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Food

The Sweet Life with Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

When Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh met, it was a culinary match made in sweet-filled heaven. 

Yotam Ottolenghi wasn’t supposed to be a chef. He was supposed to be an academic like his father and grandfather before him. He certainly has the intellect, having written a masters thesis in philosophy and comparative literature. 

But Yotam’s take on creating ‘the good life’ was fed by his lifelong passion for food and eventually he couldn’t resist his kitchen calling. After training at Le Cordon Bleu in London in 1997 and working as a pastry chef at the Michelin-starred The Capital Restaurant, two years later he became head pastry chef at Chelsea’s Baker and Spice. Another three years after that, he opened the first Ottolenghi deli in Notting Hill. Today, there are three more Ottolenghi delis in London, as well as a restaurant, NOPi. He has a regular column in The Guardian, and has written six cookbooks. 

How sweet it is

The most recent of his books, Sweet, a baking tome filled with biscuits, cakes, tarts, pies, desserts and confectionary, Yotam co-authored with Malaysian-born Australian-raised pastry chef, Helen Goh. While the book is a recent release, their culinary collaboration goes back over 10 years to when Helen moved to London. At the urging of a friend to check out the Ottolenghi deli, Helen fired off an email to Yotam, they met, and a wonderful partnership began.  

Helen became product developer and Yotam recalls how she would walk through his door on a Sunday afternoon, “like a gust of wind or, rather, an over-zealous dusting of icing sugar, carrying more brown carton boxes than humanly possible.” A slew of apologies would follow for how many of her cakes had failed (Helen is a perfectionist) before they would settle into a session of ‘Ottolenghifying’ her creations.  

This unique process involves taking a traditional product and giving it a taste twist. As Yotam explains, “We do a lot of stuff that some might consider irreverent, but it’s just adding our traditions, a little bit of Middle East from me and a little bit of South East Asia from Helen.” 

So, in Sweet, you’ll find halva and tahini in the brownies, spiced pineapple in the cheesecake and mixed spices in the pound cake. But that’s not to say the recipes veer too far from tradition. As Helen explains, “In baking, I think people still seek the comfortable and the familiar, but they want a little surprise and I think Yotam and I deliver that!” 

Aussie inspiration

Another thing you’ll find in Sweet is a fair dose of Australia. Having done her training and enjoyed success as a pastry chef here, Helen has been inspired by some of our greats. There are cakes based on creations by Stephanie Alexander and Belinda Jeffrey, not to mention versions of yo-yo and Anzac biscuits. 

Yotam, too, owes a lot to baking Down Under. Known as the ‘king of meringue’, he says, “I’m indebted to Antipodean pavlova because it’s so easy to make and you can do whatever you like with it. It takes anything from chocolate and praline to fresh or dried fruit, the options are endless.” 

Featured image: Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's cinnamon pavlova, praline cream and fresh figs recipe

Recipes and images from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh (Penguin Random House, $55)

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Gourmet Destinations - Cantonese
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 4 Sep 2018
Chef Philip Chun talks through the traditions of cantonese cuisine and the challenge of shaping its identity in an australian context. When Hong Kong-born chef Philip Chun finally settled in Australia in 2010, it was the latest in a long list of countries where he’d plied his trade. Having started as a kitchen hand on Hong Kong Island in the early 1980s, he went on to work in Taiwan, China, the Philippines and Indonesia, rising to the position of executive chef along the way.  Today, he’s head chef and owner of North Sydney’s Greenwood Chinese Restaurant, where the focus is on Cantonese cuisine.  As he describes, “The backbone of Greenwood is the three main streams of Cantonese food, including barbeque, yum cha dim sum and Cantonese cuisine dinner.  “To date, Cantonese food has been very limited in Australia,” he adds, “and while we strive to maintain the traditions at Greenwood, we think outside the square to bring some new lights to Cantonese food.”   This creative thinking is also borne of a need to adapt to local ingredients.  When he arrived in Australia, Philip says, “Asian groceries were already available, therefore dry goods were not hugely impacted.  “However, live seafood and fresh vegetable options were limited and this is still the case today. To adapt, I worked on alternate methods of cooking to accompany the ingredients.”
Cantonese characters When it comes to tradition, Philip explains, Cantonese food has always been famous for being, “Light, flavourful and fresh. The focus is on bringing out the true flavour of the ingredients, while also looking after health and well-being.” For example, he says, “Soup normally contains some general health-benefitting herbal ingredients.” Another Cantonese essential is stir-fry, and the technique used can reveal the level of a chef’s experience. And there is a special exclamation used when stir-fry is mastered.  “It is very hard to explain in words, it is the experience,” Philip describes. “But when all ingredients are cooked perfectly, a special heat and aroma presents and we say, ‘wok hey!’”  For Australian diners, typical Cantonese favourites are sweet and sour pork, Mongolian lamb, spring rolls and fried rice, he says. But, Philip adds, “With more exposure, there is more knowledge of different cuisines and more willingness to try different types of food.”  Perfect motivation for Philip and his team to keep evolving our experience of Cantonese cuisine!    Speaking of experiencing Philip’s food, the Greenwood restaurant will reveal an exciting new renovation in September. Or if you can’t make it to North Sydney, Philip presents some of his favourite recipes here for you to recreate in your own kitchen. Who knows, you might even elicit your own cries of ‘wok hey!’
Philip talks food Pork, prawn and cabbage rolls with crab roe sauce   This dish has been developed using a traditional method and it requires more time and more skills. It contains a lighter flavour and has a finer touch, focusing on bringing out the true flavours of the ingredients.  Grilled whole squid brushed in sweet soy sauce on stir-fried glutinous rice Glutinous fried rice is a very traditional dish and nothing has been changed in this recipe, including flavour, ingredients and texture. The squid gives a more Australian touch, with the seafood and the grill plate coming into play.   Chilli plum fried chicken with mixed nuts This dish was created with the thinking that it would suit Australian tastebuds. The method originated from sweet and sour pork, then I added a personal touch with the light chilli.  Grilled beef tenderloin fillet dressed in bitter melon and black bean sauce The idea for this dish comes from typical Cantonese stir-fry beef with black bean sauce. However, I decided to add a personal touch, swapping beef strips for fillets, which means I can control how long the fillet is cooked. Bitter melon is one of my favourite melons and it goes extremely well with black bean sauce. 
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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