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Yotam and Ixta Transcript

Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage on Flavor

Kerry Diamond: Hey everyone. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the podcast that's all about women and food. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond, coming to you from Brooklyn, New York. Today's guests are coming to us from London. Yes, a Radio Cherry Bombe favorite is back, Yotam Ottolenghi. We've got Yotam and Ixta Belfrage, his co-author on the brand new book, Ottolenghi Flavor, released recently in the US.

Like Yotam's books Plenty and Plenty More, the bestsellers that came before it, Ottolenghi Flavor is all about vegetables. Stay tuned to learn more about Ixta and the ingredients she brings to Ottolenghi's world. And then later in the show, we'll talk to Yotam about the book as well as his recent documentary, Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles.

Let's do some housekeeping. This is big news, kind of. We've finally launched a YouTube channel. It only took seven and a half years. At this rate, we will have a Tik Tok account by 2030. But seriously, if you missed our Very Cherry Bombe Friendsgiving, you can check out some of the content on our YouTube channel, like our demos with Bottom of the Pot author, Naz Deravian, and The Book on Pies, Erin Jeanne McDowell, that are great any time of the year. Be sure to check them out and subscribe while you're there. Needless to say, we have almost no subscribers yet, so a big thank you in advance to those who do subscribe.

Today's show is sponsored by Kerrygold, the makers of amazing butter and cheese, and the cookbook 100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer. If you love baking, you're going to love 100 Cookies. We'll be right back with Yotam and Ixta after this word from Kerrygold.

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Kerry Diamond: Let's welcome Yotam Ottolenghi back to Radio Cherry Bombe.

So Yotam, welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe. How's London?

Yotam Ottolenghi: We're in a funny moment now. They're changing our rules left, right and center, so restaurants have been open and then shut again. And so now we're shut, but we're supposed to be able to reopen next week, at the end of next week, so that's quite exciting. But it's all up in the air, but I think something we've kind of gotten accustomed to it almost, that you never know what next week will be like, not to mention next year, so we just work around that.

Kerry Diamond: Right. Some people might, who know you as a cookbook author, but might not realize you're also a restaurateur.

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, certainly the folks in the UK know that, but maybe the folks here in the states don't realize that you have a lot of spaces over in London.

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah. We have three restaurants and three smaller delis, cafes. And the smaller ones mostly stayed open, where we do takeout and deliveries. There's a bit of noise, that's a train.

Kerry Diamond: I just heard it.

Yotam Ottolenghi: I'm in my test kitchen, and we're under a train line, so yeah, that's just part of my-

Kerry Diamond: So people might think this is one of those ASMR episodes, you get to hear all the test kitchen noises, and you get to hear the train.

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah. There's a lot of that. There's two, three people cooking here at the moment, so there will be a bit of noise. Yeah, so those have been open, but the restaurants have been shut. And it's all, like anyone else on this planet, lots of stress over the last year or so about the stability of the business, and the staff keeping their jobs and livelihoods, and us being open and closed. And that's the future going to be, going to bring? So it's been tough and challenging, but I think we're starting to start to feel a little bit more optimistic now. So after Christmas, I think we're going to be seeing improvements over time.

Kerry Diamond: We have to thank you for putting another cookbook into the world because a new Yotam cookbook is always something to look forward to, and we finally got it in the states. So the new book is called Flavor, and you've referred to it as part of your trilogy that goes with Plenty and Plenty More. Right? So you have your own sort of version of Star Wars now, Yotam. You've got a trilogy.

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah, I guess so. I've got the force now, so I can use it for good causes, and the good cause is vegetables. So yet again, vegetables are ... I mean, since Plenty was published, which is roughly I'd say 10 years ago, there's been an explosion of interest in vegetables. And everyone in different parts of the world, in America and the UK and other countries, it's just been super excited about discovering vegetables or discovering what other nations do with vegetables. And I've been taking part in this, and it's been really exciting. And I think if you look back to 10 years ago, there's just been such a revolution. You go to restaurants and everybody's proud of their vegetable dishes. Before, it used to be the bottom of the menu and there was really not much choice. And it would be quite predictable.

