Yotam Ottolenghi wants to speak to you – The Forward – Advice Eating

If Yotam Ottolenghi was the guy to say, “I told you so,” the pandemic would have given him every right to say it.

Amid lockdown, loneliness and uncertainty, people have found sanctuary and solace in the place he has known them all his career – the kitchen.

“People who didn’t cook or weren’t avid cooks had to cook — and they had to learn to like it,” he told me over the phone.

I met Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born London restaurateur and author of numerous best-selling cookbooks, during the first leg of two weeks Lecture tour of the United States that includes a Appearance on May 8th at the Streicker Center at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

As we spoke, he was packing to leave Houston, where he’d turned up to a packed audience for another sold-out talk in Dallas the night before. On the way, he said, he stopped ban mea staple sandwich of the city’s large Vietnamese immigrant community.

“I said, ‘What do I have to eat when I’m in Houston?’ and they said banh mi. So I will have banh mi.”

Speaking to Ottolenghi is like reading Ottolenghi – the words are clear, relaxed and precise, and even the most complex recipes – I mean thoughts – are accessible. With his Hebrew-tinged English accent, the former philosophy doctoral student oscillates between the everyday and the profound.

The pandemic, he said, has produced a newfound appreciation for “canned beans and dry barley and frozen peas and corn.” Combine that with newfound technical skills because you’re spending so much more time in the kitchen, and you have “a very fundamental shift in how we see food, how confident we are with food, and what we see.” , is the role of food in our lives.”

These changes, the way the pandemic has impacted him and the world of food, is a theme he explores in his onstage talks.

“I don’t think this pandemic is a one-time thing,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are only increasingly living in a much more unstable world. And food is a bit of an antidote to that.”

Like the rest of us, Ottolenghi, 53, sought refuge and solace in the kitchen during the pandemic. His favorite dish for himself, his two boys and his husband: variations on the oven-baked pasta, his late-night meal Father used to do it. The recipe from his latest book “shelf love‘, uses whatever noodles are left in the pantry and bakes them in a hot oven so the slivers of noodles that come out of the melted cheese are bronzed and crispy.

Pasta al Fornohe said, is the perfect dish when you need to cook with what’s on hand “and still have really delicious flavors and food.”

The pandemic may be slowing down somehow, but its impact on how we treat food will remain.

Ottolenghi who is co-owner seven London cafes and restaurants with his business partner Sami Tamimi, said a lasting lesson from COVID is that the hospitality industry needs to be more hospitable to its workers.

“Certain aspects of the business I just took for granted and we’re changing that now,” he said, “and it’s certainly a better environment.”

Its restaurants are full again because people are feeling the need to eat together again.

“You can just feel the energy, you know, they’re happy to be together,” he said.

I asked him if the two phenomena weren’t related – the pandemic pulled us into the kitchen, and after the pandemic we fan out to eat together. Is there something in kitchens and restaurants that feeds or even replaces the function of churches, mosques and synagogues that were closed during the plague years?

“I think that makes a lot of sense,” he said. “The joint activities we do in large groups have been replaced with cooking. Because it’s very elementary, isn’t it? We needed to find something to engage us that transcends morning dread, and food does that.”

In his past lectures and writings, Ottolenghi has spoken about food as a bridge between cultures. In 2013 “Jerusalem: a cookbook‘ he and co-author Tamimi, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian, wrote about Arabs and Jews who bond over a shared love of hummus.

“It takes a huge leap of faith, but we’re happy to take it – what have we got to lose? –imagining that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemans together when nothing else does,” they wrote.

I wondered if Ottolenghi could still imagine that – especially given that the Russians share so much food – borscht, rugelach, stuffed cabbage – with the Ukrainians they are trying to wipe out.

He still believes that eating together could lead to a healing conversation. But the reality, he said, proves that food doesn’t create or produce peace by default. “You can’t solve conflicts just by eating,” he said. “It just doesn’t really work in our world, unfortunately.”

When world peace is some way off, a better understanding is feasible, and Ottolenghi said so in Jerusalem and in Tamimi’s 2021 book on Palestinian cuisine: “falestine‘, the connections between Arabic and Jewish food and culture should be obvious to anyone willing to see.

“I don’t think there is enough understanding of how ingrained Israeli food as it is being cooked right now and seen around the world is actually based on Palestinian cuisine,” he said. Israeli-Jewish chefs are “incredibly inventive,” he said, “but many of the ingredients and basic recipes and techniques are based on Palestinian cuisine, and that needs to be told as much as possible.”

Ottolenghi had to go: a ban me waved. I mentioned that the common thread running through all of his work—the political and social commentary, cookbooks, articles, TV spots, and videos—was the fundamental joy of good food.

“Yes! It doesn’t matter how much you talk,” Ottolenghi said. “It’ll never land right unless it comes with a really tasty dish.”

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