YOTAM OTTOLENGHI is an Israeli-English chef, restaurateur, and food writer. He is the co-owner of six delis and restaurants in London, as well as the author of several bestselling cookbooks, including Ottolenghi (2008), Plenty (2010), Jerusalem (2012) and SIMPLE (2018).
Ottolenghi was conscripted into the Israeli Defense Forces in 1989, serving three years in IDF intelligence headquarters. He then studied at the Adi Lautman Interdisciplinary Program for Outstanding Students of Tel Aviv University, where in 1997, he completed a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in comparative literature; his thesis being on the philosophy of the photographic image. While working on his thesis, Ottolenghi served as a night copy editor for Haaretz. In 1997, Ottolenghi and his then-partner Noam Bar moved to Amsterdam, where he edited the Hebrew section of the Dutch-Jewish weekly NIW and considered getting his doctorate in comparative literature. Instead, he moved to London to study French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu.
Ottolenghi met his partner Karl Allen in 2000; they married in 2012 and live in Camden with their two sons, Max and Flynn. In 2013, Ottolenghi “came out as a gay father” in a Guardian essay that detailed the lengthy process of conceiving Max via gestational surrogacy, an option that he believes should be more widely available to those who cannot conceive naturally.
Ottolenghi served as a pastry chef at three London restaurants: the Michelin-starred Capital Restaurant, Kensington Place, and Launceston Place in Kensington New Town. In 1999, he became head pastry chef at the artisanal pastry shop Baker and Spice, where he met the Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi, who grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City. Ottolenghi and Tamimi bonded over a shared language—Hebrew—and a joint “incomprehension of traditional English food”.
His debut cookbook Ottolenghi was published in 2008 and has sold over 100,000 copies. Six volumes have followed: the all-vegetable cookbooks Plenty (2010) and Plenty More (2014); Jerusalem (2012); Nopi (2015); More (2014); Jerusalem (2012); Nopi (2015); the dessert cookbook Sweet (2017); and Ottolenghi Simple (2018). Ottolenghi’s bestselling cookbooks have proven influential, with The New York Times noting that they are “widely knocked-off for their plain-spoken instructions, puffy covers, and photographs [that Ottolenghi] oversees himself, eschewing a food stylist”. In 2014, the London Evening Standard remarked that Ottolenghi had “radically rewritten the way Londoners cook and eat”, and Bon Appetit wrote that he had “made the world love vegetables”. “Jerusalem” (2012) was a central aspect in South Croydon spoken-word artist Loyle Carner’s single “Ottolenghi” (October 2018). The ambiguity of the title is considered—the misinterpretation of the title as a “bible” forming the basis for a verse: “They asked about the bible I was reading | Told them that the title was misleading | Labelled it Jerusalem but really it’s for cooking Middle Eastern”.