I think many chefs have taken on the challenge to create some things that are exciting and different and flavorsome, all those creative energies that have gone into the meat department are now given to the vegetable department. It's very good to see that the priorities have shifted, and we do see so many more vegetables in high places now.

Kerry Diamond: So part of your book is what you call the three Ps. Can you explain what the three Ps are?

Yotam Ottolenghi: So we did something that we always do which is collect the recipes first without actually knowing exactly where this is going because some people think that we start from a concept and then collect the recipes to make that fit into the book concept. But actually, it's quite the opposite. We have the recipes that we want to feature, which are the recipes that have been, we've loved cooking over the last four or five years. And then we tried to figure out how it all fits into something that makes sense.

So we had also very incongruous chapter titles, so some things were about processes that happen in the cooking. We had a chapter titled, called Infusion, or Infusing. And I can tell you more about that when we talk about recipes in which this happens. Other titles were about some sweetness or acidity, things that involve flavor or matching up an ingredient with flavor. And the third type of chapters were all about one particular ingredient we wanted to champion, like onions and garlic, the family of allium, which for example that are really responsible for giving so much flavor to so many dishes that we love.

But all these things didn't quite work, so we've been working with Tara Wigley. I think you may have spoken to her in the past. She's written Falastin with Sami Tamimi. And Tara's always ... We handed her the manuscript and said, "Tara, what's going on here?" And she was the clever person who came up with the idea that there's really three types of Ps here, process, pairing, and produce, and either recipes about the processes that happen to it, or throughout the particular pairing of a vegetable with a flavor or a particular produce. And it really works.

Kerry Diamond: Can you walk us through one of your favorite recipes and explain what the three Ps are for that recipe?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Oh, yeah. So I would choose a recipe from one of the Ps, so I love to talk about celery root or celeriac as we call it here.

Kerry Diamond: That's so funny. That's one of the ones that totally jumped out at me when you talked about the transformation of the celery root, a very under loved vegetable in America.

Yotam Ottolenghi: Absolutely. And we really love it here. I mean, also, it wasn't the most talked about recipe ingredient or vegetable in the past, but it's still part of the tradition here. But I know that in America, much less. And over the past few books, I've often had a recipe for whole roasted celery root. And it goes through a really incredible transformation through the process of slow cooking in the oven. I mean, you can do it over a barbecue, but in the book, we call for roasting it or cooking it in the oven for about three hours with just olive oil and salt. It's a really simple process. You can go read a book if you like while this is happening.

Kerry Diamond: What's the temperature?

Yotam Ottolenghi: So we cook it at 375 Fahrenheit, so a medium oven. And what happens is that the starches turn into sugars, go all brown and condense and intensify. Inside it develops this wonderful sweetness, nuttiness. And when you cut a wedge and you get all that steam and all that sweetness, it's got a real delicious factor coming in. It's just something that hasn't at all been there in the beginning. And that wedge of recently roasted celery root is really something that you can take into different directions.

We've got three recipes based on that celery root in the book, so we've got the base recipe, and then we've got roasted celery root with sweet chile dressing, so we make our own sweet chile dressing. So the browning or the process that has happened through the slow cooking of the root is then served as a kind of juxtaposing to acidity, which comes from the heat that comes from the sweet chile sauce. So that's a wonderful variation on the celery root.

Another one that I absolutely love, and it just goes to show how clever Ixta is, is the celery root steaks with a Café de Paris sauce, which takes maybe a familiar French steak sauce, which has cream in it and mustard powders, sauteed down shallot and garlic, and it becomes really rich and creamy sauce that you would normally found in steak. We cut our own celery root into steaks and finish them in the oven, and give them a second roast, and then that sauce goes on top. And that's where you've got all that fattiness. That fattiness comes from the butter and some cream that really offsets the slow cooking, or complements the slow cooking of the celery root. So yeah, that's a really good example of a lot of things that are happening in the book.

Kerry Diamond: So when you see that celery root, that lonely celery root at the farmer's market, you should pick it up and give it some love this time round. I also want to talk about there's a great section, Your 20 Essential Ingredients. And it's sort of the front of a cookbook always has a pantry section, but I love this because it wasn't your typical olive oil, this, that. You really assembled this sort of global collection of ingredients. Can you tell us about that?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I always find that if you look, it's been true for the last few cookbooks that I've been part of, I published or co-authored, and we always try to find a group of ingredients. In my previous book, Simple, it was 10 ingredients because it was a simpler cookbook. Here, we're back to 20, that kind of tell the story of the book. And they're not maybe the most used in the book necessarily, or they're not basic, but if you ... I think I say in the introduction, "If you open a bag and smell it, you kind of smell the book." And those are very much ... So there are ingredients here that have featured in the past in Ottolenghi cookbook, like the roasted harissa, or the black garlic, or even the black lime. But there's definitely a whole host of ingredients that Ixta has brought into play.

Kerry Diamond: I was going to ask. Is there one that Ixta introduced you to that you fell in love with?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah. I mean, so we have here, I shouldn't really be talking about this chile because there's an Ottolenghi effect, and then there is a global shortage now after Flavor's been published. But it's a wonderful chile called cascabel, a Mexican chile. And it looks beautiful. It's perfectly round and when you shake it, you can hear the seed rattling inside. It's not a very hot chile, it's a medium chile. It's got a wonderful sweetness to it, and it gives you that warmth that really good chiles do. And it's kind of nutty and chocolatey. I really love it.

But the whole 20 ingredients section has many chiles or chile derivatives, and many of those are part of Ixta's heritage because she has family and she spent time in Mexico and also in Brazil. So this kind of is a South American addition here that I'm sure she can tell you about, but that's definitely one of her contributions.

Kerry Diamond: What made you think she would be a great collaborator for this cookbook?

Yotam Ottolenghi: So the test kitchen where I work, there is always a few people, one or two, testing recipes. And Ixta's been cooking in the test kitchen for five years now. And when it came to do a new book and a new vegetable book, I mean, I knew she would be the right person because she's been creating recipes for a while. And to me, it's always important that every book is very different from the previous one. That's why I do these collaborations because I just think it guarantees that you're going to get a different voice and a different style, and something different will come out. And Ixta has brought that, and I knew she would because I'd seen her cooking before. And you'd find many recipes that kind of are, you can see her fingerprints on it.

Also, certain combinations that maybe I wouldn't dare put together. Like, there was a recipe for fusion caponata in which we take Sicilian dish and give it a Chinese treatment with tofu and Shaoxing wine and soy sauce. So it's a kind of a hybrid between two very different food cultures, but actually, it makes sense when you actually eat it. The commonalities, the similarities really pop out as soon as you think, okay, this could be a very familiar tofu dish that you would've had in an Asian context, but also, you immediately feel that you know the Italian inspiration.

Kerry Diamond: There's always one recipe that becomes the popular recipe from a cookbook. Often, it's not even the recipe you expect. Which one do you think will be the superstar recipe from this book?

Yotam Ottolenghi: I think there's two, actually. So far, I've seen two recipes, and I kind of expected that one, but not the other. So the one that I expected and did turn into a very popular recipe is a mushroom lasagna, not because there's anything predictable about this recipe, but I knew it was a wonderful example of a lasagna. And who doesn't like a lasagna?

Kerry Diamond: Can you walk us through it?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah. So it's got two types of mushrooms, fresh, and two types of dried mushrooms. And the fresh mushroom, the oyster mushrooms and brown mushrooms, button mushrooms, they're cooked down slowly in the first blitz, and then cooked down into almost like a minced texture. They're cooked in the oven. And then there is a process in which we use the dried mushrooms that have been re-hydrated in the liquids to create a really rich, reduced sauce. There's tomato paste. There's chiles. And it becomes very, very, very savory and very mushroomy. And there's heaps of mushrooms there, so by the time it's all reduced, you really have the essence of mushroom in the recipe. And it uses Pecorino and Parmesan. It's very, very rich, but highly recommended. And even if it seems incredible the amount of mushrooms you're going to leave the store with, you think that you couldn't possibly be buying four pounds of fresh mushrooms. That is true. That's why you need to make it. But it's so rich, you don't need that much of it. It's absolutely fantastic.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that sounds like a fun dish to make for the holiday.

Yotam Ottolenghi: Absolutely. And the other recipe I'll quickly mention is the miso butter onions, which is a recipe which only has miso, butter and onions, as the name suggests. But something magical happens in the cooking process, and that is the kind of when the onion juices and the butter and the miso kind of emulsify and turn into something very rich and almost gravy like. And the onions become super cooked and sweet. It's another one that's been displayed on many a screen recently, and it's super popular.

Kerry Diamond: What would you serve that with?

Yotam Ottolenghi: So that would be, I would just have to ... That could be served with rice or with noodles, if you want with some tofu. In a non veggie context, obviously it could go with a roasted chicken. But yeah, anything like ... Whenever you want a really delicious roasted vegetable, that's when you go for that. And I love the fact that it's an onion because not very often, and this is one of the points we make in the book, onions and garlics and leeks are not at the center of the plate. In our books, in my books historically, but particularly in this book, we like to feature them prominently.

Kerry Diamond: Well, that sounds heavenly. Yotam, we have a quick little speed round for you. But before that, I have to ask you about your documentary. So I saw it the other month. It's called Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles. And it's all about a project you did at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Had you been planning that for a while?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah. So it's an event, it's a documentary that tells the, documents the event that I've done with the Metropolitan Museum a couple of years ago. I've had a series of events with the museum in which we work on an exhibition from a culinary perspective. So we take a historical period, or an artist featured in the museum, and we shed light on that particular exhibition through food. And I get to choose. I got lucky I get to choose the exhibition, so when I saw that there was going to be an exhibition about Versailles, traveling from the Musee de Versailles in Paris to New York, I just grabbed it and I said, "Let's do something." So we created this extravaganza of cakes inspired by Versailles. And I recruited pastry chefs from New York, but also from other parts of the world to come to The Met and create their own interpretation on cakes of that period.

So there was an intellectual part in which I talked to a historian about the period, both in terms of food, but also in terms of the court and its openness, and how it was a magnet for creative forces in architecture and design in gardening, but also in culinary arts. And then it was followed by these creations by pastry chefs, world renowned pastry chefs, Dominique Ansel, a bunch of others who've created cakes especially for this particular event. It was amazing. We did a documentary that just showed the whole process.

Kerry Diamond: It looked like you had a great time doing it. It's on Amazon for those who want to watch it. But after I watched that, I watched Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, which as you know is filled with so many gorgeous cakes and macaroons. They made very good companion pieces for back to back viewing.

Yotam Ottolenghi: I'm very glad you watched it.

Kerry Diamond: So Yotam, let's do a little speed round. We do with everybody. All right. What is your most used kitchen implement?

Yotam Ottolenghi: It would be my lemon squeezer.

Kerry Diamond: A treasured cookbook, it doesn't have to be the most treasured cookbook because I know I'm looking at you in front of hundreds of cookbooks, so I know you have a lot of cookbooks.

Yotam Ottolenghi: The one that I have had for a very long time and go back to a lot is Claudia Roden's A Book of Middle Eastern Cooking. It came out in the year that I was born, 1968. It's as long as that, but I think it's been republished over the years. And it's an incredible tome of food of the region.

Kerry Diamond: What is the oldest thing in your fridge at home?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Oh, my God. That does not include the freezer. I mean, there is a lot of ... We didn't talk about the condiments. I've got a lot of little jars.

Kerry Diamond: The flavor bombs!

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah, I've got flavor bombs, all over my fridge. Chile sauces that I've made or been given, preserved lemons that have been sitting for a long time. Yeah, the whole top level, layer is full of those things. I don't know which one is the absolute oldest, but there's a whole lot of them.

Kerry Diamond: You just reminded me that I have some very old preserved lemons I made in my cabinet that I should probably open one of these days. Okay. What is the song that makes you smile?

Yotam Ottolenghi: There's an old Tom Waits song. I listen to him a lot, but I like the old albums. It's called Heart of a Saturday Night. And it's, I don't know, 70s, but I listen to this album a lot. I think that it's got that name as well. And it's just a wonderful song, makes me smile.

Kerry Diamond: Something you would never eat or can't eat.

Yotam Ottolenghi: I think that would have to be durian.

Kerry Diamond: Durian, okay.

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah. I've tried it, but it didn't have a great effect on me.

Kerry Diamond: Yotam, since we can't really travel, a dream travel destination.

Yotam Ottolenghi: I think it will have to be Mexico because I haven't been to Mexico yet, so that would be it, yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, my gosh. It's going to blow your mind.

Yotam Ottolenghi: I know.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, I can't wait until you get to go there. All right. Last question. If you could make that mushroom lasagna for anybody, who would you like to sit down and eat it with?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Oh, you know what, this maybe sounds a bit sentimental, but if I could bring someone back to life, it would be my father who passed away last year and I really, really miss him. And I would love to do that, just sit around and just kind of tell him how even madder things have turned out over the last year or so, and he won't believe it, but we'll still have a great time.

Kerry Diamond: Yotam, what was your dad's name?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Michael.

Kerry Diamond: Did he cook?

Yotam Ottolenghi: Yeah, yeah. He was an incredible cook. Yeah, he was Italian. He had a great talent and lots of dedication. He used to make delicious food.

Kerry Diamond: Thank you so much to Yotam for his time and for sharing that with us. It's always wonderful to talk with him. We'll be right back after this word about the new cookbook 100 Cookies.

Hey Bombesquad. Today's show is sponsored by 100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen, with Classic Cookies, Novel Treats, Brownies, Bars and More by Sarah Kieffer. Sarah is the cookie queen behind the Vanilla Bean Baking Blog and behind one of the coolest viral recipes ever, the pan banging chocolate chip cookie recipe, where you literally drop your baking sheet to create ripples in your cookies.

There is a whole chapter on pan banging cookies in the 100 Cookies Cookbook, plus a whole lot more. Those beautiful Neapolitan cookies that are all over Instagram right now, there's a recipe for those in Sarah's book that uses freeze dried strawberries and cocoa powder to get the gorgeous colors and flavors. I've already started baking through the book, and my goal is to get through all 100 of those recipes. 100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer is the perfect gift for every baker in your squad, so check out 100 Cookies and pick up a copy or two at your favorite local bookstore. Happy baking.

Now here's my conversation with Ixta Belfrage, direct from the Ottolenghi test kitchen London.

This is the first time we've ever spoken, so I thought we would start at the beginning. Where did you grow up as a child?

Ixta Belfrage: I've lived most of my life in London, but on and off in lots of other places, so we moved to Italy when I was two and a half because my dad worked with Italian wines, so it was a pretty lovely upbringing there. We lived in the hills in Tuscany. And we used to visit wine producers a lot and get cooked for a lot, so that was pretty wonderful. But my mom is Brazilian, so we spent a lot of time in Brazil as well. So she's Brazilian, but grew up in Cuba before going back to Brazil. And then, yeah, a lot of my family also lived in Mexico, so that was another place that we spent a lot of time in.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, my gosh. I didn't even have a passport until I think I was 19 or 20.

Ixta Belfrage: Oh, really? Oh, wow.

Kerry Diamond: I guess that's an American thing.

Ixta Belfrage: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: But you sound like you were very international from a young age.

