Israeli cuisine is enjoying unprecedented enthusiasm among diners around the globe as Israeli chefs introduce – and reintroduce – winning combinations of fresh ingredients and spices with modern updates and innovative twists to traditional dishes.
Also last year, the best restaurants in London (The Palomar) and New York City (Timna) were Israeli.
From two Michelin stars (&samhoud places, Amsterdam) to a James Beard Foundation nod (Shaya, New Orleans); must-have babka (Breads Bakery, NYC) to gourmet pita sandwiches (Miznon, Paris/Vienna), interest in Israeli food continues to grow.
There’s no such thing as too many Israeli chefs in the kitchen.
ISRAEL21c serves up a list of 18 Israeli chefs whipping up award-winning food and where to find them around the world:
Moshik Roth’s &samhoud places restaurant in Amsterdam earned two Michelin stars just three months after opening in August 2012. The Haifa-born chef, who was raised in Eilat, scored his first Michelin stars for a different (now defunct) restaurant, Brouwerskolkje, in 2006 and 2009. He then joined forces with entrepreneur Salem Samhoud.
The food at &samhoud places is described as innovative, high-end global street food with an unusual twist.
“Taste has everything to do with a composition of memories. I am particularly inspired by meeting and discovering other cultures, by imagining and by natural phenomena that I see around me,” says Roth.
Gal Ben Moshe @GLASS, BERLIN
Gal Ben Moshe slips a falafel-like concoction into many of his appetizers at Glass restaurant in Berlin and reportedly is extremely proud of his Israeli wine list.The veteran of Israeli fine dining – who studied with Claudi Bosi at Hibiscus and Grant Achatz of Alinea, among others – is consistently given top reviews for his acclaimed dishes at the contemporary vegan eatery.
Ben Moshe, originally of Rishon Lezion, worked in a number of restaurants around Israel including Mul Yam (now defunct), Orca and Tazza D’Oro before setting off abroad.
“Starters come impaled on smoking cinnamon sticks; soups are adorned with savoury sorbets and most impressively, the showpiece ‘Candybox’ dessert re-imagines the staff’s favourite childhood sweets – there’s Snickers snow, passion fruit Gummy Bears, popping candy and a flash-frozen chocolate mousse, all served directly onto the table. Choose from two rotating tasting menus, of which one is refreshingly vegan, a lifestyle choice often hard done by in the haute cuisine world,” writes TimeOut.
The Palomar, which opened in 2014 in the heart of London’s West End, “offers a mind-blowing fusion of cuisine from Spain, Africa and the Levant, produced by some of Israel’s coolest chefs,” according to GQ magazine, which named The Palomar “Best Restaurant of 2015” in London along with Tatler and The Observer.
The London hotspot is run by the Machneyuda Group of Israeli chefs behind the equally celebrated Jerusalem restaurants MachneYuda and its tapas-style offshoot, Yudale.
Tomer Amedi –an aspiring rock musician turned food wizard — is head chef at The Palomar. He shares chopping space and ownership with executive chefs Assaf Granit, Uri Navon and Yossi “Pappy” Elad.
It’s been rumored that the Machneyuda Group will open a new Israeli restaurant in London this year and perhaps another Palomar in the eastern part of the city.
Israeli chef Nir Mesika – who did his culinary training in Israel and Italy, and cooked at Goocha, Catit and Mizlala in Tel Aviv – is serving up innovative Israeli-style dishes with a twist at his East Village restaurant, Timna.
From freekeh (smoked green wheat) with scallops to his mini kubaneh Yemenite-Jewish yeast bread, Mesika provides unique tasting options.
USA Today’s readers voted Timna as the best new restaurant of 2015.
“Timna’s menu showcases Modern Israeli cooking rooted in the traditions of the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa. The memories of cooking with my mother, as well as the ancient Moroccan flavors I grew up on, are still in my mind and in my cooking vision today,” Mesika told USA Today.
Alon Shaya first made a name for himself with high-end Italian fare but his Israeli-inspired dishes elevated his star status.
