Israeli super chef Shalom Kadosh, recently honored by his peers from home and abroad, sees cooking kosher as an exhilarating challenge.
Shalom Kadosh doesn’t cook at home. But let him loose in the kitchen of Jerusalem’s Leonardo Plaza Hotel and discover why he’s considered the dean of Israeli chefs.
In a 35-year career during which he’s prepared meals for kings, presidents and prime ministers – including Jordan’s King Hussein, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Queen Beatrix of Holland, the 62-year-old chef has raised kosher cuisine to the level of fine art.
Last month, the European and Israeli cooking communities paid tribute to Kadosh when their crème de la crème convened in Jerusalem to honor his gastronomic mastery, serving up a $500-a-head dinner extravaganza to benefit his favorite charity – Beit Issie Shapiro – a center for kids with special needs.
Cooking it his way
The world-class chefs agreed to cook it his way – every dish was kosher. Leading French chefs like Jean-Michel Lorain, Marc Haeberlin, George Blanc, Italy’s Nadia Santini and top local talent like Ezra Kedem, who initiated the event, Yonatan Roshfeld, Haim Cohen, Meir Adoni, Yoram Nitzan and Aviv Moshe (many of whom started out under Kadosh’s tutelage) prepared mouth-watering dishes like kubbeh of lamb tartar, risotto with zucchini flowers and shiitake mushrooms, as well as duck breast with kale and chestnuts in juniper sauce, all in gourmet kosher style.
“It was a great night, and I wasn’t the only one who was happy. I think all the chefs from abroad were delighted, as well as Beit Issie, which the evening benefited,” Kadosh tells ISRAEL21c during a break in overseeing the Leonardo Plaza’s daily fare.
“What pleased me most was to see the Israeli chefs working together with some of the leading chefs in the world, cooking in our kosher kitchen. It was very exciting for me to contribute to this gastronomic evolution.”
According to Kadosh, it was hard for the French superstar chefs to swallow the stipulation that they had to hold back a huge part of their repertoire to meet the kashrut requirements of no mixing of meat and dairy products.
“I’ve been friends with some of these chefs for over 30 years, and whenever I would ask them to come and cook, they’d say we’d love to come and visit but not to cook – it’s too hard to cook without using cream and cheese,” he recounts.
Maybe just a little cream?
“But I think the turning point was at the dinner I organized for the 3,000th anniversary of Jerusalem at the King David Hotel 13 years ago. Some of the top chefs from all over the world came to that and cooked kosher. That opened the doors and put Israeli cuisine on the map, and now I think they see it as more of a challenge they’re willing to take on. Still,” he adds with a laugh, “one chef came up to me last month and said, ‘can’t we talk to a rabbi and get permission to use just a little cream?’ ”
Raised in a religious family in Afula, Kadosh says that he never knew how to prepare food any way other than kosher.
“I’ve never seen kashrut as something that limits me. Of course your hands are tied regarding certain ingredients, but I’ve always seen it as a challenge and have never hid behind it to say, ‘I can’t do that,’ ” Kadosh declares.
“I’ve prepared meals for French presidents, and they’ve asked me afterwards, ‘was that really kosher?’ To me, that’s the best compliment.”
The secret is to use fresh ingredients
Kadosh chalks up the secret of his success to using fresh ingredients, often bought at Jerusalem’s open-air Mahane Yehuda market – which Jerusalemites refer to as “the shuk [market].’ It’s something he learned hanging around his mother’s kitchen as a boy.
“In a family of nine siblings, I was the only one who showed an interest in what my mother was cooking. And she was a good example. She would cook everything fresh, every day, no cans. And it wasn’t like today, when you can find lots of different vegetables at all times of the year. This was Afula in the 1960s,” he says, adding that he can still be surprised by the offerings he finds at the shuk.
“There’s no place like Mahane Yehuda. What I recommend to anyone is not to decide what you’re going to prepare beforehand and just to go there and see what’s available. You might find something interesting in season that you wouldn’t have thought of,” he suggests.
Kadosh has witnessed a revolution in Israeli cuisine since he started out in the business, when falafel was considered the country’s sole contribution to gastronomy. He attributes the emergence of gourmet Israeli food to the utilization of the country’s abundance of fresh “raw materials.”
“There is definitely something called Israeli cuisine, based on natural ingredients like good vegetables, olive oil and herbs. We have standards here that match any in the world,” Kadosh asserts.
My son, the chef
Another reason Israeli gastronomy has exploded in recent years is because cooking has evolved into a respected and popular profession. Whereas once the Jewish mother mentality prodded children toward medicine or law, now being a chef is something to be proud of, Kadosh contends.
“When I first started at the Hilton, all of the chefs, sous chefs and up to the general manager were from abroad. Israelis weren’t thought to be cultured enough. Now you can see Israelis everywhere in the kitchen,” he says. “I saw a survey recently where chef was listed as one of the top professions that teenagers were interested in pursuing.”
Kadosh adds that he’s not pushing his two children to follow in his footsteps, although he sees some similarities in their culinary habits.
“My wife Zohara is Moroccan and loves to load food on the plate. I think my kids follow after me – in not wanting so much food at first, and asking for more if they want it,” he relates. “But she’s in charge of the kitchen at home, so I have no say in it.
“I wouldn’t recommend that my children pursue a career in cooking. It’s not easy, and you have to give up many things in life to do it. But I have no regrets.”
Neither do any of the diners who have sampled a creation from Shalom Kadosh’s kitchen.