This thought cannot escape Gilbert Bensaid’s mind: Had he not picked himself up several months ago and left France, he might not be around today.
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Bensaid’s upscale kosher restaurant, Le Cadre, was located barely 200 meters away from the Hyper Cacher, the kosher supermarket in the Paris suburb of Port de Vincennes, where an Islamist terrorist last month shot dead four Jewish hostages. At least once a day, he would pop into that same kosher supermarket to replenish basic supplies.
“I could easily have been inside when the terrorist walked in,” he says.
At the end of the month, Bensaid will open a virtual copy of his famous Parisien eatery in downtown Ra’anana, a suburb of Tel Aviv. It will have the same name, feature almost the same menu and offer the same special deals. The one big difference will be in the price. “This one will be a bit more affordable than the Paris branch,” says Bensaid.
Bensaid and his partner Anette (who assumed his last name) were relaxing in their Ra’anana apartment last month when news broke of the hostage-taking incident at the French kosher supermarket. Before moving to Israel, Bensaid had sold the business but still maintained contact with many of the staff. “A shift manager called me at home and asked me what to do,” he recalls. “It was two hours before the time they usually close the place on Friday afternoons, and he didn’t know whether to stay open or send everyone home. I told him to close up and get out of there.”
Bensaid, 50, is the son of a Moroccan-Jewish mother and an Algerian-Jewish father. The youngest of six children, he would often help out his mother in her small Parisien bistro, where he learned at a very young age the art of fine cooking. After apprenticing and working at a variety of restaurants in the French capital, both kosher and non-kosher, he opened Le Cadre 15 years ago.
Anette, 28, is a Latvian Jew, who 10 years ago moved on her own to Paris, where she met and fell in love with Bensaid. After a stint in human resources, the statuesque blonde joined Bensaid in his restaurant business.
“We came on vacation to Israel last April for Passover,” she recalls, “and decided we wanted to move here.” In August, they flew back to locate a site for their restaurant, and in November, they packed up and left for good.
Why Ra’anana and not the trendier, more cosmopolitan Tel Aviv? Anette acknowledges that neither she nor her partner had ever heard of Ra’anana (“it’s not a major tourism attraction,” she notes) until they began chatting with some of the patrons at their Parisien restaurant. “Often people came to the restaurant to celebrate special events,” relays Anette, “and when we’d ask them what they were celebrating, more and more of them would tell us that they were having an aliyah party to celebrate their upcoming move to Israel. When we’d ask them where exactly in Israel they were moving, many of them would tell us Ra’anana.”
Besides that, she notes, “our restaurant in France was in a suburb of Paris, not in Paris itself, so we thought it would be a good idea also to have our restaurant in Israel located in a suburb of the big city.”
On an unusually warm winter morning, Anette is milling about the premises of their new, rather small restaurant, where tables and chairs are stacked up and construction work is still under way. A handyman is busy installing the sound system, and soon, the sounds of Mizrahi music interspersed with classic French chansons are streaming through the speakers. The only fully operating appliance in the kitchen at this point is the espresso machine, which is working non-stop.
Neither Anette nor her partner speaks any Hebrew yet, but since she is fluent in English, her job is to communicate with all the handymen, sub-contractors and suppliers. Bensaid is relegated to the kitchen, where he says he feels much more at home.
He’s looking forward to preparing once again the famous goose liver pate that was known as his specialty back in Paris, along with some of his classic meat dishes. There will be a few minor changes in the Israeli menu, though.
“We’ve had to adapt our lunch menu to the Israeli lifestyle,” notes Anette. “In Paris, people take two-three hours for lunch and drink lots of wine. Here in Israel, people barely take 40 minutes and don’t do any drinking at lunch. So we’ve come up with a lunchtime menu that allows us to serve things a lot faster.”