Food porn on Instagram often has us drooling and fixated. Which is probably the effect the Challah Prince has on many followers as they gape at artistic, multi-stranded (up to 17) and perfectly braided loaves, baked to a golden sheen.
There’s also the intriguing persona in the perfectly curated images to ponder: Idan Chabasov, aka the Challah Prince, a 30-something Israeli with dark curls and multiple tattoos including a challah and a whisk.
Chabasov looks playful when holding up two challah loaves on either side of his face, or mischievous when opening his mouth, as if ready to take a big bite.
In person and up close
Chabasov, dressed in skinny jeans and a white chef’s coat with the Challah Prince logo, greets us warmly as we enter Baker Street, a whimsically decorated space equipped with a row of pastel Kitchen Aid mixers and multiple ovens, for a baking workshop.
Tonight there are 12 participants around the long table, on which glossy Challah Prince brochures (recipe included) and baking equipment are laid out.
This is a far more intimate space than he is accustomed to. In the United States, where his agent organized four tours in the last year, the crowds are large and Chabasov’s every move is projected onto huge screens.
As an icebreaker, we are asked to tell about our challah-baking experience. Almost all of us admit we are novices at making this traditional Sabbath bread.
Chabasov reassuringly tells us “to learn to enjoy the process and be in the moment, even if the results are not as expected … just follow the challah braid wherever it leads.”
How it all started
Chabasov tells us his back story. He has Turkish and Bukharan roots but there was no savta in the kitchen baking challah in the Tel Aviv home where he grew up, and neither was baking a hobby or interest, he admits.
But after completing animation and visual art studies, he moved to Berlin in 2014. As is common amongst expats, he would join Israeli friends for Friday night Shabbat dinners.
“Once I remember looking at the table and realizing there was regular bread but no challah. So I decided to bake one. As soon as I opened the oven and the beautiful smell filled the apartment, I was in love. From then on I baked challah every Friday, and gave to our German neighbors too, who weren’t used to getting food as gifts.”
Soon baking challah became not just a fun hobby but a pursuit he found helped him adjust to those difficult first months of living as a foreigner in a new city.
“I discovered in the process of baking challah, a world of beauty, spirituality and personal growth. Challah is a lot more than just delicious traditional food – it’s not just about mixing a few ingredients into a bowl. It’s a therapeutic process one goes through without even realizing it.”
Chabasov launched his Challah Prince Instagram page and started to build a following. Encouraged by the response, he decided, after coming back to “Challah-land” (as he refers to Israel) in early 2020 that it was time to bring the Challah Prince to life and do a US workshop-tour.
The pandemic soon put this plan on hold, but Zoom workshops followed and once Israeli borders opened, he was able to put together popups in well-known US restaurants, which then led to invitations from diverse groups across the country.
Keeping it simple
It’s not difficult to see why Chabasov has widespread appeal.
He starts off the workshop by putting on a kippah (it’s pink and he crocheted it himself) and reciting the Jewish prayer over hafrashat challah (separating a piece of the dough as an offering).
“It’s a traditional ceremony that dates back to the time of the Temple when it was given as an offering, but if you don’t connect to it from a religious standpoint, then see it as a way to connect to a higher energy and send your blessing out to the universe,” he says.
Chabasov also explains some of the science of baking, in a lighthearted way: “When you roll out, the gluten gets active and may not be very friendly. You try and roll it out but it shrinks back. This is a sign it needs to rest, so you take a rest too.”
Workshop participants eager to discuss recipes or how to create different fillings or colors will be disappointed. Chabasov’s recipe uses plain white flour and no eggs or sugar (Americans call this “water challah” he says).
“I like to keep things simple as I believe beauty is in the simple things in life. And I don’t believe in claiming, as lots of people often do, that my recipe is the best ever. My passion has never been looking for different recipes. I am not trying to be a chef or a master baker.”
Chabasov then demonstrates his mastery by showing us his signature challah, the “Royal 11.”
As he expertly braids the 11 strands over and under, he admits, “it can be terrifying but practice is the answer. After all, I wasn’t born a Challah Prince.”
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