If chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi had never left Jerusalem, they almost certainly never would have met. Though they grew up a few miles from each other—Ottolenghi in the western Jewish part of Jerusalem, Tamimi in the Arab quarter of the Old City—the two communities “lived in perfect segregation,” Ottolenghi says. “We went to separate schools and spoke different languages.” When he was a child, his parents tried to somehow bridge the gap by taking the family to the Old City, to eat in Arab restaurants and shop in Arab stores. “Still,” he says, “I never really met any Palestinian kids my age, and we never had any proper Palestinian friends.”
It was only when Ottolenghi and Tamimi turned up in London in the late 1990s that they finally met, a felicitous moment that has led to an enduring friendship. They became partners, along with Noam Bar, of Ottolenghi, a restaurant and deli renowned across London. Plenty, the blockbuster vegetarian cookbook Ottolenghi published last year, made the place famous around the entire world, as well.
The food at Ottolenghi is boldly flavored, vegetable-driven and vividly colored, featuring Mediterranean ingredients like lemons, chiles and pomegranates. It is the kind of place where you go intending to buy a little carton of something for lunch, end up lingering at one of the communal tables for coffee and a pastry, and leave having somehow acquired your family’s dinner that night.