Understanding 'the Ottolenghi effect'

Why has Yotam Ottolenghi become a worldwide sensation? That is the question that Good Food (AU) attempts to answer in a recent article about Ottolenghi's current book tour in the land down under. Of course trying to understand a phenomenon like this is a challenge, but the theories raised here convincingly explain how Ottolenghi (you know he's famous because he's referred to by just one name) skyrocketed from cook to superstar. 

Yotam Ottolenghi

Just for Australia alone, Ottolenghi's book sales are impressive. Over the last decade, he's sold over 400,000 books, with his most recent release, Ottolenghi Simple, likely to break Australian records..This despite being, as Jane Morrow of Murdoch Books notes, an unlikely best seller in that country. "The author isn't local, and most Australians won't get to taste his food from his London restaurants and delis," she says adding that when his books first appeared in 2008, "Middle Eastern food was not a cuisine the mainstream was familiar with. And his recipes generally require a long list of ingredients, some of which are obscure." 

Some culinary celebrities come to prominence because of their outsize personalities (think Gordon Ramsay). That's not the path that Ottolenghi followed. By all accounts, he is exceedingly pleasant, considerate, and humble. Helen Goh, who co-authored Sweet, thinks the "Ottolenghi Effect" has to do with the "feel-good" state people experience when using his recipes. " 'People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel'?" she says. She believes that the recipes he creates help people feel a sense of "generosity and love" when they serve them. 

Add to that the fact that we are fascinated by celebrity and that Ottolenghi shares all of his culinary secrets with this audience, and you have the perfect storm to explain the "Ottolenghi effect."  Ottolenghi refers to this transparency as being part of what attracts people to his work. "The days of chefs hiding their secrets are long gone," he says. "If you held anything back, you'd get busted. We are all slaves now to this transparency."

Jay Rayner celebrates 20 years as a restaurant critic

If the words Observer Food and Jay Rayner seem inextricably linked, it's no surprise. Rayner has been the restaurant critic for the Observer for many years - twenty, to be exact. The long time critic, known for his wit and impressive takedowns of subpar establishments, recently reflected on his two decades of writing reviews

Jay Rayner book

It wasn't just a love of food that prompted Rayner to seek the job of restaurant critic. Rather, he says that after a few years of being a generalist, he was in search of a specialty that he could call his own. A job opened up and he pitched himself for the position. It took him six months to land the job, and he hasn't looked back since. 

Rayner describes some of the early influences on his writing style. "I adored the effortless writing of Matthew Fort in the  Guardian and Jonathan Meades in the  Times who both made it clear that food is not just about taste and texture," he said. "It's about politics and history, about love and sex, the environment, architecture and so much more. I wanted the chance to write about all of that."

He's been doing just that, plus a lot more, over the past twenty years. In addition to writing for The Observer, Rayner has written several books (both fiction and nonfiction), served as a judge on Masterchef and Top Chef Masters, and he has penned columns in newspapers and websites worldwide. Here's to twenty more years!

Jacques Pépin to receive Lifetime Achievement Award at the Emmys

Two of my favorite all-time cookbooks are from culinary legend Jacques Pépin: Sweet Simplicity and Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques. The latter has improved my cooking skills immeasurably. I am also a fan of the chef's various television programs, where he demonstrates techniques in a manner that inspires confidence that I can, indeed, debone a chicken.

Jacques Pepin cookbooks

Because I have learned so much from him, I was delighted to learn that Chef Pépin will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year's Daytime Emmys. Making it even more special is the fact that Pépin will be the first culinary professional to receive this award. He can add this to his trophy collection that includes an Emmy that he won for Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home and several James Beard Foundation Awards. 

"Daytime television has been forever changed by the culinary efforts of Jacques Pepin," said David Michaels, senior vice president of the Daytime Emmy Awards. "Pepin's body of work helped inspire not just millions of cooks at home, but also the myriad staples of culinary television we now see."  Congratulations to Chef Pépin on this well-deserved honor. 

This cookbook celebrates the women behind Caribbean cuisine

Today is International Women's Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a cookbook that shares the nearly-forgotten stories of women behind a cuisine? That's what I thought when I came across an article on Serious Eats about the recently-published Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking by Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau. 


