When Yotam Ottolenghi First Fell for Berries

It took us a month and, along the way, I fell in love with berries. Coming from a land of tree-borne fruit, I couldn’t get enough of the delicious reality of low-lying bushes and plants offering up more fresh berries than I could possibly consume. Our paths were paved with gold, our fingers stained with purple and I was (metaphorically, thank goodness, given my position on the bike) head over heels.

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Blueberry, almond and lemon cake.

Credit
Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Stage 4 was growth and learning, when I was working in my first professional kitchen at Launceston Place in London, under the tutelage of the chef Rowley Leigh. He was showing me how to make a summer pudding, and just as he had inverted the berry-filled and wine-soaked bread onto a platter to serve, he inverted everything I had thought about berries until then. For me, they were to be treated with a degree of reverence and restraint; I’d grown up seeing them placed, individually, on top of the rare gâteau in a few cafes in Tel Aviv.

Here, however, Rowley was doing with berries what Middle Eastern cooks do with herbs: using them in absolute abundance. They were not things you would use to garnish or finish off a dish. They were the very building blocks of the dish itself.

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Fold in about three-fourths of the blueberries by hand, then scoop batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Credit
Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Once I fully understood the brilliant power of giving berries the leading role in a dessert, I just rolled along with it. In fact, I possibly went a bit overboard, creating my own berry-filled, berry-topped, berry-dotted, berry-coated, berry-everything set of puddings: white chocolate mousse with crushed frozen berries inspired by Stars restaurant in San Francisco; baked cheesecake with a light biscuit base like the ones I had growing up, now swirled through with a thick blackberry coulis; pies and turnovers stuffed to the brim with stone fruits or apples, alongside blackberries, raspberries or blueberries; and countless ice creams, parfaits, sorbets and semifreddos, all delightfully cold, sharply sweet and berry bright.

By the time I mastered berries, I also knew I wanted to become a pastry chef, so I got a job at a…

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