Armed with kitchen knives and chutzpah, Israeli chefs have traveled far and wide to make their mark abroad. Below are just six of the latest to spread good taste around the world, adding to the likes of Uri Scheft at New York's Breads Bakery and Moshik Roth at Amsterdam's &Samhoud Places.
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Einat Admony, 44, is the leader of spicy Israeli culinary arts in the United States. Admony, born in Bnei Brak, got her start studying cooking at the Tadmor culinary school and the Keren restaurant in the late ‘90s.
She has since established four New York restaurants, written the best-seller “Balaboosta” and is working on an Israeli book on cooking. In 2014 she made the Forward 50 list of American Jews making the greatest impact, and was among 41 immigrants declared Pride of America honorees by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
She is raising two children in a narrow loft and teaches cooks from all over the world about ethnic foods from couscous to kibbe. She spent her first five years in America earning $400 a week for 70 hours of work in the kitchens of Tabla, Patria, Bolo and Danube.
She lived in mildew-filled basements and suffered to the point that she considered giving up her dream. Then she opened her Tam falafel business in 2007 — ta’im means “delicious” or “tasty” in Hebrew.
“I started with falafel,” she says. “I succeeded with falafel, and now everyone wants to open Israeli restaurants.”
She opened her second Tam restaurant in 2012. The signature dish at her Balaboosta restaurant, opened in 2010, is called Israeli Street Fair.
“I’m lucky, and a bit talented, so that helped,” she says. She’s also proud that her latest restaurant, Bar Bolonat, was on The New York Times’ 10 Best New Restaurants of 2014 list, and that Balaboosta is famous and always full. “I couldn’t ask for more,” she says. “It’s insanely fun.”
Admony plans to open an Israeli-Spanish tapas restaurant in SoHo with a distinctly Israeli name, Combina — that word means something done a bit below board.
Tamir Nahmias, a 32-year-old Haifa native, is the chef de cuisine of three restaurants owned by Gregory Marchand in Paris, including Frenchie, where it’s almost impossible to order a table. He’s now focusing on establishing a wine bar in the city and another Marchand restaurant in London. After hours he works on his own Mediterranean restaurant, which will open in Paris next year.
Nahmias insists on adding an Israeli flavor to every dish he touches, with the necessary refinement. He keeps in the spice cabinet sumac, Iranian black lime, za’atar and Israeli dates. But his cooking technique is classic French, which he obtained at Lyon’s Institut Paul Bocuse and interning at three-star Michelin restaurants like L’Astrance and Troisgros.
“Twenty-five staff members from 15 countries work at Frenchie, and it gives me a lot as a chef, each bringing something from himself,” says Nahmias. “My challenge is to adapt my story and the flavors I love to the local palate.”
So, for example, he serves saddle of lamb in green mango chutney and mint, lentils in cumin, yogurt and green fava beans.
Gal Ben Moshe of Glass in Berlin fled Israeli food, but certainly not into the bosom of German cuisine, he notes.
The 30-year-old chef grew up in Rishon Letzion and worked at Orca, Hotel Montefiore and Mul Hayam in Israel, at Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze Grill in London and at Alinea in Chicago.
He opened a gourmet concept restaurant in Berlin serving every client a set menu (seven courses for 95 euros, or five courses for 75 euros), with no distinction between the appetizer, main course or dessert.
“I decided to open a place that’s first of all food and then everything else,” he says. “They don’t do that in Israel. I was never attracted to Mediterranean flavors, and I didn’t get my thinking on food from home. I learned to be a cook in Israel. Abroad, I learned to be a chef.”
He says his creative side originated mainly in London and Chicago. “There’s something in the Israeli food culture that’s amazing but ... people go to a restaurant for the design, service and atmosphere.”
He plates 400 dishes a night in his restaurant’s 22-square-meter kitchen “with medical precision,” he says. There’s no gas in the kitchen, which works on induction.
“The local press uses me to prove that there’s an international restaurant scene in Berlin,” he boasts. And it looks like he has good reason; he’s on a list of 400 influential chefs.
Another Israeli chef enjoying his client’s grace abroad is Joseph Hadad, 56, who grew up near Haifa in a family of cooks. He moved to Bucharest 19 years ago.
After army service as a cook, he became a sous chef at Israel’s Dan Hotels. He was appointed head chef of the King David Hotel at age 31, hosting the likes of Bill Clinton, Madonna, Michael Gorbachev, Francois Mitterrand, Hosni Mubarak and George H. W. Bush.
