« Desert Island Discs

Yotam Ottolenghi

2016-11-18 | 🔗
Kirsty Young's castaway is the cookery writer and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi. His food mixes the flavours of the Middle East and the Mediterranean and has been credited with changing the way many eat and cook, fuelling the surge in popularity of cooking ingredients including wakame seaweed, orange blossom, pomegranate seeds and za'atar. Born to a German mother and an Italian father in Jerusalem, he grew up enjoying a wide range of culinary influences and he loved food from an early age. After completing a master's degree at Tel Aviv University, he enrolled in a six-month cookery course at Le Cordon Bleu school in London. While working as a pastry chef he met his future business partner, Sami Tamimi, a Palestinian also from Jerusalem, and they opened their first deli in London's Notting Hill in 2002. He has written a weekly food column for The Guardian since 2006 and has published five cookery books, as well as opening four more delis and a restaurant. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the bbc lou on Kirsty young. Thank you for downloading this podcast does it on a discs from BBC radio for for rights reach The music choices are shorter than in the radio broadcasts for more info, nation about the programme. Please visit bbc dotcom, dont, uk slash radio, for the castaway this week is the cookery reiser and restaurant her YA time also link. If there's that our space mix and pomegranate molasses in your kitchen cupboard, then you are already familiar with his reputation as a calamity, trendsetter, his dishes, surprise and comfort in equal measure, by mixing
the tests of the mediterranean Middle east with more staple british ingredients. He has one legions of disease is eaters of pact and each new book keenly anticipated Our current prime minister says she prefers his recipes to Delia's his? background is as complex, varied and intriguing as his food. He was born in Jerusalem to a german mother. And italian father? His grandmother was a spy and he was headed for the life of a frustrate academic, his obsession with the delicious matured from a hobby to calling he says when you feed people, you get an instantaneous action, a smile, a kind word, a delighted expression, so welcome your ten or m, your recipes are notable not for being complex. Actually, they're not they're not technically difficult to make, but they do have often very long lists of ingredients in a typically run about anything from ten to fifteen separate ingredients into a store cupboards. What will we always find if we open at all you'll find a bunch of
ices. They'll be called a moment. Cinnamon and star unease in cumin terms, break and then you'll have other dry stores. Ingredients like hey me orange blossom. Rosewater you'd find pomegranate molasses, the stuff you you of mentioned a staple of the middle east, but also some asian ingredients like me so so a couple of sesame oils, a moraine and a bunch of things that really make the food kind of come to life? You know and for me having those staples, I'm not trying to prove any point with them. I'm just trying to make the food smile. As I often say you know it helps the ingredients or the the main things. You know tastes so good buena sham edgy motions. Donors have said that the minerva cheese keller sparta, These are you know it again visiting some picking out from your recipes. They are not everyday ingredients, they could easily put people off. Do you take personal responsibility for the fact that we are all scattering pomegranate seeds on everything? we each times a day and night night. Does he stopped
yeah. Well, I dunno. If it was the first one but yeah we do. I do it's it's a great device. If you haven't started, then I urge everybody to start using it. It's delicious sweet, it's just brings things to life and you can put it both on savory and sweet dishes. You can put it on your. You know lamb stew, and it makes it tastes and looks so much better, so yeah I'll take some of that responsibility. If you don't mind, let's go to the music, then yosemite langley tell me about your first one. Why have you chosen this- and this is a song by at joan baez, my parents before I was born. They spent quite a few years in america in the nineteen sixties, and my parents have an amazing photo album from their time in the state and my dad managed to get one for my martin luther king and lots of beautiful places they ve been traveling all over. And music as well, so they would lose listening to John buyers and and Bob Dylan and all those kind of figures of the sixties and that symbolizes big chunk of my child
sandy de hand, ain't goin, crazy. maybe it was june buyers and is Oliver no baby blue soup Your sam in your book, Jerusalem, There are, I counted, eight pages, including photographs devoted to whom us
why? Why is that? When Jerusalem was written by myself and one of my business partner, sami tamimi and he's a palestinian from jerusalem- and I am a jew from jerusalem- and we shall have very similar backgrounds and homeless- was very much part of our childhood- you eat it all the time. You know breakfast lunch and dinner. It goes into a pizza with lots of other delicious things and it's the food of life really in that part of the world. So tell me about your very earliest, culinary memories from Jerusalem. Well, those are so varied and many, but you know I've got it into Islam. When I was growing up, which is this seventies and the eighties there was this explosion of foods and all of a sudden. There was all this amazing produce that came from the west bank and east jerusalem for the palestinian side. So you'd go into east jerusalem to the old city and you'd, see wonderful. You know, mclouth style, cakes in a drench in syrups and and beautiful crumbly, cakes and you'd get these wonderful measure, restaurants. We use it
