It would be easy to go on for paragraphs upon paragraphs about how much we love Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi and their multiple restaurants in London. (Oh wait, we already did.) These two Jerusalem-born chefs prepare food in such a fresh and bold style that it's natural for any food lover to get a bit carried away with them and their cooking.
While we can't all jet over to the UK every time we want one of their good meals, we can (obsessively) cook from one of their three very well-tested cookbooks. The lastest from the Israeli duo is "Jerusalem: A Cookbook" ; and it is no ordinary cookbook.
"Jerusalem" interweaves gorgeous recipes with an introduction into an intense, pulsating city and warm personal stories. Deciding wether you should bring it into the kitchen or keep it by your bedside is a hard choice. But one thing's for sure, you won't be able to put it down. We had the pleasure of sharing a cup of coffee with Ottolenghi and Tamimi to discuss "Jerusalem" -- and food in general.
Here's what they had to say:
We love "Jerusalem: A Cookbook." It feels very special to us. How do you feel about this new cookbook in relation to your books? What was the creation process like?
Tamimi: Not only is “Jerusalem” a more personal book for both of us, but it’s also a complete mixture of a lot of communities in Jerusalem and its very old cooking. A lot of the food from Jerusalem [the book and the city] we didn’t know about because most of it is home cooking -- things that you don’t see at restaurants. We had to go through a lot of recipes to see which ones we liked. It was a lot of tasting, and more tasting, and more tasting.
Ottolenghi: “Jerusalem” was the first time we did something that was autobiographical in a sense. All the other books were proper recipe books, but this time the focus was not only the recipes, but our personal stories and how we grew up as well. About 40 percent of the recipes we ate growing up, but the rest are modern or new, or things that we hadn’t cooked before but are in fact traditional. We had to make a lot of adaptations but we tried to keep the original flavors.
Sticking to the idea of food heritage, could you share your most memorable childhood food memory?
Tamimi: Markets, street foods, the smells and the colors of the old city are my earliest food memories. Seasonal smells, coffee and cardamom, rosewater and sweets. Every time I think about early food memories this is what comes out.
Ottolenghi: One of my earliest food memories is climbing over the kitchen counter top to reach into my mother’s cupboard, open her tin and take a piece of her cooking chocolate. I remember I always felt very guilty for doing this because she was never home when I took her cooking chocolate. (It was actually very delicious. This is where I think I got my love for dark chocolate.) One day my mom discovered that I did this and she said nothing, like it wasn’t really an issue. I don’t know why she didn’t. But I just always remember, climbing on the counter with a chair, going to get this box, getting the chocolate and putting it back.
What is that first drew you to cooking?
Tamimi: I grew up in a foodie house. They cooked and ate and talked about food all the time. The kitchen was the center of the home and I always tried to sneak in to see what they were doing. I was always kicked out because it wasn’t a place for a little boy, but two minutes later I’d be right back in the kitchen trying to see. So, for me, I decided at an early age that cooking is what I wanted to do. I started when I was 15 and since then I’ve been cooking.
Otto: I was always a big eater. I wasn’t really interested in cooking when I was young, but I was always interested in food. I had this fascination with it, and whenever we would travel places, for me, the most important thing was the food. My dad always used to make fun of me for that. It was later in life that I became more interested in cooking.
Can you share your philosophy when it comes to cooking?
Ottolenghi: I think we're both drawn to clear and bold flavors and we don’t like food to be over complicated and over processed. Let’s say we’re as far removed from traditional French cooking as possible. We don’t cut our vegetables into tiny little brunoise pieces. We like it when it really feels like the real food.
When we slice a tomato, we want to see the tomato, we're never going to dice it to perfect one-centimeter dices because then it doesn’t look like the fruit anymore. Both Sami and I know when we see something and it feels natural and real. Anything that strays away from that direciton is not really our cup of tea.
Tamimi: If we cook with a beetroot, the beetroot is the key or the star of the dish. We don’t try to hide it or add too many components to it which would basically ruin it. We try to help the beetroot, and not cover it up with stuff.
We're glad to see the beetroot, tomato and other other vegetables have allies in the kitchen. But more so, we're glad for what these allies can create in the kitchen. For an idea of what recipes you can expect from Jerusalem: A Cookbook, check these out: