Kitchen spy catch-up

It’s been a busy time here at kitchen spy headquarters and some of my snooping has gone unreported – at least on this blog. So, here are four of the best: Yotam Ottolenghi, Robin Wickens, Banjo Harris Plane and Philippa Sibley. Click on each pic to read the full story.

Kitchen Spy with chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi International man of the moment, chef Yotam Ottolenghi.
Kitchen Spy with chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi
International man of the moment, chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

Yotam Ottolenghi

He’s Yotam Ottolenghi, the international chef of the moment, known for his casual Mediterranean fare, eponymously named casual London eateries but most of all his bestselling books Ottolenghi, the Cookbook and vegetarian favourite, Plenty and the freshly minted Plenty More.

Failing that, you might have come across him on television, earlier this year, when SBS airedMediterranean Feasts, featuring his culinary travels through Turkey, Tunisia, Israel and Morocco. Born to an Italian father and German mother the 45-year-old grew up in Jewish West Jerusalem. He opened his first cafe in London’s Notting Hill in 2002, where he met now-business partner and collaborator Sami Tamimi, who also grew up but in Palestinian East Jerusalem, across the religious-political divide. The pair are now business partners in three cafes and a restaurant, NOPI, which opened in Soho in 2011. In 2012 they published a book together based on the flavours and stories of their different childhoods, called Jerusalem. Despite all the media attention this Pilates-loving family man’s style tends to be relaxed and influenced by shared foods and bold Mediterranean flavours. At the heart of his success, though, is his test kitchen  under a railway arch in Camden, central London. Here you’ll find him creating, testing and tweaking recipes for his eateries, books and various other media commitments.

“It’s not a high-tech kitchen,” he says of the space, which he usually shares with a handful of helper chefs. “It looks like a quite unremarkable home kitchen, which is what we want because we try to emulate the environment that people have in their homes when they cook.”

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Robin Wickens in his home kitchen in Dunkeld. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer

Robin Wickens

It’s been just over a year since British-born Robin Wickens took over at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, which earned two hats in the latest Age Good Food Guide. After a four-year stint living in Apollo Bay and running his food store,  Wickens Provedore, it has been a return to serious cooking. Known in the 2000s for his pioneering molecular gastronomy at Melbourne’s Interlude, the now 38-year-old chef says the treechange is suiting him, his wife, Kate, and their six-month-old daughter Nellie well. The family lives in the hotel’s “chef’s house”, five minutes’ walk from Wickens’ work kitchen.

Kitchen Spy: Banjo Harris Plane Banjo Harris Plane, named Sommelier of the Year at the Age Good Food Guide awards, at his Balaclava home. Photo: Patrick Scala/Getty Images

Banjo Harris Plane, named Sommelier of the Year at the Age Good Food Guide awards, at his Balaclava home. Photo: Patrick Scala/Getty Images

Banjo Harris Plane

He took out Sommelier of the Year at the recent Age Good Food Guide awards and plies his trade at one of Australia’s best restaurants, the three-hatted Attica in Melbourne’s Ripponlea. But Banjo Harris Plane, 30, is yet to pass the notoriously difficult Court of Master Sommeliers exam (he’s already tried twice), something he hopes to remedy when he flies to London in October. Given the pass rate is less than 3 per cent (only two people in Australia hold the title), it’s no wonder the Balaclava apartment he shares with partner Meira Harel is strewn with wine theory swot cards.

Kitchen spy: Philippa Sibley Dessert queen Philippa Sibley. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Dessert queen Philippa Sibley. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Philippa Sibley

These days Australia’s ”dessert queen”, Philippa Sibley, rolls her eyes at the mention of her hugely successful Snickers dessert, which featured on MasterChef. As a chef with nearly 30 years’ service at lauded kitchens in London, France and Melbourne (est est est, Luxe, Ondine and Albert Street Food & Wine), the pastry pigeonholing tends to wear thin.

In between dreaming up monthly menu concepts for her latest venture, Prix Fixe in Melbourne’s CBD, Sibley shares her home kitchen with 15-year-old son Donovan, three cats and her ”crazy” poodle, Molly.