how'd. You get this incredible spread of the bulgarian nurses and the homeless in the lebanese and all those wonderful grilled, vegetables and falafel, so that you can have that kind of richness, off ingredients into and foods, and that was a very seductive experience for me growing up in Jerusalem. Is it true that your dad's nickname for you was? Is it galasso galata gallant? So what does gallant summer? I tried to figure out for for many years now, but it's something like a you know a greedy the boy is anywhere greedy boy. I was a greedy boy I'd love to eat. It sounds terrible now because it's like what why would someone want to be taken to retire at the age of six for their breath it, but I wanted to go to rest transfer my birthday. I really had this kind of intense, passionate, and love for food from from very early on and cooking at home? Was it your mother, cooking home, or both remember that now, both my parents are really really good cooks. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a home that I can. I guess my my cooking reflects, which is completely kind of mumbo. Jumbo of cuisine
as you know, a little bit of my dad's italian back on actually quite a bit of it. My mom's kind of european record, my mom was very varied ventures. When I was growing up, they brought from America all sorts of cookbooks from around the world so few, do like malaysian, carries and things that were really in the seventies. Nobody, you know had heard of, and still to this day, my parents are great cooks and adventurous cooks, and I feel very fortunate to experience all this when I was growing up as well as this fantastic palestinian arabic food. It was The ball throughout my childhood. Let's have some more music or some other language. What is this, and why have you chosen at all? It's it's! It's all about the love of chocolate and that this is from a childhood album called a kevin as she shops. Are they translate into the sixteenth sheep when you can fall asleep, you count. Sheep price of this is number sixteen, and it's a compilation of beautiful children.
Songs by a bunch of really creative, beautiful, singers and and composers, and a song that I chose called you hope, which means I love and it sets off by. I love chocolate and that's what I like to with my son, max driving in the car good the zoo converting the fishermen, the gum
from the album of his as she shot that was under your hair. How did I do yeah? You did really yeah sort of tell me a bit then about your paternal grandparents. They were exiled from tuscany and and they built a sort of little italy in a suburb of TEL Aviv in their home. Just described that to me, my parents arrived at to palestine, then Israel now in nineteen thirty nine which, as you know, just deal with Wendy war broke out but make my grandparents were like metropole, In you know, europeans they were very middle class relatively wealthy, so they've managed to create a little haven, a little tuscany in an armored gun, which is a suburb of TEL aviv air with a house that even the door knobs were important from ITALY. I mean it was down to the tiniest of details and my grandparents would have
italian coffee. A little expresses parmesan cheese in the anchovy paste in a tube it was being delivered to me. It still talks this memory of going into this house see my grandmother sipping her press are making. You know, semolina yucky in its those kind of evocative smells that are really smells of part of my childhood, at youtube. I mentioned in the introduction that your other grandmother was a spy knew. There was, I heard, a little ripple of laughter from you as I said it, but it is indeed true. She was an israeli spy yeah. My maternal grandmother who, with my grandfather my mother. Had a brother came to palestine, also, nineteen, thirty nine from berlin from germany at some point in life, I don't know exactly when, because it's off shrouded in secrecy add join bit more sigh, which is the israeli secrets, service and I think throughout some of the fifties and sixties and seventies, she worked for the mossad
and my mum didn't know about it. She knew she worked for a government agency. She didn't know what she was doing, but in the nineteen sixties at adolf Eichmann was that was hijacked was hijacked in argentina and kidnapped over kidnapped, know what the right term is. argentina and brought over to his room for trial and my mom, remembers that one day, one sunday morning, my grandmother told to my grandfather he's on the plane- something those lines and my mouth there ask whose and she sobbed some some friends coming over from germany or some relative couple of days later, no relative arrive at news broke out. That eichmann was brought to to Israel, and my mom do not put the two things today and then she finally realise that you have my mom was working for the masa and when did you find out for sure that she played a part in what was one of the pivotal moments of history at the time? Yes, we're in the eighties. I believe the book was published by with a person who was head of them aside at the time
