(New York Jewish Week) Renowned Israeli chef Eyal Shani arrived in New York early Monday morning, two days before the launch of his 41st Malka restaurant and his first certified kosher restaurant outside of Israel.
For several weeks, he had been considering whether he should fly in for Wednesday night’s grand opening. This is the first time in my life that I have no desire to travel, to leave Israel, because of the situation in Israel now, Shani told the New York Jewish Week.
Shani has been working almost non-stop since the war in Israel began on October 7. to the soldiers on the front line. Even children were involved: some would come to restaurants and paint pictures that were included in packages for the soldiers.
But last week, Shani closed food factories and reopened several of his restaurants in Tel Aviv. We understood that we need a place where our customers will be, to talk, to argue with each other, Shani said. We have to get our workers back. That’s why we opened in Israel.
It’s been an incredibly busy time for the senior 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 earning accolades: Last week, Shani won his first ever Michelin star for Shmon, his seasonally focused restaurant on the West 8th. 3rd Street in Greenwich Village.
When I heard that we won the Michelin star, I was happy, but not so much, because now there is no place for happiness, said Shani, who added that he was cooking for the soldiers when the star was awarded. But when I saw my partners, my chefs, going on stage to receive the star, and I saw the flag of Israel on their jacket, I started to cry. That was my luck. And it is my luck to open a kosher restaurant as well.
Shanis’ goal with the New York outpost of Malka, which opens to the public on Sundays and is located at 161 West 72nd Street on the heavily Jewish Upper West Side, is to create a kosher restaurant that doesn’t feel like most kosher restaurants. Shani is currently hard at work creating a signature dish for the restaurant, a Jewish-flavored ramen soup made with chicken.
Chicken soup is the best soup in the world, he said, echoing the sentiment of Jewish grandmothers everywhere. I will develop an amazing ramen based on the chicken soup. 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, which at the time was the only kosher restaurant in his portfolio. He did so, he said, because he saw that kosher consumers craved his food but could not eat it because it was not kosher.
These people are part of my nation, Shani said. Part of my people. How can I make food without letting half my people eat it? That’s the main reason 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 pie chain Miznon use all-kosher ingredients, but they are not kosher certified.
In addition to ramen, New York’s Malka will have the thinly battered steak stuffed with mashed potatoes that is a signature dish at his Tel Aviv Malka, as well as his popular beet carpaccio and Jerusalem appetizer, with falafel and hummus made from Mexican chickpeas. . Shani hopes Malkas’ seasonal menu, which showcases the flavors of Israeli cuisine, will appeal to Jews and non-Jews alike.
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One night I dreamed that the food would be so good that even non-beehives would go to the restaurant, Shani said, and beehives would come to eat and at the end of the night dance together at the bar.
Adena Sussman, a cookbook author and keen observer of modern Israeli cuisine, agrees that Shanis food is different from the food you’d find at other kosher establishments.
Eyal Shani restaurants are not focused on meat, Sussman said. That’s interesting to the kosher crowd because kosher restaurants are usually known to be very carnivorous.
Perhaps he helps gently nudge people toward a more celebratory eating experience, she added.
Shani, who cites his vegan grandfather as a major inspiration, told the New York Jewish Week that while meat and fish are certainly on the Malkas menu, more than half of the offerings will be plant-based.
Olive oil is my main ingredient, he said. If olive oil disappeared from the world, I would give up and leave the profession. I wouldn’t be a chef. This is especially true in a kosher establishment, where mixing milk and meat is prohibited. At his other New York restaurants, including the upscale HaSalon and Shmon, chefs use premium olives sourced from Spain, Italy and Israel. He plans to do that in Malka as well.
The product will also be of top quality. All the vegetables will 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 Israel during the war, many Jewish diners seem conflicted about the morality of dining out and partying while war rages in Israel. Kosher restaurants in New York are suffering, according to Elan Kornblum, publisher of Great Kosher Restaurants Media Group. But despite consumers’ reluctance to enjoy life while the war with Hamas continues, interest in the Shanis kosher restaurant is high.
Kornblum posted Malkas’ menu on his organizations Facebook page, and it garnered more than 50,000 views in less than three weeks. The average number of views for his posts is about 5,000, he said. If something gets 40,000-50,000 views, you know people are excited and sharing, he said. That’s big news.
Shani understands the conflict some people feel about returning to life and restaurants. But he feels strongly that it is important to do so.
There is no reason for anything if we are not building a normal life, a peaceful life or if we are not trying to bring quality, happiness and hope to people, he said.
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