Ixta Belfrage: Yeah, I think that really sort of informed the way I cook from a really young age. I was always obsessed with food, and I guess just taking it all in like a sponge wherever I went, and working out how ... I mean, without knowing I guess, working out how to make things in my head. And then when I started cooking, it just all sort of came out.

Kerry Diamond: So when did you start cooking?

Ixta Belfrage: Pretty young I think. I think when I was about four or five, I'd say. But yeah, there are some pretty funny pictures of a tiny, tiny me holding a big knife. And there's another funny picture of me standing on a stool with a huge Dutch oven pot and a spoon that's pretty much as big as my body, a wooden spoon. My mom is a nutritionist, so we always ate really healthily at home. And because I had been exposed to such delicious food in Tuscany and in Mexico and Brazil, and I knew I loved food, I always used to get very, very angry with the kind of food we ate at home. And my mom and I used to have big arguments when I was a kid because I was sick of eating this healthy food all the time. She I think one day, she just said, exasperatedly said to me, "If you want to eat these things, you have to cook them yourself." And I was like, "Okay, fine."

Kerry Diamond: Challenge accepted.

Ixta Belfrage: Challenge accepted, exactly.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's funny. So what were some things you made as a child? Do you remember?

Ixta Belfrage: Well, one of the first things, I guess this isn't cooking, one of the first things I used to make with my friend Dorita in Italy was, it's a common snack for Merenda, which is the afternoon snack in Tuscany, and it's old bread with old red wine and brown sugar, so a very child friendly snack. It's generally unsalted Tuscan bread because Tuscan bread is unsalted, although if I was to make it now, I'd definitely make it salted. And it's just kind of all ... You don't toast it, but it's just stale. And then red wine, usually there's a little bit left in the bottle, and specifically brown crunchy sugar. I guess we call that demerara here, I don't know. I think it's one of the most delicious snacks ever. But then, yeah, I guess I used to make a lot of tomato sauces and aubergine parmigiana. Think one of my biggest projects when I was about six or seven, I made a rabbit lasagna.

Kerry Diamond: So when did you realize food and cooking could be a career?

Ixta Belfrage: Really, really late. Yeah, for some reason, I never realized that my passion could also be my career. My dad always used to say, "Why don't you go to catering school?" I'm like, "I don't want to do that." I don't want to be taught how to chop an onion, or how to do this. I don't like the idea of there being any rules with cooking. So I always cooked, but I tried out a couple of degrees. I did a painting degree and then a design degree. And I moved to Australia for three and a half years, and I just did odd jobs. Well, I worked as a car and gas salesman, and then as a travel agent for a few years, and I hated it.

Ixta Belfrage: And then, yeah, I started with my own. I knew I didn't want to go to cooking school. And I didn't think I wanted to work in restaurants because of the hours. So I started, I had my own little market stall where I made tacos, then my own little catering thing. But it was just super hard, and I didn't have any industry experience. I was doing it all by myself and sort of flailing and having no idea what was going on.

Kerry Diamond: That's tough. So the stall, you were pretty much on your own?

Ixta Belfrage: Yeah, totally on my own. Well, actually no, that's not true. My friend, one of my good friends helped me out, which was really nice of him. But I did all the prep by myself, and set up the stall, and set it down. And he would come and help me for a few hours. But after a few months, I was like, "I can't do this anymore." So that's when I started applying for restaurant jobs. And I thought, "No one in their right mind is ever going to take me because I have no experience." And yeah, literally the night after I spent about three hours firing off loads of CVs on Gumtree, which is I think the equivalent of your Craigslist, I thought, "Yep, no one's going to get back to me." And then the next morning, a phone call actually woke me up, and it was Nopi, which is Yotam's restaurant. And luckily for me, I always say that the reason I'm here is because of being at the right place at the right time many, many times over.

Luckily, someone had walked out and they needed someone really desperately. And I actually went in for a trial, and the head chef really didn't like me. We didn't gel at all. But the sous chef, who was a fellow Brazilian, kind of encouraged the head chef to give me a chance, and so they did.

Kerry Diamond: What station did they put you on at first?

Ixta Belfrage: Yeah. So I was on larder, which is desserts and starters and salads, and some of the sides. But I never graduated to the line. I don't think I could really ever do that. I don't think I've got the strength for that.

Kerry Diamond: So what happened after that? You're working the larder.

Ixta Belfrage: Yeah, so I worked at Nopi for about nine months. And then one of my other bosses and one of the partners of the Ottolenghi Group, Cornelia, who's kind of everyone's boss and mother, and an amazing, amazing woman, she sort of leaned over the pass one day, and she was like, "Ixta, would you be interested in going for a job at the test kitchen?" And at the time, I had no idea what the test kitchen was, or that a job like that even existed. And it was quite funny because at the time, I was finding it really hard working in restaurant kitchens and doing the long hours, and having not much of a social life. Yeah, I was really struggling, so I didn't think that was the life for me. And next thing I know, she's talking about this job that sounded like this magical unicorn of jobs. She said to me, "You might not like it. It doesn't have the fire of the kitchen. It's only Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00." And I was like, "Well, where do I sign up?"

Kerry Diamond: What do you think she spotted in you that made you perfect for the test kitchen?

Ixta Belfrage: Honestly, at the time, I think maybe she spotted that I was struggling in that environment, and that I was a young female chef. I mean, honestly, if I'm being perfectly honest, hadn't by any way proved myself in that kitchen. I made a lot of mistakes, and I did find it hard there. And so I don't know what she saw in me really. We had a great relationship, so maybe, and she's an incredible business leader, so I guess-

Kerry Diamond: So it was more a life preserver that she threw you than something she had observed about your palate, or your way in the kitchen.

Ixta Belfrage: No, yeah. I think so because honestly, everything that I did in the kitchen, that was following orders or following a recipe, so I was never showcasing my own work. So I think, I mean, yeah, she sees things in people. She's got a sixth sense about people, and so yeah, I guess like I said, right place at the right time. I mean, I've worked hard after that, but yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So how long ago was that?

Ixta Belfrage: That was about four and a half years. Yeah, I've been in the test kitchen about four and a half years. So I think I've proved myself since then, but before, I really hadn't, in my eyes, done anything to deserve such an incredible job.

Kerry Diamond: Well, you've done a beautiful job on Flavor. And as Yotam said, "Your fingerprints are all over that book." What would you say you brought to this collaboration?

Ixta Belfrage: Well, I mean, I guess a lot of Latin American ingredients and ways of cooking that I grew up with, and the kind of black beans and plantains and lots of dried chiles are the kind of things I grew up eating. But the thing is, I mean, these are things that Yotam has been cooking with for a long time, so it's by no means like I brought them to the table, but it was nice to ... Yeah, there's a lot of dishes in the book that are a nice example of our cultures coming together and feeding off each other. For example, there's a really simple carrot salad with a chamoy dressing. Actually, quite a few people have pointed out that the dressing is not a chamoy, and we actually do say that in the introduction that it's inspired by Chamoy. It's got the apricot and the lime and chile, but we've actually used Aleppo chile and sumac.

Kerry Diamond: What's a recipe that you absolutely adore that's in the cookbook?

Ixta Belfrage: I think Yotam mentioned before the miso butter onions, and that's one of my favorite recipes of all time really.

Kerry Diamond: What do you serve it with?

Ixta Belfrage: On toast is a really good, or grilled flatbread, or just with some charred bread to scoop it all up. They're really soft and really melt in the mouth, or over mash, or with roast chicken. But yeah, it's actually the shortest Ottolenghi recipe ever, which is quite a feat I think. It's a really good example of how sort of kitchen alchemy works because it's just three ingredients and just through the cookbook process and through with time and heat, this incredible thing comes out the other end.

Kerry Diamond: Ixta, how did you find the cookbook process?