The sisters, who who previously wrote Caribbean Potluck: Modern Recipes from Our Family Kitchen, formerly owned restaurants and hosted television shows in Jamaica. Provisions, published at the end of Cookbooktober last year, allowed them to "show readers another side of the Caribbean and its food. It was a chance to introduce readers to some of the women who have shaped the region's food culture for generations, yet are rarely, if ever, acknowledged for their contributions."

One of the stories they tell is about their own great grandmother, Martha Briggs. Briggs was instrumental in developing the first commercial  patty, which consists of meat and spices baked in a flaky pastry dough. Even though the Rousseaus had heard stories over the years about Briggs, finding documentation proved difficult. Much of the history in the region is passed on through oral tradition, making it easy for stories to be forgotten. 

In addition to the intriguing food memories and glimpses of the islands' histories, Provisions is filled with creative recipes that represent the best of Caribbean food today. Good food combined with great stories about women's contribution to the cuisine - what could be better?

Great news - Samin Nosrat is working on a new book

EYB Members embraced Samin Nosrat's debut cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking. It ranks in the top 75 cookbooks as measured by number of Bookshelves in the EYB Library, even beating Ottolenghi's recent book by a couple of places. If you count yourself as a fan of Nosrat's writing or her Netflix program, you'll be excited to learn that the talented chef has just announced that she is working on another cookbook. 

salt fat acid heat

Nosrat alerted followers via an Instagram post earlier today. She wrote that the book is tentatively titled WHAT TO COOK and promised that it will "help you decide, well, what to cook! My creative collaboration with the wonderful, inimitable  @wendymac will happily continue, meaning that this book will be filled with the same sorts of beautiful, instructive, and funny illustrations and infographics that make #saltfatacidheat so special."

Ten Speed Press will be publishing the book. Nosrat asked fans to sign up for her mailing list to get updates and to sign on as a recipe tester later in the process. As to when we can expect to see WHAT TO COOK, Nosrat said this: "We all know I am a painfully slow writer, so please do not write to ask me when the book is coming. I promise everyone will know when I know!" We can't wait! To tide us over until the new book is released, we can delight in a new book of prints from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Twenty of the spectacular illustrations from the bestselling book are collected as beautiful 8 x 10 prints. Nosrat is also editing this years edition of The Best American Food Writing (due in October). 

These black chefs changed food history

The contributions of people of color in the United States to food culture and history is often overlooked, even though many were seminal to developing our nation's foodways. Several recent books have tackled this issue, providing us with better insight on undervalued and underreported work, and last week The New York Times profiled six black chefs - and one black inventor - whose contributions to food history were pivotal.

Edna Lewis and Abby Fisher

If you live in the U.S. and have ever eaten a French fry or crème brûlée, you have James Hemings to thank for those delicious treats, plus macaroni and cheese and ice cream to boot. Hemings was the first American to train as a chef in France, and he cooked the historic meal between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson that led to the creation of the federal banking system (OK everyone, start humming "The Room Where It Happens"). If the name sounds somewhat familiar, James Hemings was the older brother of Sally Hemings, a slave owned by Jefferson who bore several children by him. 

Two other people profiled in the article, Larry and Jereline Bethune, operated a restaurant in Alabama that became a center for the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. The Bethunes owned Brenda's Bar-B-Que Pit, where staff helped organize parts of the Montgomery bus boycott, which soon propelled the civil rights movement into the national conversation.

Others discussed in the article include Edna Lewis, Zephyr Wright, Abby Fisher, and George Washington Carver. 

Nancy Silverton to offer baking classes and more

If you live in Southern California (or want to plan a culinary vacation there), you now have an option to learn making from a legend. Los Angeles chef Nancy Silverton will offering classes and more as a culinary ambassador at the new Farmhouse food and event space at the Ojai Valley Inn in Ventura County

Nancy Silverton

In addition to the classes, Silverton plans to put on dinners, book signings, talks and workshops in the new, 30,000-square-foot facility. While the name sounds humble, the Farmhouse is anyting but. The site boasts a stunning kitchen that includes an area for live-fire cooking, a garden courtyard, a library, an outdoor kitchen, and a huge ballroom.

