The changing palate of a flesh-and-blood hedonist
Food critic and restaurateur Shaul Evron shares his philosophy from a tall bar stool.
Oh, that broad back, sitting at the bar. What do you do when you’re not at Yoezer?
All kinds of things. I go to the swimming pool occasionally. I’ve also learned how to do exercises in the water.
Shaul Evron swims and exercises?! Soon you’ll be telling me that it’s for health reasons.
I don’t think so. It certainly helps. But I actually do it because I like to. Out of the water I don’t really like to move, but in the water I do.
Are you lazy?
I like sitting more than walking, for example. I mainly like high bar stools.
Tell me how you ended up in the food business.
I grew up in a very atypical family. My mother was of Russian origin and my father was from Poland, but both in effect grew up and were educated in France and Belgium. My father was a pharmacist, he had a drugstore on Allenby Street, one of the first in Tel Aviv.
Do you know Joey’s Bar? That’s where my father’s drugstore was, and I grew up in the apartment above it. My mother was very French in her food culture. For example, margarine is something I encountered only when I started school and saw children eating it.
You didn’t understand what that polymer was?
Exactly. Those were the years of austerity. We had relatives from abroad who sent us all kinds of coupons with which to buy things. So in other families they would buy electrical appliances, and in our house we would buy butter and cheeses. The offerings were very limited. There was no such thing, for example, as eating shrimp. And we would travel to Jaffa to buy from the merchant, from whom I still buy now.
And how did you get into journalism?
In the army I was a soldier-student, but I didn’t want to sign on as a career soldier. As a punishment they sent me to a course for tank officers. I had no idea what I was doing there. In the end they sent me to edit some Armored Corps newspaper called Ma’archot Shiryon. Eventually, when I was already working at [the daily] Maariv, I met someone who was in the course with me, and suddenly it turned out that half of those who were there with me had died. At the beginning we didn’t even think about wars. I didn’t want to drive a tank because I thought it would be hot and uncomfortable. Suddenly it turns out that it had been a life-and-death decision.
You had the good fortune of being a journalist during the golden age of journalism.
Yes. I actually started out as a business reporter at Maariv. But I was very interested in food. I had a lot of free time, I used to go to all kinds of places all over the world. I would eat and write about it.
And afterward you moved to the newspaper Hadashot.
Yes, while I was at Hadashot [the late journalist and playwright] Dahn Ben-Amotz and I had a regular column where we met for breakfast with politicians. One of them was Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], who had just returned from his assignment at the United Nations. We spoke to him and he invited us to the Hilton, where he was living at the time, for breakfast. After the meal Bibi got up and left. And then suddenly the waitress arrived with the bill. We were stunned. We were sure that he had signed for it, that he had paid. Dahn, who didn’t much like paying – certainly not for other people – was amazed by the fact that someone had managed to defeat him over the bill.
That’s funny. You’ve probably heard the story about chef Meir Adoni, who claimed that there was no good food in Israel and nobody really understood food here. What do you think? Is there really no food scene here?
I disagree. Here in Yoezer I see people who come with young children who are crazy about tartare, about oysters.
Where do you think it’s all going?
I don’t know how to talk about such things. I live and experience things. I’m not good at analyzing. And the truth is I don’t much care, either. It’s always the things you experience that matter, not the statistics and not the crowds. In any case, I disagree. I do think that many people know how to appreciate and respect good food. Good smoked salmon, say. That’s something that’s very hard to find in Israel. It’s made from frozen salmon, and it’s smoked with all kinds of chemicals. I really liked eating smoked salmon in London, and I said, why not try it here. And in fact the smoked salmon we produced really spoiled London for me. In general, a lot of the food that we serve here is food that I missed from all kinds of places, and we tried making it, and it turned out well. So there were some things that people really liked, and some that only very few liked.
So, tell us, what was very unsuccessful? What didn’t you manage to bring here?
Yes, which is really tasty. And I said, why not try. There are still about two people who ask on Facebook, “Nu, what about the boudin?” But it just didn’t catch on.
Do you like entertaining people? It always seems like such a nightmare to me.
I don’t exactly entertain. There are people I know and I’m happy to see them. In general, I’m quite senile when it comes to that. Often I recognize someone, but I don’t really know who it is. At Kiosk, in Neveh Tzedek, when lots of people would come up to me and say “You remember me?”, I would smile at them. One day someone who looked familiar came in, and I couldn’t remember where I knew her from. It turned out to be my first wife. I hadn’t seen her for some 10 years. And I swear, I only recognized her because she came in with two other friends with whom we used to play bridge. I’m really not such a social butterfly. I have my place at the bar. I love watching people.
That’s the most interesting thing.
True. Abroad, for example, I really like eating alone. If possible, at a bar, and simply to look around me and see what’s happening. There are places where it’s considered rude. The French, for example, can get very angry at someone who looks at what’s in their plate. They can really lash out at you.
What’s your favorite flavor?
Oysters. Egg yolk. I used to be crazy about garlic. Now I have a hard time with it. It dominates the other flavors.
Do you think that the sensitivity of your palate changes over the years?
Yes, but I have no real theory on the matter. I was once at Courvoisier, the cognac kingdom, and the head taster for Courvoisier was a heavy smoker. I asked him how that could be. He said that smoking has no adverse effect. But as long as he’s doing that job he can’t stop smoking, because then his palate will change. So I recently stopped smoking, because I had reached a situation where I had to choose between that and breathing, and I was really surprised that my palate didn’t change.