Ixta Belfrage: Really, really weird, not weird, but very new, I guess I sort of would put it in the deep end. I've never made a book before, so I didn't really know what I was doing. But obviously, Yotam's a great teacher. And my friend Tara who's done this many times before, helped out a lot, so it was really fun. It was really fun.

Kerry Diamond: Is there a recipe that you think is very reflective of you, that would love our audience to try?

Ixta Belfrage: Yeah. I think the tangerine and ancho chile flan is one of my favorites as well. And yeah, flan is obviously a very common dessert in Mexico, but it's also in Brazil we have it. It's the same thing, but we call it pudding. But often, there are different flavors rather than just the classic plain flan. This one has ancho chile, which is really mildly spicy. It's not hot. It just gives this really lovely fruity smokiness. And then the tangerine gives this little kick. And yeah, and it's so simple. You just put everything in a blender, pour it into a tin, and bake it in the oven in a water bath.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's a great one to make for now, especially that it's citrus season. So Ixta, since you're new to Radio Cherry Bombe, we always do a little speed round, so we are going to do one with you. Ready?

Ixta Belfrage: Yeah, I'm ready.

Kerry Diamond: What is your most used kitchen implement?

Ixta Belfrage: Microplane for sure.

Kerry Diamond: What is a treasured cookbook that you own?

Ixta Belfrage: Heartwood by Eric Werner and Mya Henry.

Kerry Diamond: What is the oldest thing in your fridge?

Ixta Belfrage: Oh, God. That's a really good question. It's probably got to be some old chile oil that's been sitting there for a while.

Kerry Diamond: What is a song that makes you smile?

Ixta Belfrage: Alegría by Elia y Elizabeth

Kerry Diamond: Something you would never eat or that you can't eat.

Ixta Belfrage: I'm not a huge fan of tripe, but I can be convinced.

Kerry Diamond: What is a dream travel destination?

Ixta Belfrage: Just Southeast Asia in general. I've never been there, so Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia.

Kerry Diamond: Okay. If you could make your flan for anybody, who would it be and why?

Ixta Belfrage: I think it would be for my grandma, Molly Castle, who I never met, but she wrote an incredible book called Around the World with an Appetite about all of her travels, with recipes at the end. And she wasn't a great cook at all, but she's a great storyteller, and I really would love to meet her one day up there, or wherever.

Kerry Diamond: Can you still find that book?

Ixta Belfrage: I've got a copy. We've got a few copies in the family, and I think there's about three copies online available. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's amazing. Okay, so you said she's not a good cook though, so we shouldn't read it for the recipes.

Ixta Belfrage: Not for the recipes, just for the stories. But yeah, she's a great storyteller.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, well, that's wonderful. Well, Ixta, I'm so glad, I know our time together was short, but I'm so glad we got to meet you, and everyone got to get a little taste of what your food and contributions are all about. But I hope we get to meet you in person one day.

Ixta Belfrage: Thank you so much. It's been a real honor to meet you here.

Kerry Diamond: Well, congratulations on the book. It's beautiful.

Ixta Belfrage: Thanks.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Yotam and Ixta for hanging out with us. If you enjoyed our conversation, be sure to check out the cookbook, Ottolenghi Flavor, out now in the US. Thank you to Kerrygold and the book 100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer for supporting today's show. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited by Kat Garelli. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tra La La. Hang in there, everybody. And thank you for listening. You're the Bombe.

When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have with she's having.

Alaina Chou: Hey. This is Alaina Chou. I'm a blogger at and the co-founder and co-host of Gourmand, a new podcast set on empowering the next generation of food lovers and leaders. Do you want to know who I think is The Bombe? Her name is Caroline Schiff. Among many other things, she's the powerhouse pastry chef at the highly anticipated Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn. And you know those sourdough discard pancakes you've seen all over Instagram, you can thank her for those too. As a fellow baker, Caroline constantly inspires me to push the envelope. And her creativity just won her the Rising Star Pastry Chef Award for 2020. She's The Bombe.