Meir Adoni, Israeli chef: «We are the future»

In the West we still know very little of Middle Eastern cuisine. The words of the chef who charmed the New York Times

23-09-2017

44, Israeli from Eliat with Moroccan origins, Meir Adoni is chef at Blue Sky and Lumina in Tel Aviv and at Nur in New York (photo nurnyc.com)

Against the tide. Or perhaps the opposite: Israeli Meir Adoni (44), is riding the current. In any case, the chef – entrepreneur, TV personality, book author, app developer and cooking teacher – is in the middle of a kosher turning point.

Initially (2002) there was Catit, a refined restaurant that in no time at all became a culinary institution in the nights of Tel Aviv. In 2011, Mizlala «Catit’s crazy sister», in the words of Adoni appeared next door. «It’s a sort of Israeli brasserie, a modern bistro with a large bar, creative cocktails and a playful atmosphere». Neither were kosher.

We use the past because at the beginning of 2017 Meir Adoni closed both to be able to closely follow the opening of his new restaurant in New York, Nur, which the New York Times reviewed this August with a piece titled: “An Open-Armed Approach to Middle Eastern Flavors”. However, Adoni did not abandon Blue Sky (opened in 2013) and Lumina (2014), both kosher, both inside hotel Carlton Tel Aviv on the Beach.

«Israel is a Jewish state, the destination of Jewish tourists from all around the world. And even though orthodox are a minority, many respect some kasherut rules out of tradition: they don’t eat pork, seafood, they don’t mix meat and milk and don’t eat in restaurants open on shabbat. This is my target».

Pete Wells’s praise in the New York Times

Pete Wells’s praise in the New York Times

How so? Without compromising with creativity and quality. «I believe kasherut is no excuse to lower the standards. In fact it’s a quality bonus, but one has to admit that in terms of availability of certified products, it gives us a hard time». Ingredients from Asia, China, Japan and Thailand, food that can now be found all around the world, were not even considered by rabbis only ten years ago. «All of us – restaurateurs, industry, and rabbinate – are trying to understand how to increase the availability of specific products without breaking religious rules».

Despite the Jewish community in New York being huge, Adoni’s restaurant isn’t kosher, but the next one, which the chef hopes, «will open within a year» should be. Kosher or not, why is Israeli cuisine considered as trendy by some international journalists – I ask the chef –, why is it that Israeli chefs are praised abroad but no restaurant in Israel appears in European historic culinary guides, there are no Michelin stars, no restaurants among the 50 Best?

Is service quality perhaps the problem, given dining room service in Israel is not a profession, but a part-time job for students and soldiers? This makes Adoni jump on his chair. «Ever since I’ve been in New York I’ve missed the slightly irreverent Israeli hospitality. Much better than a service full of starched jackets and fake smiles. I’m trying to train my staff in New York so they are less American and more Israeli, not in terms of roughness, but of spontaneousness. People hire a babysitter to look after their children, they come after a hard day’s work and want to relax. When waiters look like stiff dandies, even clients feel uneasy. I’ve seen people look up on Google how to use cutlery. I don’t want this! Eat with your hands! If you go in the desert with the Bedouins, you’ll certainly won’t eat lamb with fork and knife. Be it hummus, lobster or foie gras, eat it in the Middle Eastern style. For Americans, it’s a cultural shock». 

Smoked bonito tuna, amberjack roe, cream of smoked horseradish, egg yolk crumble, creme fraiche and quinoa popcorn (photo www.chefadoni.com)

Smoked bonito tuna, amberjack roe, cream of smoked horseradish, egg yolk crumble, creme fraiche and quinoa popcorn (photo www.chefadoni.com)

So you don’t believe Israel needs acknowledgements? «As a chef, of course I want them. There are some restaurants here, a few but we have some, which would well deserve at least a star. It’s the Europeans in the Michelin guide who don’t think, or still haven’t understood, that it’s them who need to be in Israel. They can say all they want but it’s a political choice that has nothing to do with food».

«We Israeli chefs are on the opposite side of politics and we travel around the world to represent at least a part of the culinary ferment that’s taking place in Israel. The time is right. After France, Italy, Spain, China, Japan, the Nordic and South American trends, it’s now time for Middle Eastern cuisine. Abroad you only know a small part, the most traditional, made of hummustahinashawarmashish kebab but the combination the Jewish people have created here coming from all around the world, hundreds of different culinary traditions that blended with the many and different Arab traditions, created a unique cuisine that is about to acquire international fame».

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso