Yair Feinberg
Yair Feinberg at Chez Eugene in Mitzpeh Ramon. Photo by Eli Hershkowitz
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Yair Feinberg would prefer if people didn't make a big deal about food, and certainly not about cooking. This is a surprising, almost subversive statement, considering the obsession with philosophizing about food - see under "Master Chef." When the generosity of the tomato and the cry of the parsley are sounded everywhere, it's refreshing to hear a chef say that cooking is actually a simple matter.

Feinberg, 31, studied cooking in France where he trained in restaurants decorated with Michelin stars. Today he leads cooking workshops, where his underlying guideline is "diversify the raw materials."

"People are put off by making mayonnaise at home, even though it's very easy and more preferable. Don't want raw eggs? Make mayonnaise from hard-boiled eggs," he says.

"And that's not the only place it's possible to innovate. Did you know, for example, that the taste of schnitzel changes completely based on the size of the pan and the quantity of oil?" Feinberg continues.

Simple cooking involves saving time as well, he says, and shattering the romantic aura of the chef who toils for hours at the stove. Feinberg is importing state-of-the-art utensils that operate with the push of a button, he specializes in French cuisine, runs a catering business, is a culinary consultant for many restaurants, and is a chef and partner in a gourmet restaurant in Mitzpeh Ramon. This month he will open Fine Cook, a studio that will teach both the public and trained chefs how to cook using advanced techniques.

Many know Feinberg as the Israeli sous-chef of Stephane Froidevaux on the show "Knife Fight" (based on the series "Iron Chef" ) - the first harbinger of prime time cooking shows. He says the show represented the field well because it focused on doing, not talking.

Feinberg is a native of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, in the south; one day he read an article about chef Israel Aharoni and decided to study cooking at the school in Lyon. From there he was accepted to an apprenticeship in a restaurant in Provence, and later moved to the three-Michelin-star L'Astrance restaurant in Paris. From there he went to a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Tuscany and after many years in Europe returned to Israel "mostly because I wanted to stop wandering. I wanted to start a family in Israel and work here."

Taking the entrepreneurial route, Feinberg began importing appliances to Israel that chefs in Europe are already familiar with, but in Israel were still unknown.

"These are accessible devices," Feinberg says. "For me, they take the complexity out of cooking and eliminate the sense that this is an endeavor for experts only. It really is not that big a deal to cook."

Cooking in a vacuum

Another method he's importing to Israel and offering workshops in is the vacuum-cooking method. "It's a method that really makes life simple and healthy. It started 40 years ago in France in elite restaurants and spread to homes," he explains. "The idea is to take anything, put it in a bag, vacuum seal it and then place it under controlled temperatures and cook it. The cooking is done at the ideal temperature that preserves the food's quality, and the method preserves the nutritional value."

"I'm in favor of making life easy," he continues. "So that even people who are busy and don't cook as a hobby, who don't set aside half a day, will be able to cook... Even a mother returning home from work can serve a vacuum-cooked meal, even one made a week earlier, instead of making do with a mass-produced meal that children get addicted to."

Feinberg's fondness for advanced cooking devices led him to Froidevaux, and turned Feinberg into an ambassador of sorts who now hosts chefs and tourists from Europe.

"Stephane wanted the studio kitchen to have these machines and that's how they got to me," Feinberg explains. "Because I speak French, I found myself doing a market tour with him the very next day, and afterward he invited me to be his sous-chef in the studio."

Their friendship, and Feinberg's knowledge of French cuisine, led to contact with three French entrepreneurs who wanted to open a boutique hotel and restaurant in Mitzpeh Ramon. One partner, Arno Rodrig, is now manager of the Chez Eugene restaurant, where Feinberg cooks four days a week.

"We use only local raw materials from the Negev: goat cheese, vegetables, lamb. Boutique beers, wines," he says. "The aim was to set up a chef's restaurant the way it should be, in the Negev. They had a vision, and I believe they took the right gamble, because the place is in demand. The south is developing."

Feinberg splits his time between Mitzpeh Ramon and Tel Aviv. "I like this division," he says, "between entrepreneurship and standing by the stove. You have to remember that you don't have to stand there for hours."