In London, Yotam Ottolenghi, 54, son of an Italian father and German mother, Italian nanny, British citizen born and raised in Israel, is considered a star of 'creative' cooking and is a chef and co-owner of six restaurants. Truth be told, only two are actual restaurants; the others are delicatessens famous especially for vegetable dishes, pies, the world's coolest salads, and the unmistakable bowls of mezé (small plates of Middle Eastern appetizers and tasters, a bit like tapas).
Ottolenghi, gay, lives with his husband Karl Allen - together since 2000 - and their two children. He is the author of eight bestselling cookbooks, two of which have made him the world's most famous vegetarian cookbook writer, despite not being a vegetarian himself. So far, his books have sold 5 million copies, and Ottolenghi - although he has never even been awarded a Michelin star and without being considered a great chef - has successfully blended Israeli, Iranian, Turkish, French and, of course, Italian influences to create a genre that is (not overly) elegant, international, immediately recognizable for its classic Ottolenghi touch.
blended Israeli, Iranian, Turkish, French and, of course, Italian influences to create a genre that is (not overly) elegant, international, immediately recognizable for its classic Ottolenghi touch
His dishes are unmistakable, combining lightness and spices, and there is only one way to define them, condensed into a single term: 'Ottolenghi’. So, what is his secret? His highly personal style is impossible to pigeonhole, combining Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and north African influences, without ever going too far in any direction. From the start, back in 2002, Ottolenghi’s dishes featured ingredients that were then unknown, impossible to find, and which, since he introduced them to Britain, can now be found even on the shelves of supermarkets: black garlic, sumac, green cardamom, the za’atar spice blend, pomegranate molasses, to name but a few.
In over two decades of work, Ottolenghi style has become a school and produced several celebrity chefs: Helen Goh, Ramael Scully, Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer (Honey & Co) and Ixta Belfrage, who now have restaurants of their own and write books.
Ottolenghi is a creative, culinary artist, but he is also a team player, with historic partners Noam Bar and Cornelia Staeubli, and with head chef and partner, Sami Tamimi, a Palestinian who grew up in the Muslim area of Jerusalem.
However, it is always Yotam Ottolenghi who is the center of attention: born in Jerusalem in 1968, he lived in Israel until the age of 29, graduating from Tel Aviv University in comparative literature after three years of military service, before moving to London in 1997 with the idea of becoming a 'creative' chef and inventing a different, fusion cuisine. He opened his first café in London's Notting Hill in 2002, three years after the release of the film Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, which turned around this 'poor' Jamaican neighborhood and transformed it into an exclusive and fashionable place to live.
Ottolenghi has also made his own contribution, setting down roots in Notting Hill and then expanding, but always retaining his trademark of a cuisine that is also art and design, successfully combining the flavors of the Mediterranean and the Middle East with a love of beauty. And above all, an upscale but not exclusive chain of restaurants and delis, pricey but still affordable, profitable, a business, successfully combining business and creativity as perhaps is possible only in London.
A trademark: a cuisine that is also art and design, successfully combining the flavors of the Mediterranean and the Middle East with a love of beauty
A kind of prêt-à-porter of haute cuisine, at the helm of which, in April 2022, following the pandemic, Ottolenghi appointed the group's first CEO, an Italian: Emilio Foa, former manager of Burberry and Rapha and former CEO of OKA luxury furniture. During the pandemic, the company expanded its online product range of dinner boxes, meal kits and Ottolenghi Ready meals, which increased earnings despite the temporary closure of its restaurants. Foa says: “I love food and have been an Ottolenghi fan for more than 15 years, since I moved to London, so this is a dream come true.”
And Ottolenghi in turn confesses that he wanted a CEO to oversee the “moderate growth” of the company's restaurant, retail, and catering businesses. “We're going to grow our business a little bit more,” he confides in an interview with the Financial Times, “we want to expand internationally for the first time. We are planning to open in Paris.” “The French,” says the chef, thus confessing his fondness for France, “are different from the Italians, because they are really willing to try different foods, they have a long tradition of loving Asian, north African and Middle Eastern food. So I think they’ll like my food.”
The opening in Paris is planned for 2024, but is it just the first stop for a multinational Ottolenghi? He neither confirms nor denies: “San Francisco, Sydney or Melbourne are great food cities, but the travel is so far.” Perhaps, for now, he is sufficiently globalized by his 2.3 million followers on Instagram.
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