Pathways: Elaine Goad, head chef, Ottolenghi

18 May 2022 by
Pathways: Elaine Goad, head chef, Ottolenghi

Having opened two of the Ottolenghi brand's restaurants, the head chef talks about bringing an international flavour to the menu

Did you study a hospitality-related course at college or university?

While I was studying business at university in Canada I worked part-time in a pizza place, which got me interested in cooking. I also watched my grandpa and mum, who were great cooks.

But I thought, why am I doing business when I always wanted to cook? My dad was a banker and he didn't want me to become a chef, but I made him realise that it was what I wanted to do.

I then went on to do a culinary course in the Philippines for about six months when I was 22, which focused on Westernised cooking. I grew up in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Canada, but I wanted to cook Middle Eastern dishes because they are very colourful and used spices that I wasn't used to.

What was your first job?

I worked for a month in a hotel in the Philippines, but I didn't want a chef job because the wages were very bad. So I took a year or two out to enter a few culinary competitions and I also worked in a travel agency before moving to London, where I applied to Ottolenghi and Polpo.

I had my trial in Ottolenghi in 2015 and took on the role of kitchen porter. I wanted to start from the bottom, as that way if I ever wanted to run a business, I'd know how a KP or a commis chef would feel.

What did you do next?

I worked in Ottolenghi Spitalfields before being transferred to Notting Hill in 2016, when I became chef de partie.

What I really like about the Ottolenghi business is that not everyone is British – there are many international people with a lot of experience, not just with Middle Eastern cuisine, but Italian and Spanish cooking too. It made me realise we could do a bit of everything.

What has been your proudest moment?

Opening two restaurants that have been very successful. The first Ottolenghi I opened was in Marylebone last year, and six months later in January 2022 I opened the Chelsea branch on Pavilion Road. I'm very proud of this because the owners trusted me and I had a lot of support from the executive chef and from the top.

Who has been your biggest cheerleader you in your career?

I'd say my wife, Saskia. I'm very shy, down-to-earth and humble, but, for instance, at the International Women's Day event we hosted, I knew it wasn't in my comfort zone to speak to people and interact, but she pushes me and encourages me, even if it's a large group and I'm shy.

Who inspires you day-to-day?

All women chefs. Take Jay Fai a street-food chef in Bangkok, famed for serving dishes like crab omelette. She's so popular she even got a Michelin star. It's just so inspiring to know you don't have to be in a fancy restaurant to have a Michelin star.

What has been your favourite culinary creation?

Another inspiration of mine is Sami Tamimi, who co-wrote two of my favourite books, Jerusalem and Falastin. I wanted to make something inspired by the techniques in Tamimi's books, so when Ottolenghi Chelsea opened, I created a spiced tomato cod dish with braised coconut spring greens. Grated tomato is very common in Jerusalem and Lebanese cuisines, the spices are from Palestine, while the spring greens represented me from the Philippines. I presented the dish at the International Women's Day event.

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