(New York Jewish Week) — Celebrated Israeli chef Eyal Shani arrived in New York City early Monday, two days before the launch of Malka, his 41st restaurant and his first certified kosher outside of Israel.
For several weeks, he had been wondering if he should fly to Wednesday night’s grand opening. “For the first time in my life, I have no desire to travel, to leave Israel, because of the situation in Israel,” Shani told New York Jewish Week.
Shani has been working almost non-stop since the war broke out in Israel on October 7. He immediately closed all 12 of his restaurants in Tel Aviv and turned their kitchens into “food factories” where volunteers prepared 4,000 meals a day. then handed over to the front line soldiers. Even children were involved. some came to the restaurants and took pictures that were included in packages for the soldiers.
But last week, Shani closed the food factories and reopened several of his restaurants in Tel Aviv. “We realized we needed a place where our customers would be, to talk, to argue with each other,” Shani said. “We have to bring back our workers. That is the reason why we opened in Israel.”
It’s been an incredibly busy time for the top chef. In addition to his activism, the daily pressures of running a global restaurant empire, and the inexplicable stress of living through a brutal war, Shani has been busy with accolades; , his seasonally focused restaurant on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village.
“When I heard that we got a Michelin star, I was happy, but not so much, because now there is no room for happiness,” said Shani, who added that he was “cooking for the soldiers” when he was awarded the star. “But when I saw my colleagues, my chefs, go up on stage to receive the star, and I saw the Israeli flag on their jacket, I started to cry. That was my happiness. And it’s my happiness to open a kosher restaurant as well.”
Shani’s goal with the New York outpost of Malka, which opens to the public Sunday at 161 West 72nd Street on the heavily Jewish Upper West Side, is to create a kosher restaurant unlike most kosher restaurants. A remarkable case. Right now, Shani is hard at work creating a specialty dish for the restaurant, a Jewish-style chicken ramen soup.
“Chicken soup is the best soup in the world,” she said, echoing the sentiments of Jewish grandmothers everywhere. “I’m going to create an amazing ramen based on chicken broth. I hope I can make the best ramen in New York.”
Shani himself does not keep kosher, but five years ago he opened Malka in Tel Aviv, then the only kosher restaurant in his portfolio. He did so, he said, because he saw kosher consumers “craving” his food, but they couldn’t eat it because it wasn’t kosher.
“These people are part of my nation,” Shani said. “A part of my people. How can I cook food without letting half my people eat? That is the main reason why I opened Malka.”
These days, in addition to the upcoming Malka in Manhattan, Shani operates two kosher-certified restaurants in Israel. In Paris, three locations of his fast-casual pita chain Miznon use all-kosher ingredients, but they are not certified.
In addition to ramen, New York Malka will also have mashed potato-stuffed schnitzel, a signature dish at its Tel Aviv Malka, as well as its popular beet carpaccio and the Jerusalem mezze plate of Mexican chickpea falafel and hummus. . Shani hopes Malka’s seasonal menu, which will feature the flavors of Israeli cuisine, will appeal to Jews and non-Jews alike.
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“One night I had a dream that the food would be so good that even non-kosher people would go to the restaurant,” says Shani, “and the koshers would come to eat and at the end of the night they would dance there together.” the bar.”
Adina Sussman, a cookbook author and keen observer of modern Israeli cuisine, agrees that Shani’s food is different from what you’ll find at other kosher establishments.
“Eyal Shani’s restaurants are not meat-centric,” Sussman said. “It’s interesting for the kosher crowd because kosher dinners are usually very carnivorous.”
“Maybe he’s helping to gently nudge people toward a more plant-based holiday eating experience,” he added.
Shani, who cites his vegetarian grandfather as a major inspiration, told New York Jewish Week that while meat and fish are certainly on Malka’s menu, more than half of the offerings will be plant-based.
“Olive oil is my go-to ingredient,” she said. “If olive oil disappears from the world, I will quit and leave the profession. I wouldn’t be a chef.’ This is especially true in a kosher establishment, where the mixing of milk and meat is prohibited. At his other New York restaurants, including the upscale HaSalon and Shmoné, chefs use fine olive oils that come from Spain, Italy and Israel. He plans to do the same in Malka.
The product will also be of superior quality. “All the vegetables are going to be from upstate New York or California,” he said. But tomatoes, he added. A central feature of Shani cuisine – all will be local. “Real tomatoes can’t travel,” he said.
Just as Shani was uncomfortable leaving wartime Israel, so many Jewish restaurant-goers seem conflicted about the morality of dining out and entertaining while Israel is at war. According to Elan Kornblum, publisher of Great Kosher Restaurants Media Group, kosher restaurants in New York City are suffering. But while consumers are hesitant to enjoy life while the war with Hamas rages on, interest in Shani’s kosher eatery is strong.
Kornblum posted Malka’s menu on her organization’s Facebook page, and it has garnered more than 50,000 views in less than three weeks. His posts average about 5,000 views, he said. “If something gets 40,000 to 50,000 views, you know people are excited and sharing,” he said. “It’s great news.”
Shani understands the conflict some people feel about returning to life and restaurants. But he strongly feels that it is important.
“There is no reason for anything if we are not going to build a normal life, a peaceful life, or try to bring quality, happiness and hope to people,” he said.
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