World Chefs: Ottolenghi mines London's rich culinary seam

Tue May 17, 2011 6:34am EDT
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By Simon Falush

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Yotam Ottolenghi swapped the library for the kitchen when he ditched a promising academic career for the notoriously tough and low-paid world of London's restaurant scene.

The gamble appears to have paid off as the Israeli chef of Italian and German heritage now boasts four delis and a newly opened restaurant Nopi, whose name makes a play of its classy location just north of Picaddilly in London's West End.

The chef and author of two well-regarded cookbooks spoke to Reuters about why cooking suits his temperament better than studying and how he exploits the huge diversity of the British capital's population to create enticing fusion dishes.

Q: What is your earliest food memory?

A: When I was three or four there was a box that my mother kept chocolate in on a high shelf. I remember climbing up to get hold of it and get some goodies. The funny thing was that when she found out, my mum wasn't angry. When I was older my friends who came over were always surprised that I was allowed to help myself to sweets when I wanted. My parents both liked cooking and were always curious about food and this rubbed off on me.

Q: Before plunging into the world of cuisine you were a budding academic. Why did you swap the bibliographies for the chopping board?

A: In academia you always have to take your work home with you, it's hard to switch off from it and the pressure's always there. Working in a kitchen, when the shift is over, that's it. Cooking is also more physical and I think that suited my temperament better than the world of academia. Of course, now running the business the pressure's back on!

Q: What sets London apart as a dining destination?   Continued...