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Ottolenghi chef Sami Tamimi and recipe writer Tara Wigley, share their food memories with Ella Walker.
Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley are part of the sprawling Ottolenghi restaurant and cookbook family, headed up by the inimitable chef and writer, Yotam.
The two of them have most recently paired up to write Falastin, a recipe collection focussing on the food of Palestine (Tamimi is Palestinian).
Filled with stories of producers and local cooks, it’s packed with everything from hot chilli preserves, to decadent, feast-worthy platters. We catch up with the duo to delve into their history with food…
Their earliest food memory is…
Tamimi: “For me it’s cardamom and coffee beans being roasted – fresh bread, as well.”
Wigley: “Mine’s Angel Delight in Guildford. Me and my brothers would all have a different flavour and then we could switch them around. So I had strawberry, one of them had chocolate, and one of them vanilla, and then we had a sponge finger on the side. I mean, that was seriously the height of sophistication.
“And then my earliest food memory with Sami, is definitely that preserve lemon moment, when I thought it tasted like soap. And now, quite literally I don’t know a day, or meal, that doesn’t have preserved lemon in it. My brother still thinks it tastes like soap.”
Tamimi: “The whole Ottolenghi [journey]– I don’t really know where to start. When we released Jerusalem [his first book with Ottolenghi]I was worried, but then it took off so quickly and became so successful. This is a big highlight in my life.”
Wigley: “It’s Simple [her last cookbook with Ottolenghi]– selling one million copies in under a year. But you know, every morning I put an aubergine on the open flame, and my day begins. Every day, I wake up, put the kettle on and put an aubergine on the stovetop, in the open flame, and I’ll use it at some point during the day – that’s a daily highlight. My poor kids waking up with the smell of it every day!”
Wigley’s worst food disaster has to be…
Wigley: “When I was working at a restaurant in Edinburgh, someone asked for some more gravy for their Sunday roast and I asked the chef. Then he put down what I thought was this gravy, but in fact was his cup of tea. And then I was pouring it over this guy’s plate, and the chef ran out – I was about 18 – going, ‘Nooo!’ It was a really fancy restaurant, and I was literally pouring PG Tips all over this Sunday roast.
“And when I first started in the test kitchen at Ottolenghi, I tried to caramelise orange slices. And I kept adding more and more and more. And of course it was salt rather than sugar, and it was getting burnt, Yotam was like, ‘Who is she?’ Moral of the story – taste your ingredients.”
The moment they realised they wanted to cook for people…
Wigley: “For me, at university for sure. I made a chicken mango curry which I thought was so sophisticated, and a carrot cake which had a whole tin of pineapple in it – it was so very moist. We were all sitting round with candlelight on the floor of this Edinburgh flat, and I was like, ‘This is good, this is class’.”
Tamimi: “I think I was quite young. I was just kind of cooking food for people in their homes, and I remember the first time I did paella, I’d never cooked it before, and they were raving about it – it felt so good.”
Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, photography by Jenny Zarins, is published by Ebury Press, priced £27. Available now.