It was all hands on deck in the bustling kitchen at Nomad in Sydney's Surry Hills for the #goodfoodmonth literary lunch with esteemed chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. Dessert legend Christine Manfield, and Somer Sivrioglu from Effendy were there to assist Ottolenghi, along with with Ramael Scully, head chef at Ottolenghi, and Nomad's Nathan Sasi and his team.
Renowned for his colourful representations of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, Yotam Ottolenghi has converted people around the world to his way of cooking. His food is always a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, and he has made it his mission in life to transform vegetables into the 'new black'.
Ottolenghi likes to travel and mentions that he sources new ideas from the places that he visits. Most of his inspiration has come from within a certain radius around where he grew up, he explains, but adds that more recently he has started to travel further to discover the wonderful cuisines of Turkey, Persia and Asia, per his latest television shows.
At the lunch at Nomad, Ottolenghi thanked the diners for attending what he called an 'amazing reception' and explained that he was 'here to convince people to eat more vegetables and to celebrate vegetables and grains, and all the wonderful things that can be done with them' (which is the whole idea behind his new book, Plenty More).
'Since Plenty was published four years ago, we've really come a long way in terms of vegetables at Ottolenghi [restaurant]. I'm talking about a vegetable renaissance,' he said. 'A few years ago, I'm sure you will all remember, you had three French beans served next to your steak, and that was called vegetable. Or a green salad made from iceberg lettuce leaves and a piece of tomato. And the whole idea is really to try and show in a way you can infuse your vegetables with so much flavour, and so many spices and other condiments, that you can forget about the meat once or twice a day, a week, a month,' he added.
'What I'm trying to do in Plenty More is focus on the cooking method or the technique you use to cook the vegetables and I have this silly comparison that I make all the time (if you've heard it before, please close your ears). You know, there is an understanding of what goes on when you cook meat or fish and we all respect it very much. When we go to a restaurant, they ask us "Sir, lady, how would you like your meat done?" and nobody asks us how we like our cauliflower done. And when we get our cauliflower and it's overcooked, we never send it back! [True]. Whereas if a steak is overcooked, everybody sends it back. So I'm trying to give the same respect to the poor old cauliflower, because I think it's one of the most amazing vegetables and it's enjoying a certain hiatus at the moment, like so many other vegetables.'
'Plenty More is about how far you can take your vegetables. How you cook them if you serve them raw, or steamed, or fried or baked. The sky is the limit and I tried to bring all that into the book. I hope today's meal is a good example of all those ideas that have gone into the book, so enjoy your meal,' he concluded.
Two of my food heroes working side by side...
The menu: first there was mezze...
The menu was a collaboration of dishes, with half being Ottolenghi's and half Nomad's Nathan Sasi's. First up was zucchini baba ghanoush, followed by flatbreads with olive oil and a selection of Arabian condiments.
Next was a Wagyu Bastourma with smoked eggplant, pickled chilli and wafer thin potato crostini.
The main dishes...
Braised leeks with goat's curd, chervil and currants was one of my favourites.
There were spicy spanner crab falafels with cucumber pickles and some puffed balls of deliciousness.
Peter's favourite was this duck Bastilla with dried baby figs, fennel and feta.
Watch this space for my take on this broccolini with sweet tahini, snow peas and black sesame seeds.
And finally, eggplant or aubergine with black garlic sauce and basil.
This tahini ice cream with fig molasses and sesame shortbread was so good, we had to say 'yes' when offered seconds!
But the Pièce de résistance was surely the exquisite meringue roulade with rose petals, rose water, raspberries, pistachio and mascarpone. I have duck eggs ready to make this one at the weekend!
Ottolenghi mingled with the diners (including my lovely friends from the MMCC)...
And signed copies of his book before dashing out the door...
The Good Things team travelled to Sydney, stayed overnight and attended this literary lunch ($210pp) on our own steam. We met some interesting folks, including a couple who had travelled from Melbourne especially for the lunch (a surprise 60th birthday gift for the lady). I also finally got to meet the lovely ladies from the Monday Morning Cooking Club.
Note: Random House Publishers (Ebury Press) sponsored the copy of Plenty More that Good Things is giving away.
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy attending literary events? What have been some of the standout events you have attended in your part of the world?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.