Theresa May’s Ottolenghi revelation is gobsmacking

Forget footwear. The most telling thing about Theresa May, as suggested in interview with Robert Peston, is her cookbook collection – she has 100. Her remarks about her cookery writer of choice was an extraordinary exercise in character signalling. ‘Delia is very precise,’ she said, ‘and I like a bit of… throw a bit here and a bit there, and Ottolenghi is really interesting in the stuff that he does.

Right. Unless you’re a member of the smirking liberal metropolitan elite – or, like me, a cookbook reviewer – or Theresa May, you may not be familiar with Yotam Ottolenghi, but this is as clear an indicator as you can get that you’re a cosmopolitan internationalist with a free and easy approach to immigration. Yotam is to the contemporary urban metrosexual what the River Café was to New Labour – not just a source of really good recipes but an indicator of an entire socio-political outlook. The River Café cookbooks were the outward and visible sign that you were Democrat in America, Labour over here.

Ottolenghi is, among other things, a Guardian columnist (vegetarian) and for good measure a gay secular Jewish Israeli, who is married and has a son by a surrogate mother. His business partner is a gay Palestinian, and the kitchen staff are a collection of every nationality under the sun. On top of all that, Ottolenghi does things with Middle Eastern flavours that no one else does. If you fancy barberries, pomelo, kale (but of course!), wasabi and raw Brussels sprouts with physalis as garnish/relish, why, look no further. This is a food writer and restaurateur who goes for explosive flavours, for theatre on the palate. He is the man who took pomegranate molasses from Iranian grocers to the trolleys of the middle classes. And the food is, by and large, delicious, if not like mother makes.

It is, frankly, astounding that the Home Secretary is an Ottolenghi woman. I’d have unhesitatingly billed her as a Delia person myself – controlled, reliable, very very good but safe with it. What she’s telling us here is that there’s another, different side to her. You have been warned.


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