Pearls of Wisdom: Yotam Ottolenghi

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Chef

Yotam Ottolenghi will open Nopi later this month
Yotam Ottolenghi will open Nopi later this month
Born in Israel, Ottolenghi worked as a journalist before heading to the UK in 1998 to study at the Cordon Bleu. He oversees four Ottolenghi branches in London, while his new restaurant, Nopi, opens in Soho later this month.

Nopi is going well.​ We’re at the stage now where we can’t start on one thing before finishing another, which can be a bit frustrating. We’ll probably open a couple of days later than we initially thought.

The big step for us was opening Islington six years ago.​ That was our first proper restaurant, but it’s not as full-on as the one we’re opening now.

As café operators, when we first started out in restaurants we didn’t appreciate how important service was​, and how easy it is to get it wrong. The food came naturally, front of house was a little harder for us.

I’ve been a chef for 10 years now.​ Prior to that I was a news journalist and I also studied philosophy. But I’m happy with my choice – cooking is a great profession to be in.

At Nopi, there will be more meat and fish than in the Ottolenghis​. We will still serve a lot of vegetables, though. I like fresh-tasting food with herbs, spices and bright colours.

I got all my training here in London​, working in various establishments over the years, as a pastry chef at The Capital Hotel and for Rowley Leigh.

The main eating format will be dishes to share​. The dishes are starter size and we encourage a group to order three dishes each and share. It’s how I like to eat. I always feel like I miss out if I go to a restaurant and just try one starter and one main course.

The West End is where people go out to eat​. I knew that if we were going to do a bigger restaurant, then it should be somewhere central. There are lots of interesting restaurants opening in the area.

I wouldn’t want to say I’m overly confident​. In the restaurant business, you take each day as it comes.

Eclectic is a good way to describe my approach to cooking​. It doesn’t fall under clear regional definitions, but there is a focus on Middle Eastern flavours and dishes. Our head chef at Nopi comes from Australia, but has a Malaysian background, so we’ll see some Asian flavours at play too.

We’ve recruited a strong team with a lot of experience​. Some people don’t think people in catering need much, but it really does make a difference when people have run floors, sections and kitchens before.

I still keep my hand in with journalism.​ I have a vegetarian cooking column in The Guardian and have published two books.

London and the UK are really open to different cuisines​. Unlike other parts of Europe, there’s a real thirst for outside influences. It’s an encouraging environment.

We’ve done our homework. ​We’ve been meticulously testing our dishes on a wide range of people.

Good Middle Eastern food does not have the reputation and representation it should have. ​On the whole, kebab shops haven’t helped – they don’t do justice to a richly developed culinary heritage. But we’re already starting to see the region’s influence in salad and the use of tahini and hummus. It’s definitely one to watch.

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Pearls of Wisdom

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