MY CULTURAL LIFE: YOTAM OTTOLENGHI

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Chef Yotam Ottolenghi portrait
Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, by Peden & Munk

We can thank Yotam Ottolenghi for bringing colour and Middle Eastern verve to British cuisine. The Israeli-British chef and writer’s first eponymous deli/diner opened in Notting Hill in 2002. Three more delis, a restaurant and several food and travel documentaries later, his new cookbook Sweet (7, Ebury Press, £27), written with Helen Goh, is out this month.

My all-time favourite piece of music is Nina Simone’s Here Comes the Sun. It’s a song that manages to speak both to all the good days to come and all that has passed. It makes me miss my brother, who was killed before his time, but it also makes me excited for my kids and all the fun we’re going to have.

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Nina Simone

I’m currently obsessed with the soundtrack to Jill Soloway’s television adaptation of I Love Dick. Two songs that stand out are Meshell Ndegeocello’s Either Way I Lose and Laura Mvula’s Father, Father.

The record that makes me feel instantly happy is Prince’s Paisley Park. It’s cheeky, exciting and a little bit anarchic, which I love. Prince was a genius: always pushing boundaries. The chorus to the title track makes me happy: ‘Admission is easy, just say you believe and come to this place in your heart.’

Prince and Paisley Park
Prince

The book that influenced me the most is The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden.
It made me realise that a passion for food and a passion for words are not mutually exclusive.

The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden
Penguin

My favourite film is Fargo, the 1996 classic by the Coen brothers. I must have watched it at least ten times and I am still mesmerised – and often driven to tears – by William H Macy’s hapless car salesman character, and by the incredible Frances McDormand.

The famous quote that makes me think is ‘Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural.’ It’s just one of many great quotes from Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

View of Chinatown London
Chinatown, London

Radio and podcast-wise, I like The Splendid Table, Food Programme, Gastropod, The Dinner Party Download and The Food Chain – can you spot the theme?!

View of Regent's Park
Regent’s Park, Getty

If I had a free day in London I’d start it with a run around Regent’s Park followed by breakfast at Fernandez & Wells in Soho. Lunch would be dumplings at Imperial China
in Chinatown. In the evening, I’d cook for friends, informally, at home.

Sweet cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh
Penguin Random House

Next stop? I’m travelling to America next month with my co-writer Helen Goh to promote our new cookbook, Sweet.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration Oct 2017

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