In 2015, Shaya took home the title of Best Chef: South at the James Beard Awards for his namesake restaurant, Shaya, which has been booked solid since the day it opened in February last year. The Israeli-born chef says his modern Israeli food is a mosaic of influences from North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Greece.
He also co-owns and presides over the menus at Domenicaand Pizza Domenica in New Orleans.
In 2015, Shaya was voted Restaurant of the Year by The Daily Meal and Eater, and best new restaurant by Esquire.
“These are not the dishes that would ever come to mind as must-tries in The Big Easy — until now. And that’s what makes Shaya so special: It’s a sleeper hit from two of America’s very best chefs, a delicious education of the American palate from masters who have demonstrated that they know it well,” wrote The Daily Meal.
Michael Solomonov’s Zahav restaurant has been winning accolades since its opening in 2008. But the James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur won new praise for his book, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking (co-written with Steven Cook), upon its publication in October 2015.
“Middle Eastern food is often too mysterious or too misunderstood or too varied. It’s very difficult for people to get their heads around it. Israeli food isn’t really Middle Eastern. Well part of it is Middle Eastern. And then part of it is North African, part of it is Balkan and Eastern European. It’s a lengthy gastronomy,” Solomonov told Playboy in a write-up about the cookbook.
Solomonov also owns Percy Street Barbecue, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff (Israeli-style hummus and salads) and Abe Fisher (small plates of Jewish diaspora food), all in Philadelphia.
Solomonov makes his big-screen debut this year as the food guide of the new documentary on Israeli cuisine by filmmaker Roger Sherman.
Los Angeles-born, Israeli-raised Ori Menashe is cooking up fantastic reviews at his Italian-inspired eatery, Bestia.
After finishing his mandatory IDF service, Menashe set off to South America to travel. He would whip up quick meals for his friends and they encouraged him to do something more with his culinary genius. In 2001, he returned to LA to fine-tune his skills and launch a culinary career.
In 2012, he opened his first solo venture, Bestia – which, he says, serves “challenging comfort food.”
Last year, Food & Winemagazine named him one of its 10Best New Chefs. “He’s a meat virtuoso: Bestia’s menu offers more than 60 forms of sensational house-made charcuterie in addition to impeccable pastas and pizza,” the magazine raves.
Menashe is set to open a wood-burning grill spot later this year, “focusing on the food of his childhood in the Middle East,” according to Food & Wine.
Einat Admony @BAR BOLONAT, COMBINA, TAIM and BALABOOSTA, NEW YORK CITY
Chef and owner of four buzzing restaurants in New York City, Einat Admony – a former cook in the Israel Defense Forces – is one of the busiest Israeli chefs on the world scene.
In 2015, Admony opened Combina, which serves Spanish tapas-style Israeli-accented dishes, to strong reviews. Combina in Hebrew means “crafty plan/combination.” On the menu: Sabich Tostada, a fusion of Israeli-Iraqi and Mexican sandwiches, or haloumi with chimichurri.
Admony runs her four restaurants with husband, Stefan Nafziger: Taim (Israeli street food with a gourmet twist), Bar Bolonat (modern Mediterranean and new Israeli cuisines) and Balaboosta (Mediterranean meets Middle East).
Celebrity chef Tal Ronnen counts Bill Clinton, Paul McCartney, Jay Z, Ellen DeGeneres (he catered her wedding) and Oprah Winfrey as fans of his vegan cuisine. His West Hollywood restaurant, Crossroads, is hailed for its “gastronomic miracles.”
Ronnen opened his Mediterranean-inspired restaurant in 2013. The vegan trend has since grown and Ronnen has often been quoted saying that he no longer feels like the odd man out for his meatless dishes.
Some of Ronnen’s famous plant-based concoctions include chicken parmigiana (without the chicken), paella with “sausage” and meat lasagna (without the meat).
“Known for dishes that evoke the smokiness of chorizo, the richness of fresh pasta and cream sauce, and the smoky char of grilled steak through unique vegetable preparations, Ronnen’s Mediterranean-inspired dishes are as flavorful as it gets,” raves Vogue magazine.