The schedule announced so far is impressive. In April, Silverton is hosting a lunch with "Somebody Feed Phil" host Phil Rosenthal, plus a dinner with culinary stars Suzanne Tracht and Mary Sue Milliken, among others. If you are interested in learning more, visit  the Farmhouse website,  www.ojaivalleyinn.com/farmhouse .


New Jersey legislature approves the Anthony Bourdain Food Trail

Shortly after Anthony Bourdain's tragic death in 2018, New Jersey Assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed that an official Anthony Bourdain Food Trail should be set up to honor the New Jersey native. "Even after international fame, he [Bourdain] never forgot his Jersey roots," Moriarty said. Now that proposal is becoming a reality

Anthony Bourdain

Last month, in a unanimous vote, the legislature approved creation of the trail. It includes all of the restaurants that Bourdain visited during the season five New Jersey episode of "Parts Unknown." While several of the stops are within a couple of hours of each other along the Jersey coast, if you want to hit all of them you should plan for a multi-day trip. In addition to the coastal eateries like Dock's Oyster House, you'll have to go north to Fort Lee and south to Camden to visit every location. 

Although the legislature has approved the trail, implementing it will take some time. No deadline has been established for its installation or even how it will be marked. You'll probably want to wait for warmer weather before heading to New Jersey to check them out anyway. In case you are already there, all of the eateries that will be featured on the trail are listed in the linked article. 

Inside L.A.'s only cookbook store

Despite being the second most populous city in the United States and home to what some would argue is the finest food culture in the country, Los Angeles suffered for years from a drought of cookbook stores. The beloved Cook's Library closed its doors in 2009, and it took almost a decade for another cookbook store to emerge. That store, called Now Serving, opened in late 2017 and has become a haven for cookbook lovers and chefs in the area

Ken Concepcion and Michelle Mungal
Now Serving cookbook store owners Ken Concepcion and Michelle Mungcal, and their daughter, Frankie. (photo courtesy Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Former chef Ken Concepcion and his wife, Michelle Mungcal, brought the store to life after Ken hung up his chef's whites. He worked in a variety of top L.A. restaurants including Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse Cut, where he served as chef de cuisine. Concepcion envisioned the space for his bookstore as a place that chefs would want to hang out in on their days off. 

The small space is packed with a well-curated selection of top cookbooks, ceramics, and chef's tools. Cookbook authors from near and far come to the tiny store for talks and book signings; recent guests include Dorie Greenspan and Magnus Nilsson. While Concepcion brings his chef sensibilities to the location, he isn't exactly a stranger to bookstores, since he worked in one for two years after graduating from college. "They gave us an employee discount, and all I bought was cookbooks," he recalled. 

It's exciting to learn about new cookbook stores and it makes me wish that I had travel plans that would put me in Los Angeles soon so I could browse the stacks of books (the fact that it is 18 degrees Fahrenheit and snowy here makes the prospect of L.A. even more enticing). If you are in the city, be sure to head over to Now Serving to see the wonderful collection and chat with the owners. The store is open five days a week, but is closed on Tuesdays and open only by appointment on Wednesdays. 

Now Serving's events are always shared on our calendar. And their top selling cookbooks of 2018 were included in our cookbook stores' bestsellers lists. Ken also supplied his personal top-rated cookbooks of last year.

Rachael Ray's '30 Minutes Meals' is coming back to Food Network

Rachael Ray's Food Network program '30 Minute Meals' aired on Food Network for an impressive 11 seasons, from 2001 to 2012. Ray continued to cook on her daytime talk show, which is syndicated worldwide, and has published several cookbooks including a new title coming this October: Rachael Ray 50: Memories and Meals from a Sweet and Savory Life: A Cookbook. In an Instagram post a few days ago, Ray announced that '30 Minute Meals' would be returning to Food Network this April.

Rachael Ray cookbook cover

In her announcement, Ray said that the revamped program would "have all the cool vibe that we had back in the day, but it's going to be for a whole new generation." She promised fans that the recipes would be ones that they haven't seen before on either the previous Food Network series or on her daytime talk show. 

Not only do we get to see an all-new '30 Minute Meals', which will return on April 1, but Food Network plans to add a streaming companion show also hosted by Ray. In an interview with Variety she said, "We are rolling deep this time around, proving to everyone that, yes, these are really meals you can cook in 30 minutes or less." Since the digital show will be on-demand, you could theoretically cook along in real time. 

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