describing in detail the operation, and there was one person who my mum told me was actually my grandmother she wasn't named, then she didn't go to argentina, but she did a lot of the groundwork back in Israel, false documents, etc. Let's have some music yet and tell me about our next one. It's your said air. This is
is the park my prince, I had all his albums and needs to listen to them a lot when I was in secondary school in Jerusalem, and I felt like I was being super enough sophisticated for loving prince. He had sort of that rebellious streak and just he was so cheeky and I just loved everything about him. I still do especially this track paisley park, the
as you know, that was prince with paisley hog and memories, for you use them or selling give your sophisticated music takes us. We were growing in your teenage years, you're further, as well as being this adventurous kook she worked outside the home is while she was a head teacher and your father was a professor at the hearing university in Jerusalem, which accounts for the fact that you would travel around the globe with your family. An intellectual found a middle class family. What were their expectations for you there. Some expectations, smartly enough ever stated. Obviously I think what was made clear to us was three children was that we would probably become academics or at least go to university in do some
thin air without degrees, and it's just wasn't really a question. My mum was a math teacher and a head teacher. My dad was a professor of chemistry and it was that was our world that you've completed your master's thesis in in ninety seven having been at television. Firstly, tell me what the title was of your most is the ethical some musings over the ontological status of the photographic image and, you? Are you have a philosophical bent? You have a philosophical way of looking at things. What was the appeal of philosophy to you? Did you feel that getting to the heart of it means is Adam, is the importantly I'll. I love understanding things and I love explaining things to myself with those other people. The process of kind of analyzing in and reaching a conclusion is, is very: For me, when I went to university, I felt that something I really
I like doing I love reading something I love reading a book or a text and discussing it and and understanding it fully and giving it a context, and I still love this when I was studying at the university. It was a great opportunity kind of exercise. My intellect- and I really really enjoy that and when you were doing your degree in the beginning of the nineties. Ninety ninety one was when you moved in with with you your boyfriend, then that was in jerusalem was When tel aviv tel Aviv in nineteen ninety one in tel Aviv to be living with your boyfriend, it was that something you could do openly was accepted with a yes. Surprisingly, it was accepted. I mean in a small, made of tel Aviv of the ninety ninetys. It felt kind of quite normal, didn't yeah. The difference between TEL Aviv and jerusalem- night night and day in Jerusalem, is a kind of historical place with a lot of people that our kind of immersed in history
and and religion and orthodoxy in TEL Aviv, this more secular, open place that have reaches out to the rest of the world so to move from tourism from TEL Aviv is kind of there? same thing to do. If you are young gay adult, you know it's it's and we would have been impossible in jerusalem, the nineties to live out as a gay person. Let's have some unease at use him We are on your force here. This is by the water boys and I am a heavy unnoticed and I had a younger brother who efta who is two years younger than I am. and he was killed em in in ninety ninety two in his genius military service. It was a drill end. It was what you would call a friendly fire
and he if that was a very special person in the sense that he was very vivacious. He was a beautiful looking guy and secondary school. He was kind of the present everybody looked up to cause. He was melodrama, attic and dramatic and could act and and had had everything going for him. Lots and lots of you know opportunities, but unfortunately he he died and the water boys were abandoned. He liked the most when when he when he was killed- and I chose this song because it's it is a song about opportunities and with him it's all
Mr president, to say I thought this would be proper. Well that I was the woozy boys with this. Is the scene choosing you save your term little monkey, because it reminds you so much of your brother was his paper band and he was killed in a military accident news doing his military service.
You went to amsterdam in your you, youth with that was at your mid twenties was that was that related to to getting away from the tragedy of what had happened. This was a few years later and but I guess, if there was a certain intensity growing around me air. When I was in my early twenties and I felt living in Israel politically, it was becoming more difficult. I mean there was a moment where it seemed to be going in the right direction, but then it turned the other way very quickly after the assassination of Rabin, the prime minister and on a more personal note, I I feel I I think I needed a breath of fresh air at that moment, and my brother has.
