The last time my mate Yotam Ottolenghi and I caught up we were nattering about his spinach and potato pie. You know how close friends like to talk about recipes and what they're having for dinner, chat about what's growing in their garden or how on earth they are going to use the last of that jar of preserved lemons. Well that's what Yotam and I like to talk about.
We briefly discussed his proposed Australian tour, which was meant to take place in mid 2021, but given the state of the world he wasn't quite sure what was going to happen. And now the tour is happening. And he's doing two shows here in Canberra on January 17 and 19. (I'm going to pretend he's coming over for dinner on the 18th, but he'll actually be hopping over to Adelaide inbetween Canberra shows.)
So if I can't get him over for dinner, I've been thinking about what things I might whack in a hamper I could get delivered to his hotel room that might best represent what Canberra is all about. Remember when Prime Minister Scott Morrison presented his UK counterpart, Boris Johnson, with a hamper that included a couple of BentSpoke beers alongside some Aussie icons such as Bundaberg Ginger Beer, Penfolds wine, Tim Tams and Vegemite?
So what would we put in our quintessential Canberra hamper for Yotam? Given the tour is based on his book Flavour (Ebury Press, $55) we pulled it off the shelf to look for inspiration.
You say eggplant
"How many more ways are there to fry an aubergine? The answer, I am delighted to report, is many," he says in one chapter. So of course we'd send him a voucher for dinner at Ben Willis' standard-setting Griffith restaurant, Aubergine. We're pretty sure the two would get on like a house on fire given their appreciation for quality produce served without too much being done to it.
"Vegetable focused meals are flexible by their very nature, there isn't a natural hierarchy or a clear order in which things need to appear at the table." So he'd like the approach at Monster Kitchen and Bar, where the year of veg continues. Gift him the eight-course tasting menu; he'd love the elderflower and chamomile ice-cream to finish.
While hitting up the pantry is the focus of his latest book Shelf Love (Ebury Press, $49.99), in Flavour he lists the 20 essential ingredients. We'll schedule in a stop at the Pialligo Market Grocer, where, over Christmas, I managed to find all sorts of amazing bits and pieces. And while he's there we'll get him a tour of the garden to check out all the produce that ends up in the bountiful boxes.
"If we had our way, every dessert would be drenched in some sort of sweet wine," he writes. So here's a bottle of Mount Majura's 2021 Remi. This sweet wine is made from the same grapes used in their sparkling wine and had its origins in some experimentation. We think he'd like that idea too.
Oils ain't oils
"To us, a bottle of good-quality olive oil is the Mediterranean sun-made liquid." The range of oils from Homeleigh Grove at Wallaroo will do here. We've been using the blood orange-infused one as a salad dressing of late. The robust Lowanna's Paddock range might become one of his favourites. And if he goes out to the Capital Region Farmers' Markets to get them, he'll see what this region is all about.
"A tacos meal has an elasticity to it which appeals both to diners, who get to 'make' their own food as they assemble their tacos, and to the cook, who can choose how much effort he or she would like to put in." We wonder what he'd think of the house tacos at Sweet Bones vegan cafe in Braddon, done with their house-made barbecued seitan, corn salsa, seasoned kale, jalapenos and coriander sour cream. The make-at-home taco kits were a huge hit during lockdown.
- Yotam Ottolenghi Flavour of Life, Canberra Theatre Centre, January 17 and 19. Tickets from $109. Bookings at canberratheatrecentre.com.au