(New York Jewish Week) – Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani arrived in New York City on Monday morning, two days before the launch of Malka – his 41st restaurant and his first certified kosher restaurant outside of Israel.
For several weeks, he had been deliberating whether to fly for the grand opening on Wednesday night. “It’s the first time in my life that I have no desire to travel, to go out of Israel, because of the situation in Israel right now,” Shani told the New York Jewish Week.
Shani has been working almost non-stop since the war in Israel began on October 7. He immediately closed all 12 of his restaurants in Tel Aviv and converted their kitchens into what he calls “food factories,” where volunteers cook 4,000 meals every day they were. then delivered to the soldiers on the front lines. Even the children were involved: some came to the restaurants and painted pictures that were included in the packages for the soldiers.
But last week, Shani closed food factories and reopened several of his Tel Aviv restaurants. “We realized that we needed a place for our customers to be, to talk, to discuss with each other,” said Shani. “We have to return our workers. That’s why we opened in Israel.”
It’s been an incredibly busy time for the high-profile chef. In addition to her activism, the daily pressures of running a global restaurant empire and the incomprehensible stress of living through a brutal war, Shani has been busy earning accolades: last week, Shani earned her first Michelin star for Shmone. , his seasonally focused restaurant on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village.
“When I heard that we won the Michelin star, I was happy, but not so much, because there is no place for happiness now,” said Shani, who added that it was “cooking for soldiers” when the star was awarded. “But when I saw my colleagues, my chefs, go up on the stage to get the star, and I saw the flag of Israel on their jacket, I started to cry. That was my happiness. And this it is also my happiness to open a kosher restaurant.
Shani’s goal with Malka’s New York outpost, 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 ‘and most kosher restaurants. Case in point: Right now, Shani is hard at work creating a signature dish for the restaurant, a Hebrew-inflected ramen soup made with chicken.
“Chicken soup is the best soup in the world,” she said, echoing the sentiment of Jewish grandmothers everywhere. “I’m going to develop an amazing ramen based on chicken broth. I hope I succeed in making 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 were “waiting” for 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? That’s the main reason I opened Malka.”
These days, in addition to the nearby 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 are not kosher certified.
In addition to ramen, the New York Malka will have the thinly battered schnitzel stuffed with mashed potatoes that is a signature dish at its Tel Aviv Malka, as well as its popular beet carpaccio and Jerusalem mezze platter, with falafel and hummus made from Mexican chickpeas. . Shani hopes Malka’s seasonal menu showcasing the flavors of Israeli cuisine will be a draw for Jews and non-Jews alike.
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“I had a dream one night that the food would be so good that even non-kosher people would go to the restaurant,” said Shani, “and the kosher people would come to eat and at the end of the night they would dance together the bar.”
Adeena Sussman, a cookbook author and keen observer of modern Israeli cuisine, agrees that Shani’s food is different from the food you’ll find at other kosher establishments.
“The Eyal Shani restaurants are not meat-centric,” Sussman said. “It’s interesting for the kosher crowd because kosher diners are generally known to be very carnivorous.”
“Maybe it’s helping to gently nudge people towards a more celebratory plant-based food experience,” he added.
Shani, who cites her vegan grandfather as a big 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 based on on the plants.
“Olive oil is my main ingredient,” he said. “If olive oil disappeared from the world, I would leave and leave the profession. I would not 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 elegant HaSalon and Shmoné, the chefs use superb olive oils sourced from Spain, Italy and Israel. He plans to do the same to Malka, too.
The products will also be of premium quality. “All the vegetables will be from upstate New York or California,” he said. But the tomatoes, he added – a central feature of Shani’s cuisine – it will all be local. “Real tomatoes can’t travel,” he said.
As Shani was uncomfortable leaving Israel during the war, many Jewish restaurateurs seemed conflicted about the morality of dining out and enjoying themselves while a war raged 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 is ongoing, interest in Shani’s kosher restaurant is high.
Kornblum posted Malka’s menu on her organization’s 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 it,” he said. “That’s great news.”
Shani understands the discord some people feel about returning to life — and to restaurants. But he strongly feels that it is important to do so.
“There is no reason for anything if we are not going to build a normal life, a peaceful life, or if we are not going to try to bring quality and happiness and hope to people,” he said.
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