I wasn't completely out, add to my whole family, and it was just I needed time away. That is almost. It strikes me and I I wonder if I'm right on a more complex thing to be out to certain members of your family and not others yeah. It took me time until I could actually speak to my father. I mean the difficulty was really after my my brother died. I felt a lot of possibility for his well being- and my dad is- varies- he's very gentle person, extremely loving and I d. I felt that I share wanna hurt him and damn yeah. That was very difficult and I guess it was a little bit easier to be away. But a few years later I did speak to him and, and things end up being patched up, got surprisingly easily
Because he was very loving and he was very- was very war over a very happy about- very happy about it, but he was. He was very supportive and- and I think I am- I was happily surprised to see that he was absolutely fine and you had completed your master's thesis in amsterdam, and then this very right young man had been on an elite program at a university was probably headed likely to yale or somewhere of similar esteem, decided that he wasn't an ado, and instead of a life of the head, he was gonna have a life of the hands you wanted to training in pastry work, which is running hugely demanding a great discipline and entirely different from pursuing philosophy. Why? I think I've never questioned going to university and although I had a really great time university and enjoyed with my head. I always had this kind of inkling to do. Something which is in that- and I also find university academy really exhausting job was never done
but he would always need to read. Another paper write. Another seminar in, amber when I did start cooking professionally. In a while, I was doing cordon bleu. I've worked in nyc in a restaurant in london and whipping up egg whites for souffle is quite literally, and when I came back home, I said what this is so refreshing. I've done something that I loved and I and I finished it's done, and I don't work in the kitchen any more. A professional kitchen best to this day I find being in the kitchen cooking
the most relaxing thing I could do. Let's have some music is him out? What are we gonna? You know this is your fists. Tell me about this are caddy. Do phoenicia is an israeli singer of russian back on and I used to listen to his songs. When I was still living in TEL Aviv and Amsterdam, he has the most wonderful voice, a little melancholic like if you ve been listen. So I see that I like, but it is also extremely sentimental. So those kind of love songs that I could listen to forever and also his slightly marginal, because he's a newcomer because he's got a slight accents. I always connect
to that kind of outsider nests. In him there was that was a petty defends.
singing the roof of a t. So tell me: are you time you opened your first daily with your partner, sami tamimi, your work partner in two thousand and two in notting hill? And what will you serving? That was different from what other delis offered at the time and felt semi was in charge of the savory food. The salads and I was in charge of the cakes pastries and I think, we'd just put these kind of this copious kind of generous amounts of food on the table. That was just freshly It's really beautifully presented on platters and beautiful plates that we sourced everywhere and we creek created the kind of the all the jerusalem souk effect. You know it's like piles of beautiful food
and and people really warmed up to it. You know people walked in. I thought like. Oh, my god. This is food like in an art gallery. You know the way you eat the way you presented, and it was you know, wonderful, vegetable, char, grill, with beautiful sauces and drizzle, with sesame seeds, sprinkled with sesame, seeds and and and chopped herbs. I mean both for sammy and for me that was the main ad drive to create. This kind of very generous display, you know with a giant harangues and lots of beautiful colorful, cakes there, Was it you really kind of create something quite spectacular, and then after the dailies have come more jellies and indeed to a restaurant and also the books. Are you feel about the fact that your books they're not later into arabic, core. He bruges items that matter to the first book ever book was translated. Brewing. I don't think it was a massive success at whether they're popular
in Israel and the arab world. I think it would have been nice if they were at, but I I assume that it's quite difficult for those markets for those places to take that kind of arab partnership of of a jew and a palestinian working together and kind of bringing their food back to them. I think it's it's hard to to stomach that, an outsider which is a bit like you, but slightly different because we are different because we're not there being all that food back. That's that's my little theory- and you do, I understand, meets once a week with a group of friends and you discuss politics over breakfast, a good breakfast, I'm sure you know there is still this philosophical and very thoughtful rain inside this head. Well, when it comes to something like breaks it, you know, restaurants and kitchens are typically occupied by a plethora of different nationalities. How do you see it affecting your business? Well, since it hasn't,
welcome to be. I am not quite sure, but I'm am very worried, because we are by essence, a place where these cultures meet, and you know seventy or eighty of the idol helmet with exact percentage of our employees are not british and I'm just a bit worried that if we are not going to have that diversity, we're going to lose a lot of diversity of food we're exposed to and for me as someone who's come here and is in very generously accepted into this country, and I have received a massive hug throughout those years. With regard to my food in the culture that I bring with me, I think, would be a great loss if other people, like me, won't be as I'll. Let's have some warm using your some of the language. We are on your six of the morning That is twice that sir nina Simone, which is probably my favorite artists as to listen to Nina Simone all the time and there's something about her voice of fidelity bud like inherent optimism that I just love and she could get away with any.
The commission sees this marvellous says Jesus so So it poses Jesus. So
It's me That was nunez Simone, and here comes the sun. It was twenty thirteen years and when you and your husband girl became parents at the first time. How easy was it for you just to decide that you wanted to start a family? It was easy to decide who was much more difficult to to accomplish call- and I went on a real, interesting journey, sometimes difficult its first. We thought as to gay men, we would have to team, with a woman or a couple: women, canada, a co parenting arrangement. We tried that for a few years and for various reasons it didn't work out and then we decide work on it.
