Yotam Ottolenghi: I was forced to write vegetarian recipes

The cookery writer and restaurant owner never chose to focus on greens - but he does believe that we eat too much meat

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He is the man who “sexed up vegetables” with his Guardian column The New Vegetarian, but Yotam Ottolenghi has revealed it wasn’t his decision to write solely about leaves, roots and pulses. The newspaper had final say on that… 

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“I never chose to write vegetarian,” he said yesterday at a Radio Times event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. “I was forced by The Guardian. I’m not a vegetarian but my agent said, when The Guardian offered me a column, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’.” 

It is no secret that Ottolenghi – who began writing for the publication in 2006 – is a meat eater, however he told interviewer Simon Schama that he credits the restrictions of his column with aiding his meteoric success. 

“I resented the idea but now, in hindsight, I realise it was a wonderful blessing in disguise because, in a sense, it’s given me a certain focus that I don’t think I would have had otherwise. There really was no fabulous vegetarian food.

“I forgot the word ‘vegetarian’. I did wonderful food, I just omitted the meat and fish. It’s not about not having something in a dish. It’s not about what you omit or include, it’s just about celebrating vegetables as they are, so I never think, ‘this wonderful dish would go with some pork chops’. It doesn’t bother me.”

The chef, who was promoting his new cookbook, Plenty More, also spoke of his belief that those carnivores among us should “come to our senses and eat less meat.” 

“Going back to Jerusalem – it always goes back to Jerusalem in my mind – meat is something that you have on special occasions or on the weekend. There is a sense of veneration when it comes to eating meat – it’s not something that appears at the table for lunch, breakfast and dinner. I don’t have any moral issue with eating meat to sustain us but I have more of an issue with how cheap killing an animal has become.

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“It sounds really ancient to speak in that way but there is a sacredness of life – it’s been cheapened on so many levels.”