When Yotam Ottolenghi 's cookery book Plenty was published four years ago, we were astounded by how exciting vegetarian cooking could be.
Now, as if determined to maintain our love affair with all things green, the Jerusalem-born, London-based chef has released a follow up, Plenty More.
We chatted to Yotam about the book, his upcoming appearance at the Liverpool Food and Drinks Festival and why he chooses to eat toasted sandwiches at the weekend.
Tell us about your daily routine.
I tend to spend most of my days in my test kitchen in Camden.
I arrive around 9am most mornings. There’s a small team here, we cook recipes for testing for any books or publications that we’re working on, and that really takes up the bulk of the day.
We start tasting food quite early at about 11 o’clock in the morning – and we’ll have discussions about what we’ve tasted and how we should move forward with the recipe.
We look at every aspect of the dish and how to make it stand out.
Then I probably leave at about 6pm. I eat very little in the evening because I’m so full from all the tasting! We normally taste about six recipes in a day, so you can’t even think about more food by the end of it.
What was the inspiration behind Plenty More?
In a sense Plenty More is a diary of the last four years since Plenty was published - I was trying to capture my development.
The recipes are mostly ones that have been published in The Guardian, but others have never been covered before.
How does Plenty More differ from your bestseller Plenty?
I wanted to capture all the new ideas that I’ve had, and the new ingredients that I’ve cooked with.
I have been doing quite a bit of traveling over the last few years and have come across some really interesting ingredients.
Some of them I have bought back with me – like lemon geranium water. It’s a scented water very useful for making dressings and drizzling over fruit.
I use lots of things that are of Asian background - I’ve been using a lot of miso and have put some interesting savoury flavours in foods that sometimes need a little help. All those Asian influences are very powerful and potent in terms of increasing the flavour potential of the vegetables.
How important is it to you to keep Middle Eastern flavours central to your cooking?
I feel very close to the Middle East because this is where I grew up, so I will always have those flavours at the forfront of my mind - that’s the basics of my cooking – but over the years I have expanded, especially with moving East to Turkey, Iran, India and South Eats Asia.
I like to mix flavours but in a gradual way. For instance, the food of Iran is quite similar to the Middle East and food that I grew up with, but it does offer more ideas, such as using strong tasting herbs like tarragon or mint.
How easy is it to cook your recipes at home?
Technically, all the recipes in Plenty More are pretty easy, even for someone who cooks relatively basic things. Sometimes there is a time commitment involved though, not in all the recipes but some of them.
The time commitment happens either when you need to go shopping for exotic ingredients, or when you need to spend a little extra time in the kitchen preparing.
Most of the people who buy cookbooks are home cooks, so for me it doesn’t make sense to publish recipes that hardly anyone would make.
Do you have any insider tips for cutting corners and saving time in the Kitchen?
I’m not too strict about the use of food processors. There is a lot of chopping involved in my recipes, and unless there is something that I think should be chopped by hand - like a parsnip really benefits from being chopped by hand otherwise it bruises too much - I think use them.
Like with onions, chopping can take 20 minutes if you’re not a professional and I think that’s time wasted. Mandolins, food processors, garlic crushers, lemon squeezers – all those things really save you time in the kitchen and normally they’re not very expensive either.
When you have a day off, what do you cook?
It’s very diverse, I like to try all sorts of things when I’ve got time – normally things that are simpler than what I cook in the test kitchen during the week.
It would normally be things like a simple salad or a simple rice dish with vegetables – something refreshing. Sometimes even a toasted sandwich!
If it’s not a meal for guests then I try and keep it very simple because you can get a bit overdosed by your own flavours.
What do you do to relax?
I have a young child so most of the activities in my downtime need to be child-friendly - he’s not even two years old yet.
We spend many hours in playgrounds in the park, if it’s warm he likes to get wet and play in fountains in every possible part of London.
We go out to China Town sometimes, but mainly we stay at home with lots of reading.
How important is a Michelin star for you?
It’s not really too important because I don’t think it’s likely to happen! Michelin stars are given to certain types of restaurants and mine aren’t really included in that category, so it’s not really something I tend to think about.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being a chef?
Every single second is rewarding. I love to be creative and there is constantly puzzles to solve in terms of how to make a dish work and how to put multiple dishes together, how to play with a new ingredient you’ve never come across before.
Demonstrations can be fun, engagement with readers and public is always pretty gratifying.
Everyday is a little bit different which makes it very exciting.
Which other chefs do you admire?
I like Simon Hopkinson very much – his recipes are very different from mine in the sense that they’re more French or Italian and traditional, but they’re delicious.
I also like Nigella Lawson’s writing – I love her style, particularly her celebration food.
Tell us about your involvement with the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival
I’ll be demonstrating at least four dishes from the new book at various times of the day, and in between those I’ll be watching other chefs.
I’ve never been to Liverpool before because I’m so busy and always in London, so to go to this almost mythical place that I’ve heard so much about is exciting.
Yotam Ottolenghi will be appearing at Liverpool Food and Drink Festival, which takes place in the city’s Sefton Park, from 19th – 21st September. Visit www.liverpoolfoodanddrinkfestival.co.uk for details.