“I’m always eager to learn and create foods and recipes and dishes nobody ever thought possible in vegan food. The playing field is just wide open. That’s my motivation,” he told the Journal Sentinel.
Celebrity chef Eyal Shani wowed Tel Aviv with his everything-in-a-gourmet-pita eatery, Miznon, in 2011. He opened two more local branches – still major successes today — before taking his unconventional sandwiches abroad.
The Paris branch, opened in the fall of 2013, has done so well that Shani announced he will open branches in Vienna and in New York City during 2016.
The Paris eatery boasts fusion dishes of Israeli and French cuisine in a pita. And Shani says the Austrian and American versions will also mix food cultures.
Signature dishes include roasted cauliflower, chewing gum-flavored ice cream, ratatouille and spiced lamb kebab in a pita.
“Miznon does for the humble pita what George Clooney did for grey hair; suddenly it’s sensational,” the Financial Times raves about Shani’s place.
London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi is continuously hailed for the bold flavors and simplicity he serves at the four locations of his eponymous restaurantas well as at the Nopi restaurant in London.
Ottolenghi is credited with introducing British palates to eclectic culinary traditions with a Mediterranean twist.
Together with his partnerchef Sami Tamimi, Ottolenghi won Gourmand’s“Best in the World” award for Jerusalem, A Cookbook, published in England.
Shahaf Shabtay, BARCELONA, BERLIN & BEYOND
Shahaf Shabtay can best be described as Israel’s most famous nomadic chef. He grew up in Kibbutz Amiad, served as a commando for five years in the IDF, and then set off to the École Grégoire-Ferrandi in Paris to hone his culinary techniques.
A traveler at heart, Shabtay has worked at restaurants in Amsterdam (Vakzuid), Mumbai (Zenzi), New York (Odeon), Belgrade (Ginger, Camelon and Diva) and Prague (SaSaZu), Mexico, Spain and Myanmar. And he and partners operated pop-up restaurants in Cambodia and Greece.
“Anyone can open a restaurant in Paris or New York,” Shabtay told Haaretz. “I love to open up in places that other chefs don’t reach.”
The award-winning chef says having Israeli chutzpah has helped him succeed along the way.
“The kibbutz and the army teach us to dare,” he told Jewish Business News. “Israelis have unmistakable markings that anyone abroad learns to immediately identify – a body language, a style of talking, dressing. It’s a warmth in the eyes; but it can also be aggravating. I’ve found out that you either love the Israelis or hate them.”
Israel’s king of bread, Uri Scheft has New Yorkers craving his babka and challah. It’s not that you can’t buy either of those items elsewhere, but Scheft – head baker at Breads Bakery in NYC and Lehamim in Tel Aviv – has garnered long lines of admirers around the Big Apple.
Scheft says that he learned his craft from his mother and honed his skills throughout Europe. After winning over the Israeli palate with walnut and olive bread, sweet challah, cheese sticks, burekas and chocolate rugelach, Scheft paired up with business partner Gadi Peleg to open the first Breads Bakery in New York in 2013. There are now locations in Union Square and Bryant Park, with reports of a third location opening this year.
New York magazine has called Scheft’s bakery a “New York culinary icon.”
“I am officially obsessed with Breads Bakery. The chocolate babka should be illegal,” writes Eden Grinshpan on “the infatuation” restaurant reviews site.
Joseph Hadad likes to say that he built his international reputation in an old building in Bucharest that had served as Nazi command in World War II. While he did indeed head a restaurant on the premises of that 195-year-old gilded building, the Israeli native actually created a name for himself as then 31-year-old head chef of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem — hosting the likes of Bill Clinton, Madonna, Francois Mitterrand and George H. W. Bush.
Hadad, 56, moved to Bucharest in 1997. His culinary star is still shining in Romania: He was a judge on the “Top Chef” program and is reportedly set to direct a cooking show this year. He runs Joseph restaurant, will open a new Mediterranean-inspired bistro this year, and is an acclaimed cookbook author.
