Gaze at the bookshelf of an Ottolenghi recipe devotee, and it’s possible to discern more than the evolution of the chef and cookbook author’s cuisine and style. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, made his surname — that of his restaurants and delis — the draw; Plenty and Plenty More authored by him alone. But through Jerusalem, with Sami Tamimi; Sweet, with Helen Goh, Falastin, again with Tamimi and Tara Wigley; and then Flavour with Ixta Belfrage, a self-consciously collaborative blooming emerges (admittedly with one diversion, Simple.) Now, that blooming finds its fullest expression in a book and accompanying YouTube channel named for, built by, and starring the people that do the work behind the name: the denizens of the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen, in a north London railway arch.
The first in a series of Ottolenghi recipe videos premieres today, Thursday 9 September, under the title ‘OTK: What’s for Dinner?’ The premise, according to the trailer, is just that “big question,” waiting to be answered by recipes from the new book, Shelf Love, which promises to be the Ottolenghi version of a store cupboard cookbook, emphasising riffy, daily cooking over the intensive, dinner party ready dishes that made his early name. Per head of the test kitchen, Noor Murad — known to Instagram recipe stans as @noorishbynoor — “Here are the rules, but here’s how to break them. Here’s this recipe, but here’s how to make it your own.” The byline, for the curious, is Yotam Ottolenghi, Noor Murad, and the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen.
The first recipe is for a curried cauliflower cheese filo pie, and the quick cuts, bouncy music, and ping-pong exchanges of wit between Ottolenghi and Murad carry it along with warmth and welcome. It’s full of ideas for ingredient swaps, and features a small confessional section about their favourite flavour pairings.
Three videos act as prelude to the first series of recipes: a series preview; an explanation of the book’s thesis; and an introduction to the test kitchen itself and the cooks that work in it. Ottolenghi, Murad, and Wigley are joined by pastry expert Verena Lochmuller; development chef Chaya Pugh; test kitchen manager Gitai Fisher; and cross-tester Claudine Bolstridge. Longtime member and Flavour co-author Ixta Belfrage recently departed in order to pursue her individual style of cooking that Ottolenghi and that cookbook helped shape, in a further demonstration of the pleasing diffusion occurring what was once perceived as a one-man band and brand. With the first episode yet to drop the videos look set to be day-in-the-life and personality driven, but with more focus on interaction and collaboration than the most famous iteration of its imploded namesake, the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, whose surface wholesomeness belied a discriminatory workplace beneath.
And while the Test Kitchen’s entry into the crowded space of YouTube cooking channels is indisputably bolstered by Ottolenghi, both brand and person (who already has his own Masterclass series) the initial impressions are that is a channel and series built on shared work, emphasising his role as a facilitator and collaborator as reliant on the inspiration, ideas, and hard work of his team as they might be on him. Let’s see what it delivers.