Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Executive Chef Itzik Barak calls his entry in the annual Taste of Waldorf Astoria chef competition “Seven Species” in homage to the signature fruits and grains of Israel.

Technically, the dish includes only four of the traditional seven species listed in the Bible (wheat, pomegranates, olives and dates; it is missing figs, grapes and barley). But by utilizing modern Israel’s freshest fish and produce, Seven Species provides a sublime and authentic taste of the Holy Land.

Is it good enough to win a place on the worldwide Waldorf Astoria menu? That will be up to the judges in New York on February 24, 2016, when they sample the dishes created by Waldorf executive chefs in Israel, New Orleans, Orlando, Beijing and Amsterdam with visiting chefs handpicked by the James Beard Foundation, the United States’ foremost culinary-arts organization.

Barak worked with Chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson of The Cecil in New York City to create Seven Species — sea bream encrusted with sourdough bread and smoked eggplant, served with a salad of raw bulgur, date, pomegranate, pumpkin, ginger and herbs dressed in extra-virgin olive oil, accompanied by creamy tahini and garnished with micro sprouts and paper-thin twirls of colorful vegetables (see recipe below).

Seven Species on my plate. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman
Seven Species on my plate. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

This is the second year that the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem was chosen from among the brand’s 25 worldwide properties to participate in the global culinary contest sponsored by Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts.

The Waldorf New York is responsible for such timeless masterpieces as Eggs Benedict, Red Velvet Cake and the Waldorf Salad, some of which were served as appetizers to the Seven Species at a press tasting on December 3. All the dishes were accompanied by a choice of white or red wines from Flam Winery  in the Judean Hills.

The salad part of Seven Species under construction in the Waldorf kitchen. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman
The salad part of Seven Species under construction in the Waldorf kitchen. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

Barak and Johnson had spent the previous week getting inspiration from local restaurants and markets, especially Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda where vendors sell some of Israel’s freshest produce. Johnson said he had previously cooked in Ghana and found similarities to Jerusalem’s “bold, authentic” spice market.

“It was some of the best produce I’ve ever seen,” exclaimed Johnson, who was featured on Forbes magazine’s list of most promising chefs under the age of 30. “Even San Francisco can’t compare.”

Johnson had never worked in a kosher kitchen and was eager to learn how Barak’s staff cooks dishes without mixing dairy and meat products (the hotel has dairy and meat restaurants on either side of the grand lobby).

The two chefs started out with the idea of a traditional Mediterranean ratatouille and went through several iterations until settling on Seven Species.

Barak arrived at the Waldorf three months after it opened in July 2014. “I am always receptive to menu, ingredient and recipe requests from guests,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

“Master Chef Itzik Barak brings a wealth of culinary talent and expertise to the competition,” commented John Vanderslice, global head, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts.

Participating dishes will be judged according to level of innovation, simplicity of preparation, taste and presentation.

The Seven Species
Created for the Taste of Waldorf Astoria contest in Jerusalem by chefs Itzik Barak and JJ Johnson

4-6 servings

• 4 filet sea bream
• 2 whole eggplants
• 100 grams (1) sourdough baguette
• 4 thyme leaves
• 1 lemon
• 10 grams fennel seeds
• Pinch of salt
• Pinch of pepper
• 1 cup olive oil

Bulgur salad
• 40 grams bulgur wheat
• 1 pomegranate
• 4 dates
• 40 grams pumpkin
• 4 pears
• One piece ginger
• 20 grams parsley
• 20 grams mint
• 1 teaspoon yuzu
• 1 lemon
• 1 small fresh red chili
• Pinch of salt
• Pinch of pepper
• 1 cup olive oil
• Water

• 40 grams tahini
• 1 lemon juice, fresh
• Pinch of salt
• Pinch of pepper
• 1 cup olive oil
• 1 cup ice water

• 1 radish
• 1 yellow zucchini
• 1 carrots
• 1 cucumber
• 1 fennel
• 1 lemon
• Drizzle yuzu
• Pinch of salt
• Pinch of pepper
• 1 spoon olive oil

• Fill mixing bowl with room-temperature water and soak bulgur wheat for 30 minutes
• Grill eggplant on high flame for 5 minutes on each side until soft and charcoaled
• Remove both stems
• Peel one eggplant; leave the other with the charred skin
• Cut both eggplants into cubes
• Put all cubed pieces into one blender
• Add 1/2 cup of olive oil and squeeze 2 lemons
• Add salt and pepper for taste
• Blend on high until smooth

• Strain water from the soaked bulgur wheat and move to a mixing bowl
• Chop parsley and mint
• Dress pumpkin with thyme leaves, salt, pepper and oil
• Sauté pumpkin in medium pan for 3 minutes till golden brown
• In a separate bowl, mix 20 grams yuzu, salt, pepper, olive oil andchili
• In the same bowl, add in bulgur, sautéed pumpkin, dates, pomegranate seeds, pears, parsley, mint, ginger
• Add yuzu dressing from the first bowl to mixture and taste

• Remove sea bream skin
• Cut fish long way and then in half to result in four equal rectangles
• Season with thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil
• Add the eggplant paste to one side of each fish piece
• Add one piece of sliced bread to the same side as the eggplant paste
• Cut the bread to align with the size of each fish piece
• Add all four pieces to a sauté pan
• Cook fish at medium heat for 2 minutes, bottom side first, then flip until top side is golden brown

• Add tahini, lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil and ice water to a medium size mixing bowl, stir until smooth

• Soak the vegetable garnish in lemon, olive oil, yuzu, salt and pepper

• Smear tahini in a line on the bottom of the plate
• Place bulgur salad directly on top
• Add the four pieces of cooked sea bream, shingled
• Roll each vegetable and place throughout the plate, on top of the fish or in the bulgur salad
• Garnish with leaves