For my birthday, about four years ago, one of my best friends handed me a large package wrapped in brown paper. She squirmed with excitement, her shoulders scrunched up towards her earrings, her grin spread from ear to ear.
“I hope you don’t have it already!” she was practically bouncing as I considered the heavy gift, which was obviously a book.
The brown gift-wrap revealed a masterpiece that would end up changing my life. “Plenty,” by a man whose name I had never laid eyes on and could barely pronounce – Yotam Ottolenghi.
I received this book just before embarking on a weight loss journey that, in the course of nine months, would see me lose a third of my body weight and get me down to a “normal” weight for the first time in my adult life. My re-orientation to focusing my meals around vegetables, rather than pasta, rice, or cheese – was helped along by Plenty, which, although written by a carnivore, is a vegetarian cookbook.
Mixing things like maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and capers… adding coriander (cilantro) to typically Italian dishes… caramelizing garlic cloves in balsamic reduction. All of these things seem commonplace to me now, thanks to the East-meets-West cuisine of this Israeli chef living and working out of London.
The sequel to my favorite cookbook, called Plenty More, was released last autumn and served as holiday vacation bedside reading, as I devoured the new recipes from cover to cover.
Traveling to London a few weekends ago with a pack of French girlfriends, I took the opportunity to dine in the restaurant run by Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The experience managed to live up to my (admittedly very high) expectations – the kind of dining experience where literally everything is perfect. The server was flawless and kind, the dining room intimate and lively, the kitchen exposed and exciting, the bathrooms sublime and surprising.
As for the food, the things I can’t get out of my head, even two weeks later, are the small details. The chipotle syrup in my tequila and citrus cocktail. The oyster mayonnaise upon which my cabbage and poached mackerel rest, the salty flavor bringing me back to my New England origins.
The grande finale was the raspberry sorbet that crackled in my mouth – “What’s in this that makes that popping effect?”
“It’s poppy candy!” replied my waitress with certainty and a smile. I laughed, nodded, and was glad to learn the British term for Pop Rocks.