Do it ourselves and we ve had first max and then flew through surrogacy. We went to america to do it because it's quite a bit more complicated to her to do surrogacy here. My childhood memories are just extremely positive and I just wanted Do we create that, for myself and for Carl to have those children around and muck about and do funny things and listen to music and and that's that's what what we've got now and one day you won't tear your hair out because we too little boys a one year on a three year old and the next day, you're laughing your socks off the notes that kind of intensity of emotions that does this comes with children. tell me about max then entering the world tell me, but those moments to remember them here call- and I were in Massachusetts where our target lives and there we were there with her in the maternity wards. Labor was about sixteen hours and we were there for the most of the time. holding her hands.
And after that amount of time, the that's not so beautiful creature because it was governing hair, but he was this. The most gorgeous thing that we loved so merchant and you know circuit said we were holding her hands and then this baby and we didn't know what to do. She have cash. What are you go play with your child and we did and if it was, it was just the most incredible moment. I'll never forget it is we were there and he was there. You described very articulately, including the reasons the simple reasons, the same reasons as so many people want a family. Why you want to have children I'm wondering if there are there any moments when there are strange times and awkward times when people look at us. As you know, two guys with children in ST paul Adam agree with that. That's not right! You meet those moments at all. No, I think we're we're pretty well put
the dinner central london house? You know with it with environment, we live and we have never had any negative responses, and should those would come at some point, em I'm ready for them a minute. I dont think we ve done anything wrong. I think we ve created the most beautiful environments for kids, and I think this is the only food would dare criticized there. Let's have you next piece of music. It's your sentence, that's the smiths in that's cause favoured banned since of met called in the year. Two thousand fifteen. Sixteen years his play the smith and calls for northern ireland, and it was a massive partibus teenage years growing up in the eighties and for me the smiths is carlin. I loved them before, but I
and even more so the smiths. What difference does it make those choose? Your husband call, your term does, does he could cause? You did cook? Yes, he's a great cook actually is a better cook, because when I come home I just kind of get bogged down by all my experiments with college, just solid cook, mixed delicious food and the kids love his full by reputation, you have a huge appetites and you love to witness a little boy. We know that you love to food and yet stated here today, looking as fit in a slim is a pain. You are also a qualified,
policies, instructor women s? Did you find the time It's easy that, but I used to have standing up in the kitchen that was in my previous incarnation. I used to, as I said, work many hours standing up in the kitchen, I'm tall and I used to have back problems. So I started doing pilates to address this and I just fell in love with this discipline because it really was very effective to dealing with my pain and at some point I said to myself all if my cook concurring doesn't quite take off, I might I'm a pilates instructor adieu, complete things, and I want to feel that I've done them properly. So when we cast your way to this island water, the first key ingredients for food and drink that you'll be looking for in order to survive one of them is my luxuries. I will reveal that only look at that. What would I look for when I saw you with cocoanut? I think I'm ok with cocoanuts, which I imagine desert island has and probably few lines, but I think I'd find really difficult to start the fire, because
not that kind of cooking really reliant on my oven and my stoves are not a barbecue kind of ships that have to struggle, but I'm sure I'll, survive, essentially tell me about your eighth. What are we going to hear? My eighth is there by the national? It's a it's a band from Brooklyn that I really really enjoy listening to at the moment. Often I come back from work and cause cooking and the windows open- and this is blaring out- music of the moment, and I ask that was national with fake empire
at the time it is time for me to give you the books we give all of our castaways the complete works of shakespeare and the bible or another religious text. Would you like the bible, or would you prefer the Torah? I can have both, but no you can't start that with you yeah. I guess I'll have to take the tour dates. That's you so, and what will your additional book traditional book would be a suitable boy by vikram Seth? First of all, it's a very long book which is very useful, but it's also a fantastic book about family, which seems to be a theme in my life and it's complex? It's emotional, let the journey, and I think I could spend many hours enjoying that family ass. They vicariously via the story it's yours, then, and now I think it's going to be a colony luxury from what you have to tell me what you're luxuries. So I'm gonna take a look. inventory, and I need lemons so much that I'd rather just you know, give up any other luxury for that and over the years, I've kind of developed a hundred ways of dealing with lemons from pickling them to roasting them to just
since then, and I think a lemon is one of those magic ingredients that really kind of life ends up a dish. We will give you that constantly footing lemon. She then for your island, and if you had to take just one of these eight discs, which one would you want, I think it would have to being in the simone because I love her so much its use. Your some also thank you. Thank you very much for letting senior desert island discs. Thank it was such a pleasure. the
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-19.