A businessman asked him in 1997 to relocate to Romania. “He promised to open a restaurant for me, no expenses spared. He brought me to a 195-year-old gilded building, which the Nazi command occupied in World War II and later served as a Romanian authors’ house,” Hadad recalls. “I was amazed. I said, ‘I will build my international reputation here.’”
The restaurant closed after 16 years, and Hadad found work in Romanian television as the tough chief judge on the “Top Chef” program. After the broadcast of the first episode, he opened Joseph by Joseph Hadad in the heart of Bucharest, in a 102-year-old villa that was converted into a gourmet restaurant. He has been asked to direct a new cooking show on television next spring that will include contests between teams of celebrities.
“I have a brand of imported olive oils from Crete, with my name and picture on the bottle,” he says. “My first book, with 85 recipes for advanced cooks, will come out in Romanian next summer, and I plan to open a bistro in Bucharest serving good and delicious local food they can afford.”
He recently received the best review of his career, from, of all people, “one of the most caustic restaurant critics, who grew up in France and loves to rag on restaurants,” Hadad says. “The critic, George Butunoiu, visited my restaurant for an entire year for the Restograf website. He studied the food, came and went, came and went. In the end he awarded me a certificate with the title ‘Best Restaurant in Romania.’ If he says something is good, it has to be the best.”
Cambodia and Prague
Shahaf Shabtay, 40, grew up in Kibbutz Amiad in northern Israel, but in recent years has been jumping from restaurant to restaurant in Europe and the Far East. With no experience in kitchens and after serving five years as a commando, he was accepted at the prestigious Ferrandi culinary school in Paris after using faked photography to make it appear he was the chef of the kibbutz dining room.
After studies and a grueling apprenticeship at Odeon in New York, he got sick of it all and decided to leave the business. But he gave food a second chance in 1999, going to study in Bangkok.
His world travels brought him in 2001 to Amsterdam, where he labored at the Vakzuid restaurant for three years, learning to work with a wok and studying the connection between Asiatic and Western food. At 27, he helped the owners open a branch in Mumbai under the name Zenzi.
“Anyone can open a restaurant in Paris or New York,” Shabtay says. “I love to open up in places that other chefs don’t reach. I discovered in India that I don’t know anything about food. The work with Indians added a lot of calm to my life.”
He adds that the biggest challenge for foreign chefs is actually “understanding that you’re a guest in the country and don’t dictate the palate; rather, you get a chance to be hosted.” The Mumbai Times named him the top foreign chef in 2005.
He opened Minna Tomei in Israel and three restaurants — French, Italian and Asian — in the renovated Hotel Yugoslavia in Belgrade. In 2009, his partners in Belgrade also opened SaSaZu in Prague, where he worked as a chef until recently. The complex had served as a cooks’ home in the Communist era. Last summer, he and his partners operated pop-up restaurants in Cambodia and Greece, and worked on a project in Myanmar.
A few months ago, Shabtay sold his shares and parted ways with his partners. Since then, he has established restaurants in Barcelona and Berlin with a Thai-Indian cuisine, “inspired by the techniques of Asia’s poor.”
Ori Menashe of Los Angeles’ Bestia restaurant was a client at the most important culinary moment of his life. He celebrated a birthday at LA Italian restaurant Angelini Osteria. The food excited him, so he approached the chef.
“I told him it was the most amazing food I had eaten in my life, and I asked him if he was hiring,” the 44-year-old recalls. The chef gave him a job at his new restaurant, La Terza.
“I went to work mornings in one restaurant and nights at the new restaurant, 15 hours a day,” he says. “After a year of intensive work as a cook, at 24, I was appointed sous chef.”
He worked seven years in LA restaurants until he was appointed head chef of All’Angelo. “Then one day I was asked to return to the restaurant where I celebrated my birthday as head chef,” he says.
He left after three years to open his own place, but first trained at other restaurants for 18 months. He opened Bestia in November 2012 in downtown Los Angeles with his wife Genevieve Gergis, who did the designing. His signature dish costs $140.
“From a culinary perspective, I add my own twist to classic Italian,” he says of Bestia. “The workers are proud they work here. After the restaurant’s first review, the whole city wanted to work for me. We serve 420 customers a night, 500 on weekends, and the quality of the food remains.”
Food & Wine Magazine recently named Menahse one of the best new chefs of 2015.