Have you noticed how fashionable Israeli food has become in the last few years? Einat Admony has a whole lot to do with that. The forward-thinking chef first launched her popular falafel spot, Taim, in the West Village, over seven years ago. (There are now two Taim outposts and a mobile Taim truck.) That was just the beginning for this talented chef.
She followed that up with her warm and critically praised Nolita restaurant, Balaboosta, which specializes in homestyle Middle Eastern cooking with globally inspired accents, like Shrimp Kataïf with Tobiko Sauce and Lemon Cardamom Pappardelle with Braised Lamb, Lima Beans and Spiced Almonds. The newest and most ambitious in the fold is West Village eatery, Bar Bolonat, which pushes the envelope even further by putting a playful and modern spin on typical Israeli fare. “I’m trying to change people’s perception of the cuisine at Bar Bolonat by taking sweet dishes from the Middle East and making them savory,” Admony explains. “Taking American favorites like peanut butter and jelly and making them Middle Eastern. Drawing on influences from all around the world and incorporating them with the ingredients and flavors of Israel.”
“It will definitely be the most high-end of my restaurants, with interesting flavor combinations and spices you don’t see very often,” she continues. We also spoke with Admony about her cooking stint in the Israeli Army, her soon-to-be-released cookbook, why everyone should stay away from the food truck business, and the one and only significant difference between men and women in the kitchen.
How interested were you in food and cooking growing up?
I think I started at 5 or 6, just helping my mom prepare all of our meals. Doing things like looking for microscopic worms in the lettuce. I loved the idea of creating things and feeding people.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a chef?
I was around 23 years old, living in Germany. I originally thought that I wanted to go into importing and exporting, but quickly realized that I had to pursue a career that I’d enjoy for the rest of my life. That I’d wake up eager to do. And that was cooking for me. All throughout my life, throughout my travels, throughout my time in the Israeli Army, and during my two months in college, all I wanted to do was cook for everyone.
Only two months in college? Why’d you drop out?
I needed to go in the first place just to prove myself to my parents, and I got my grades really high to show them I wasn’t dumb. I actually stayed in the dorms for about a month after I dropped out, to cook for everyone when they came back from classes.
How did you get assigned to the kitchen when you were in the Israeli Army?
I started out as a driver before they figured out that I could cook. So they put me in charge of all the big meals, like when all the generals would gather for meetings around the base. We had very limited ingredients, but I had to turn them into huge meals for 20 or so of the most important generals in the military.
Are there any ways in which being a chef in the Army shaped the way you are as a chef today? What are some of the most important lessons you learned?
Well, everything had to be Kosher, and we had very limited ingredients. Creating interesting flavors in unique combinations was really hard. So I learned how to improvise and cook with what I had, use time wisely and be efficient.
What was a favorite dish you made among the soldiers that you cooked for?
Chinese Chicken, marinated in honey, soy, garlic and ginger. Very simple. When I think about it, it was such an amateur style of cooking, but very delicious.
What made you decide to eventually move to NYC?
I came here with my former fiancé to be a stage for three months, and wound up staying for three years. We eventually went back to Israel to get married, but when we got divorced shortly after, I came back here.
How did the idea for your first restaurant, Taïm come about?
It was coincidence. I used to do consulting for a place called Dolma in the West Village. A space opened next door, formerly an Indian restaurant, and Dolma gave me the idea to do a falafel place. Originally I wanted to just take care of the opening and let someone else run it, but my current husband wound up working there nonstop for the first three years!
You also wound up expanding the business into a very popular fleet of food trucks. What do you think it takes to be successful when it comes to running a food truck?
It’s horrible. I would never recommend it to anyone ever. I have a lot of friends who come to me with ideas for food trucks and I tell them no, go open an actual restaurant. It will cost a little bit more but not much more, and it’s easier. There are so many logistical problems with food trucks. And everyone needs a permit to work in one, which takes time. The city gives you hell. We don’t make any money from it. It’s basically great promotion and exposure for us, but otherwise, it’s a business I really don’t recommend getting into.
The name of your second restaurant, Balaboosta, means perfect housewife in Yiddish. What does being a perfect housewife mean to you, and how is that reflected in the restaurant?
Well, I’m obviously not a housewife and I’m definitely not perfect. Years ago, a balaboosta was the mama that stayed home and cooked and took care of the kids and the family. It’s a very different animal than what women do and are capable of doing today. To be a balaboosta today means to have balance between all of these things, and juggle them right. It’s very important to me to not neglect my kids, and have a good relationship with my husband, as well as run a business.
Your mom is a religious Jew from Iran and your dad is from Yemen. How does your background express itself in your cooking?
And, in addition to that, my neighbors were Moroccan. So basically, I cook North African foods like Couscous and Tagine as well as these traditional Jewish foods. It’s all mixed into a new, modern Israeli cuisine with unique flavors and technique.
What can we expect of your new restaurant, Bar Bolonat?
Bar Bolonat is going to be much more modern that Balaboosta. The kitchen is totally open so people can see everything that’s going on. We have a few elements of the Middle East, like tiles on the wall, but very little. There’s a nice palette of colors. We have a private dining area downstairs for parties. The food will be much more fun… still Israeli like Balaboosta but with a lot more tweaking. We’re taking the idea of a traditional green tea served in glasses, and transforming it to a Green Tea Gelato, served in those same glasses and topped with a Halvah Cookie. A large part of the concept in general is how the food is going to be served. I don’t want to use big white plates. We’re going to use measuring spoons and measuring cups and things that come from the kitchen. It’s going to be very fun and interesting.
Can you tell us a bit about your Balaboosta cookbook? Besides being a collection of recipes, what kind of story were you hoping to tell through the book?
There are 11 different chapters, like The Grownup Table, which is based on the dinner parties I throw at home two to three times a week. Like the Shabbat we have on Friday nights. Because honestly, if I’m not at the restaurant, I’m at home, cooking. Then there’s food for kids, easy stuff that they can help with. There’s Hurry Hurry Hurry, dishes you can make fast. A chapter on comfort foods. A chapter called Just The Two of Us, which starts with the story of how I met my husband. So in addition to 140 great recipes, each chapter ties in the stories of my life, how I learned to cook through my mom, what happened to me in the Israeli Army, and in Germany, and how I came to New York. All of it.
I would imagine you get asked all the time what it’s like to be a woman in the restaurant community. Do you think that the disparity between the sexes is an important conversation to keep having, or do you think it’s actually harmful to keep shining a spotlight on the differences?
No, I think it’s crap, sorry. Someone recently asked me the difference between a woman and a man in the kitchen, and I said a penis. Yes, when I used to enter a new kitchen years ago they would automatically put me at the salad station because I was a women. But I would always move on and get promoted because I was good. I do think this industry is hard for a woman that has kids; if you want a family it’s more difficult. But it’s doable.
You actually live in Brooklyn. Any plans to open a restaurant there?
I live in Fort Greene. And my husband thinks about opening another Taïm in Williamsburg, but I’m not sure, and besides, that would take a while.
So what’s next for you after opening Bar Bolonat?
I want to take it easy. The book is coming out soon, and there will be a tour, so there will be a lot of things going on. What I really want to do after Bar Bolonat is to help other young chefs open restaurants. Not be in the spotlight anymore, I don’t need that. I think I’ll maybe be a restaurateur and open places and help wherever I can, but not take control. I just don’t need that anymore.