Yotam Ottolenghi is far less known around the globe than famous British TV chefs like Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay. Yet, in the UK he is a genuine culinary star. Ottolenghi has a small empire of seven delicatessens (a.k.a. delis) and restaurants in London, he co-authored nine bestselling cookbooks, and has been writing a weekly food column in the Guardian since 2006.
His path to the culinary world was very unusual. Yotam was born in 1968 in Jerusalem. He has always enjoyed cooking (and eating — even more so), but didn't think of it as an actual career. Encouraged by his highly-educated parents, Ottolenghi completed a degree in comparative literature at Tel Aviv University. After successfully defending his thesis in philosophy, he realised that his scientific work will only be read and appreciated by several professors. This was a turning point: the reaction of many people eating his cooking made him happier.
At 29, Ottolenghi had left a promising career in academia and moved to London to study at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and work in the kitchens. However, the traditional English food didn’t excite him — he preferred the vibrant Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine of his childhood.
Soon after, Ottolenghi met a like-minded food enthusiast, Sami Tamimi. Another immigrant, Tamimi was also born in Jerusalem, but in a Palestinian family. In 2002, the two friends opened their first deli named Ottolenghi in Notting Hill. It was an overnight success. Brits fell in love with colours, textures and tastes of the Middle East. In 2014, the London Evening Standard noted that Ottolenghi had “radically rewritten the way Londoners cook and eat”.