To open a restaurant in Jerusalem is always a bold move. Given the security situation in the city during the past year, some might say it’s even a bit crazy. It certainly isn’t any easier if the eatery isn’t kosher (after all, this is still the Holy City). And it’s even more difficult – or, at the very least, more challenging – when two young women are the owner-chefs. But launching such a place is exactly what Rinat and Alice Moyal, who are married, went and did – against all the odds.
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The two opened their restaurant, Rina & Alice, on 38 Keren Hayesod Street before the “lone wolf” attacks in the city began late last year.
“It was after Operation Protective Edge [in 2014], but before the mess with the random stabbings began, which we couldn’t possibly have predicted, and from which the city has yet to recover,” Alice says.
Despite the pessimistic forecasts and the still-tense security situation, which have been keeping some people off the streets and out of restaurants, the two actually display cautious optimism. And perhaps they have good reason to look at the glass and see it more than half-full: After all, they are only 25 and already have a restaurant, and indeed a vision of their own, which they are realizing with an unusual humility that seems to belie the inherent defiance of two young women who are married to each other and running a nonkosher restaurant in the middle of Jerusalem.
They get insulted if you call it “a lesbian restaurant"; it’s a restaurant for everyone, they say. And although a rainbow-striped pride flag has recently been hung inside, they aren’t brandishing it outside. And no, they don’t plan to move to Tel Aviv, even though they’re repeatedly asked whether they will do so.
As if the restaurant weren’t enough to occupy these two young chefs (who, incidentally, prefer to be called “cooks”), the two talk openly about the big dreams they have for the future, which include, in addition to the business (or afterward), a family, children, a small German Shepherd, a flock of sheep and a small house in the Arava, down south – “or in the Galilee, or maybe even New Zealand or Australia.”
Rinat and Alice met nearly five years ago, in the kitchen of the Adom restaurant, a beloved Jerusalem institution. “When I first came to Adom, Rinat already had established herself there,” Alice recalls. “She was like a shark in the kitchen and I felt like a small fry in comparison, like some other new, dumb cook. Moreover, she was intimidating. At first she seemed like the devil incarnate and on my first day there I prayed not to cross her path.”
But her prayers were not answered, and on that first day the first person to greet her when she entered the kitchen was Rinat. As time passed, the fear turned into attraction, and scary and threatening person became friendly and pleasant.
Alice: “There was a moment, when she was apparently not stressed out. I remember her standing next to the grill, in profile, and her threatening appearance just dissipated. Suddenly there was a young woman before me who was relaxed, smiling and sweet. And so pretty.”
Rinat remembers it all a little differently: “Her first impression was correct. I really did think she was another new, slightly dumb cook. Maybe it was because she kept asking me trivial questions like 'Where’s the sugar?' Or, 'Where do they put the flour here?' – when it was all right in front of her. I couldn’t figure out what was with her.”
Only later did it occur to Rinat that Alice was simply flirting with her. Eventually, the two decided to go out for a beer at Taklit, a bar that didn’t manage to survive the downturn in the city and closed recently. “And the rest is history,” Rinat says.
“Even after Rinat left Adom, fate somehow brought us back to one another, even work-wise,” Alice continues, smiling.
The two met up in the kitchens of other local restaurants, including Trattoria Haba, near the Mahaneh Yehuda market, and Sapori, an Italian restaurant located a short distance away from Mishkenot Sha’ananim – which was eventually replaced by their own restaurant, Rina & Alice. Asked why she calls herself “Rina” in the restaurant’s name, she says, “Rina is easier to say.”
The restaurant, the two say, speaks their language – with a Jerusalem dialect – and brings their childhood landscapes and personal connection with each other to the table – “with all our heart and soul.” All this is manifest in the dishes they invented or that symbolize milestones in their lives, as well as in the recipes that they’ve collected, invented or adapted (“in our secret notebook”) along the way.
One dish that illustrates the way their personal story has made its way to the menu is the salmon fillet, which comes on a bed of sweet potatoes baked with salt, and a green salad with a shallot vinaigrette.
“The secret is in the crust covering the fish,” says Rinat. “This is a dish that we added to the menu almost at the last minute, and was created when Alice got up one morning with a strange craving for salmon.”
Alice: “Rinat offered to make it; she went into the kitchen and the pantry and combined all kinds of things, improvising on the spot, to the point where it was hard to remember later exactly what she’d put in it. It went into the oven and it came out simply amazing, a delicacy.
"In retrospect, it’s a good thing that I took a note pad and jotted down everything she added. We knew that one day, when we’d have a restaurant, this dish would star in it. Still, when we were putting together the menu, we asked each other: ‘Are we prepared to come out with such a bombastic thing?’ And the answer in the end was yes.”
Today, the salmon, which is coated with poppy seeds (“and other secret ingredients that even the cooks don’t know”), is one of the restaurant’s flagship dishes, alongside offerings including eggplant served on a small foccacia baked in the restaurant’s tabun oven; hummus made from lima beans; Camembert cheese with Indian chutney spilling out of it; and purple calamari in butter with whiskey cream, with potatoes with lemon and coriander – and foccacia on the side of course, “because there’s a lot of sauce and Jerusalemites love to dunk and wipe it up,” they explain.
No talk of God
There are Jews, Muslims and Christians working side-by-side in the Rina & Alice kitchen, where the rule is: No talking about God.
“Let them talk politics, about the occupation, about the territories – let them talk about Bibi and Sara [Netanyahu] for all we care, but not about God,” says Rinat, adding, “You can argue about everything, except when it comes to religion. There are no winners in religious wars.”
Along with that topic, another less sublime subject that is not talked about is recipes. “When you work by your gut you don’t need a recipe,” they say. This is an approach they are trying to convey to their kitchen staff – some of whom, by the way, are youth at risk whom the owners have taken in from nearby hostels.
“The idea is to work with your gut and your heart, to learn by trial and error, and not to be afraid to fail along the way, as long as you try,” they say.
As an everyday example, Alice and Rinat talk about what one can learn from the preparation of a vinaigrette dressing – how to taste it, how to balance the flavors and make adjustments when necessary, “and from there, to take it to other places.”
This is the theory and the reality of the Moyals' life in a nutshell. First and foremost, “Everything must come from love,” says Rinat. “Cooking is the only profession in the world that you have to love in order to work in it. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we opened a restaurant despite the situation in Jerusalem. And besides, if you can keep God out of the kitchen, surely you can get him out of other places as well.”