Yotam Ottolenghi was definitely my first foodie crush. The moment I set on eyes on his mouth-watering dishes in his cookbook Jerusalem, I knew we were meant to be. For those of you who don’t know, Ottolenghi is a half German/half Italian, Israeli -born chef, recipe developer, and restaurant owner, now based in London. Most of his culinary creations are deeply influenced by his Middle Eastern upbringing and fused with Mediterranean, Asian, and ‘Western’ twists. He has a particular knack for marrying unusual combinations of flavours and for beautifully presenting the outcomes. What I love most about him is his food philosophy: “simply put, we are very serious about making people very happy through our food”, which I firmly believe is essential when making food. As you can imagine, I had high expectations for the Fine Food & Dining Society’s ‘Cook Like Ottolenghi’ class, and I’m pleased to say they were definitely met.
The class was taught by both the outgoing and incoming presidents of the Fine Food & Dining Society, Daisy Zeijlon and Phoebe French, respectively. It was a very laidback class, partly because of Daisy’s relaxed style of cooking. As she began preparing some of the dishes, she explained to us that she doesn’t usually follow recipes word for word. If she feels like substituting one ingredient for another, adding more of a certain ingredient, or omitting an ingredient altogether, she does so. And if we’re going by Ottolenghi’s philosophy, amending recipes to make yourself happy is pretty much the best advice we could have gotten.
Due to the large number of dishes on the menu, much of the preparation had to be done beforehand, leaving very little room for student involvement in the cooking process. Even though most of the class just involved sitting and watching, Zeijlon and French kept us engaged with their cooking demonstrations, and the conversation amongst the attendees was plentiful. Besides, the menu had me so excited for the food that I probably wouldn’t have minded sitting and waiting for it in silence.
The menu for the evening consisted mostly of recipes from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, though it also included Ottolenghi-esque dishes from the Ballymaloe Cookery School and Happy Belly (a food blog written by St Andrews student, Maria Sisci). I especially appreciated the inclusion of Sisci’s recipe and hope that more cooking classes explore the talent of other St Andrews foodies (of which I have found there are many!). This menu was particularly exciting for me as a vegetarian, as I could eat nearly all of the dishes, and every single vegetarian option sounded overwhelmingly appetizing.
In our first round of food we were served Aubergine with Pomegranate and Buttermilk Sauce, Beef Stew with Squash and Cinnamon, Mujaddara with Spicy Yoghurt Sauce (the recipe adapted from Happy Belly), Cauliflower and Cumin Fritters with Lime Yoghurt, and Chilled Red Pepper Soup with Soured Cream. The aubergines are one of Ottolenghi’s signature dishes and for good reason. They were absolutely exquisite; the pomegranate seeds not only gave them a beautiful splash of colour, but added an intricacy to the flavour. The Mujaddara—which is essentially just rice and lentils—should definitely become a staple of students’ diets; it’s easy to make, very inexpensive, but very flavourful (especially when paired with the spicy yoghurt sauce). The cauliflower and cumin fritters were clearly a hit; we cleared three heaping plates of them almost immediately after they were brought out. I was so content with all the glorious food I had eaten that I completely forgot that this was just the first of two rounds of food. Luckily, I’ve never been one to turn down food.
In our second round of food we enjoyed Red Quinoa Tabouleh with Toasted Pinenuts and Pomegranates, Caramelised Endive with Serrano Ham, Spring Salad, and, for dessert, Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing and Caramel Hazelnut Cheesecake. The tabouleh was divine and made me start to believe that adding pomegranate is the secret to a successful Ottolenghi dish. Though the Spring Salad was simple, it was delicious and refreshing. At every Fine Food & Dining Cooking class, I always look forward to the dessert. This time, the caramel hazelnut cheesecake caught my eye and I had been eagerly awaiting it since the beginning of the class. However, the apple and olive oil cake with maple icing is what truly stole the show. I took one bite and my eyes literally widened from surprise as to how good it tasted (which proves my theory that olive oil tastes good with everything).
Usually at the end of every class I can identify one item on the menu as my favourite. The Cook Like Ottolenghi class made this task incredibly difficult. I seriously loved every single dish I ate, and I certainly wasn’t the only one. In terms of food, this was hands down my favourite Fine Food & Dining cooking class yet. I left the class with a belly full of food and a re-kindled love for Ottolenghi.
Photo credit: Caterina Giammarresi