Among his signature dishes at his eponymous restaurant: pineapple carpaccio, lentil risotto and harira soup.
“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,” Hadad told Haaretz.
Tamir Nahmias adds Israeli flavors to every dish he works on even though he cooks in a wholly French style. The chef de cuisine at Frenchie (as well as at two other restaurants owned by Gregory Marchand) is building a reputation in Paris.
“Twenty-five staff members from 15 countries work at Frenchie, and it gives me a lot as a chef, each bringing something from himself. My challenge is to adapt my story and the flavors I love to the local palate,” Nahmias told Haaretz, explaining why he keeps sumac, Iranian black lime, za’atar and Israeli dates in his spice cabinet.
Nahmias is reported to be working on opening his own Mediterranean restaurant this year in the City of Love.
Pastry genius Ron Ben-Israel is the baker and proprietor of the award-winning Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, opened in 1999.
The New York Times has called him “the Manolo Blahnik of wedding cakes” and Zagat has dubbed him “the wedding cake master.”
Though he grew up dreaming of being a dancer, Ben-Israel fell in love with a chocolate maker from Canada and traded his ballet shoes for a spatula.
Like all good chefs, he apprenticed in France before setting out on his own.
“Dancers have to rehearse every day until it becomes perfect,” he told ISRAEL21c in 2013. “This type of discipline helped me become a good baker, because bakers need to be very accurate and need to practice.”
In 2011, Israeli baker Zohar Zohar opened Zucker Bakery in Manhattan’s East Village. It wasn’t long before glowing reviews of this boutique bakery café appeared in the food sections of all local media.
“I try to keep the homey feeling of my grandmother’s house and hope to touch some people’s nostalgic memories through the cookies’ taste and the design of the shop, while keeping my fine details and quality,” Zohar says on the bakery’s website.
Zohar, who runs the place with her husband, Yaniv Zohar, creates cookies and pastries that incorporate the flavors of Israel as well as those of other countries. Her specialties include date-clove rugelach, honey-almond fingers, alfajores, chocolate balls and fruit-and-nut loaf.
“The cookies at Zucker Bakery in New York’s East Village make you feel like you have left New York, incorporating flavors and spices that hint of other lands: date cookies spiced with cinnamon, dulce de leche-filled alfajores with coconut,” writes The New York Times.
“Finding a spare table at short notice is rarer than finding a burning bush in the desert,” writes TimeOut about Honey &Co Mediterranean café in London.
The husband-and-wife team behind this eatery — Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer – devised a menu of affordable Middle Eastern fare for the British palate.
Before establishing their own place, Srulovich was head chef at Ottolenghi, while Packer was head of pastry at Ottolenghi and executive chef at Nopi.
The couple’s cookbook, Honey &Co: Food from the Middle East, won Fortnum & Mason Food & Drink Awards Cookery Book of the Year 2015, Sunday Times Food Book of the Year 2014 and Jeremy Round Award for Best First Food Book at the Guild of Food Writers Awards.
Other Israelis making their mark on a smaller scale include Ilan Barniv – who grew up in the historic family bakery of Lendner’s in Jerusalem – and now serves hungry Bostonians Israeli-accented salads, bean patties, homemade hummus and s’chug, alongside fluffy pitas at his Bonapita restaurant in Downtown Crossing; Ilan Hall‘s Zagat-rated Esh wood-fired Israeli BBQ spot in Brooklyn; Kunal Pushkarna of the Pita Pan Mediterranean/vegetarian restaurant chain in Singapore and Macau, who is introducing Asians to Israeli breakfast and salad specialties; the Shuka Team, serving New Yorkers shakshuka-on-the-go; Barak Krips and Dor Asraf-Krips, owners of Der Kibbuz, who have Berliners going gaga over fresh hummus and shakshuka; Talor Noam and Moran Sulmirski-Noam, owners of The Boidem in Milan, who are reinterpreting Tel Aviv street food for Italians; and the Yala Falafel team in Playa Del Carmen serving up Mediterranean food with a Mexican flair.