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi, food is about more than what we eat. It is about joy, pleasure, and surprise. It is about a sense of place and home. It is about commonality, an act which brings people together. The popular chef has stated, “It’s tragic that we are so good at adapting ourselves to different cuisines and enjoy being super international, yet we are not able to apply the same level of tolerance to the actual people that cook them.” Simply put, this philosopher of the kitchen is passionate about making people happy through food full of harmonious contradictions.
Ottolenghi is widely beloved for his beautiful, inspirational, and award-winning cookbooks, yet he had an unlikely beginning. In 1997, Ottolenghi completed a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in comparative literature at Tel Aviv University; his thesis was on the philosophy of the photographic image. That same year, he moved to Amsterdam, where he worked at a Dutch-Jewish weekly and considered getting his doctorate at Yale. Instead, and against the advice of his father, family and friends, he moved to London to study French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu. Soon, Ottolenghi found work as a pastry chef, and eventually met the Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi.
Ottolenghi and Tamimi discovered they had grown up just a few miles apart on opposite sides of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, in Jerusalem. They became friends and eventual business
partners, bonding over shared language and a joint “incomprehension of traditional English food.”
Ottolenghi’s debut cookbook, Ottolenghi, co-authored with Tamimi, was published in 2008. Six more internationally bestselling volumes have followed: a collection of recipes exploring the flavors of his home-city, Jerusalem with Tamimi (2012); the vegetable cookbooks Plenty (2010) and Plenty More (2014); a cookbook from his acclaimed London restaurant, Nopi (2015); a dessert cookbook, Sweet (2017); and most recently, Ottolenghi Simple (2018). Ottlolenghi’s books have sold over 1.5 million copies in North America and 5 million worldwide.
Ottolenghi’s cookbooks have proven influential, with The New York Times noting they are widely imitated for their plain-spoken instructions and enticing photographs (overseen by Ottolenghi himself). They have been praised by Nigel Slater, David Lebovitz, Deborah Madison, Food & Wine, and the Wall Street Journal. Mark Bittman said, “Plenty… is among the most generous and luxurious nonmeat cookbooks ever produced, one that instantly reminds us that you don’t need meat to produce over-the-top food.”
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