Pot noodles are top chef Ottolenghi's guilty pleasure

Yotam Ottolenghi talks food, his mother-in-law and his toddler son

Israeli-born chef, cookery writer and restaurant owner Yotam Ottolenghi speaks to Catherine Cleary at the Ballymaloe Lit Fest 2014. Video: Daniel O'Connor


Start stockpiling dried Iranian limes Ottolenghi fans. They are one of the ingredients Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi will champion in Plenty More, his new book due out in September.

The man who put sumac into supermarkets wowed an audience of Yotamites yesterday morning, talking about Middle Eastern food at the Ballymaloe Litfest. On Saturday night, he and fellow chef Sami Tamimi cooked a €110 a head meal for 70 people.

Before all that he spoke to The Irish Times about his Irish mother-in-law, his love of pot noodles, those new ingredients and how lucky he feels his toddler son eats everything. Smoother than a polished aubergine, Ottolenghi could give interview masterclasses.

He endeared himself to his key demographic by describing his mother-in-law Greta as “representative of all Irish mothers and mothers-in law” because she “doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s got a great sense of humour and that’s a saving grace when it comes to food.”

He had trodden on tradition in his cookery column recently, giving an intricate recipe for Irish stew well beyond plain water, mutton and potatoes. So what is his guilty food pleasure?

Middle-class foodie
“Good pot noodles. I go to Asian shops in Chinatown. They have all sorts of MSG and things I don’t wanna know about but I love the texture and I just love the whole experience of indulging in something that’s completely commercial but still really delicious.”

He is not a big name in Israel, he says. “I’m more well known in other countries in Europe or America than I am in Israel.

Owning a copy of Plenty, his second book, has become a badge of the middle-class foodie. In the US TV show Orange is the New Black, Piper Chapman has a copy on her shelf to hint at her yuppie pre-prison existence. So will Plenty More create a new set of posh larder staples?

“I’m using dried Iranian limes. Those are rock hard lemons or limes that you put in stews to infuse them with flavours. Barberies from Iran are used in abundance in the book. And dakos, a Cretan rusk, which sounds like probably the most unsexy thing in the world but they’re absolutely delicious, are championed in a recipe.”

‘Sowing the seeds’

Ottolenghi and his partner, Karl Allen, became parents last year when their son, Max, was born through a surrogate pregnancy. Does the 15-month-old boy old love Ottolenghi food?

“Max eats everything. I feel very sorry for parents who have to fight with their kids for eating because Max just has the biggest appetite.”

Does he think food television is doing anything to improve how people eat?

“I think we’re sowing the seeds for something that will happen in the future. For the moment I don’t think that people are cooking much more than they used to, perhaps maybe less. But I think this is going to change or is starting to change now. We were under the illusion in the 70s and the 80s and all the way through the 90s that we could get away with readymade things and just pursue our careers and do all sorts of other things but cooking.”

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