Can you identify the specific vintages of wine or traces of a seasoning in a food?
No. Not at all. I don’t have an analytic, encyclopedic palate. I’m sensitive to imperfect flavors. I can’t always say why, but I sense that something is not exactly right. For example, the late Eli Landau [a cardiologist and gourmet who died recently] once prepared an Italian salad for me that I was really crazy about. I came to him afterward and he made the same salad again, and I told him it wasn’t the same at all. It turned out that he had used a different type of olive oil. I couldn’t pin it down, but I felt it was different.
Are you a gourmand?
Yes. Of course.
How much do you like to eat?
To what extent does food dictate your daily routine?
It definitely dictates it. It’s important to me. I try not to eat just anything, not in the sense of unhealthy things or junk food, but to eat only to feel full. I don’t do that. I want only tasty things.
In one of the articles about you, I read that you sit in Yoezer at lunchtime and don’t know what you feel like eating. You don’t go to Margaret Tayar [a restaurant in the Jaffa Port] because the cab driver won’t go that far. In the end you decide that you feel like having raw fish. Only raw fish. So you get into another cab and travel to eat raw fish. Do you really live like that, or was it for the purpose of the article?
It certainly wasn’t for the article. Eli of Yakimono [in central Tel Aviv] is a good friend of mine, and we have a prearranged signal: When he gets something good he texts me the code name “Schumacher” − the name of the race car driver. When I get that message it means “Drop everything and come,” because he has received a shipment of red tuna, or even octopus − that strange creature which, when you know how to clean it well and you eat it raw, has a wonderful taste and a kind of oiliness. Yes, I really enjoy living like that.
Letting your palate determine your daily schedule.
Yes. For example, when I feel like something spicy I go to Thai House. They prepare all kinds of unusual things for me there, like spleen.
Yuck. Spleen? Isn’t it bitter?
It’s bitter. And tasty. Or Bino [owner of the Tripolitanian restaurant Dr. Shakshuka] calls me and we drive to Ashkelon to eat, because there’s a Tripolitanian butcher there in the market who prepares internal organs on a charcoal grill.
Can you eat a lot?
Depends what. I can eat a lot of meat.
You’re kidding! What do you think of vegetarians?
I can’t give a value judgment about vegetarianism. On an ethical level I can’t connect to it. I have a much bigger problem with the way people raise human beings and the injustices they cause them. I can understand someone who is disgusted by meat. Not me. We were born hunters and fishermen.
There’s a difference between hunting for your food and raising animals as an industry.
Yes, of course. Fish from artificial ponds, for example, which seem to me to be suffering the most − I don’t eat them. But not because of ethics, because of the taste. Apparently I do a better job of repressing that.
Do you think you’re a hedonist?
I don’t know what the word hedonist means. I assume that every human being is motivated by the desire for enjoyment. And I want to enjoy myself too.
So I’ll explain it as I understand it − hedonism in the sense of devoting so much time and so many resources to pleasure. There are many people for whom pleasure is not an important objective.
In that sense, yes. Pleasure is very, very important to me. I can enjoy myself in many ways, can’t I? Not only food. I can also enjoy a concert or a good mathematical equation.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
When I decided to open this place, Bino helped me to renovate. And he said, “You have to build this place in such a way that you won’t have to do anything here.” I think that’s the reason for Yoezer’s long life span. There’s nothing specific that I have to do.
Do you like to cook?
I used to. In recent years I no longer do. I don’t cook at home, I don’t eat at home.
Never. I don’t even have a stove.
Do you still have loads of friends?
Yes. I have very close friends.
Friendship is important to you.
Yes. Very. My partner in Yoezer is a friend from elementary school. I have friends still from high school. Eli Landau was a very good friend, who died. I have a lot of female friends too. Mainly women with whom I was in love and afterward we remained very close friends.
After you had an affair?
Yes. I think that if you loved someone you’ll always love him. The sexual tension disappears, the type of relationship changes, but the love exists. And I think that I’ve really been blessed with very worthwhile and good-hearted women, and those are the women closest to me today. It always amazes me that most people are unable to make that switch.
Do you love women? Have you had many women in your life?
Yes, many. Quite a few serious love affairs too. Okay, I’ve been around for quite a while. But I had times. I grew up in the 1960s. At the end of high school I had a girlfriend and we got married. After we had been married for several years I fell in love with someone else, and we divorced. I was with that woman, I married her, and after a few more years we separated. And then I suddenly realized that times had changed. During the six years that had passed since I had married twice and was a one-woman man, suddenly the entire sexual revolution began.
The Sixties arrived in Israel.
Yes. And suddenly I understood that. I was a reporter for Maariv, and I had a sports car and I had a tremendous amount of free time. And suddenly I saw that you can meet a girl in the morning and be with her in the evening. And it drove me crazy. I had been out of circulation for six years, and suddenly I emerged into a new world. I really had years when I had nothing else in my head aside from that. It was wonderful.
How many times were you married?
And then you decided that it was enough for you.
It’s entirely by chance, truth to tell, because I had very serious relationships quite a number of times.
And how is it that you didn’t start a family?
Because I was married, and more than once. That’s a good question. I don’t know. It seemed frightening to me.
It really is frightening.
Yes, and it’s the only thing I know from which there’s no going back.
Do you regret it?
No. I don’t think so.
Are you in general a person who has regrets?
I’m not like that. No. Maybe only when it comes to the small things.