When executive chef Itzik Barak from Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria set out to create a dish for the annual Tastes of Waldorf Astoria competition, he thought of the Bible.

“It had to be a dish that represented the seven species,” he said, referring to the famed passage in Deuteronomy 8:8 that describes the ancient Israel as a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil and date honey, all staple foods of the time.

Barak isn’t religiously observant, although the owners of the historic and luxurious Jerusalem Waldorf are Orthodox and so are much of the clientele.

What he wanted, however, was to create a dish that would instantly be identified as Israeli, with fresh ingredients that were recognizably local yet available worldwide. It also needed to be a dish that was accessible to the home chef working with an average set of kitchen tools, and without a sous chef slicing, dicing and chopping.

It’s the second year that the Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and culinary arts organization James Beard Foundation (JBF) are hosting the competition, which pits six Waldorf Astoria chefs against one another. “Each participating chef will prepare their recipes in New York on February 24, 2016, for a panel of culinary luminaries, who will ultimately decide the winning dish,” the Waldorf said. The winning dish will be featured at each of the brand’s 25 hotels and resorts worldwide.

The luxury hotel chain has a long-held reputation for creating culinary classics, such as eggs Benedict, red velvet cake and Waldorf salad. The competition’s 2015 winners won for their Celery Root alla Waldorf, a reinvention of the Waldorf salad using a celery root risotto.

Chef Itzik Barak and Chef JJ, a visiting New York City chef, take a final glance at the salad entry (Courtesy Sarka Babicka)

Chef Itzik Barak and Chef JJ, a visiting New York City chef, take a final glance at the salad entry (Courtesy Sarka Babicka)

According to the rules of the competition, the dish can’t be too complicated to make and has to be unique in flavor and plating.

And so, Barak’s submission, The Seven Species (although, strictly speaking, not all are represented), is a layered dish, beginning with a bulgur wheat salad rich in ingredients, including finely diced dates and pear, a scattering of pomegranate seeds, chopped parsley and mint leaves, minced ginger and fresh diced chili pepper.

The salad, and the daub of lemony tahini underlying it, are the bed for several crunchy pieces of sea bream bruschetta — slices of fresh baguette (Barak’s were from Teller Bakery in Mahane Yehuda) topped with chunks of sea bream first brushed with an eggplant cream and scattered with thyme leaves (that step could become tedious for the home cook), and then slowly and carefully seared in a hot cast iron pan.

Chef Itzik Barak preparing fillets of sea bream for his Seven Species salad (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Chef Itzik Barak preparing fillets of sea bream for his Seven Species salad (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Before serving the salad, Barak artfully arranged the bulgur on the plate and topped it with the bruschetta. He then rolled up paper-thin slices of carrot, zucchini and cucumber that had been pickling in lemon juice and olive oil and placed them around the plate. For a final touch, he placed single stalks of watercress and parsley in the pickled, rolled vegetable slices for a fresh, lemony garnish.

The Seven Species salad is currently listed on the Jerusalem hotel’s menu of appetizers ahead of the competition, but easily works as a one-dish meal that can be made at home.

“The trend today is for food that’s healthy and fresh, hence the fish and salad,” said Barak. “Tahini also fits the bill, because it’s made of sesame which is rich in iron.”

He had been thinking about dairy-free foods after a recent trip to Japan, where he paid close attention to the lack of cheese and milk.

“There’s just no dairy, and lots of fresh fish,” he said. “And you don’t miss it.”

One thing Barak does appreciate are Israeli vegetables, and he often buys them locally at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market. But he has also been thinking about being able to pick herbs and tomatoes for his Waldorf kitchens from a hotel roof garden, following in the footsteps of the New York Waldorf, which has a long history of roof gardens. That storied hotel currently has its own beehive and fruit and vegetable crops being raised on the roof.

For now, though, Barak is focused on the competition, which will take place February 24 at the New York Waldorf Astoria, where he will have to prepare 150 plated dishes of the Seven Species for the panel of judges. He’ll be joined there by Chef Joseph JJ Johnson from New York’s The Cecil restaurant. Johnson was paired with Barak by the Waldorf and visited him in Jerusalem, where he assisted in the final stages of the salad creation.

The Seven Species (4-6 servings)


Sea Bream

    • 4 filets sea bream (denis, in Hebrew)
    • 2 whole eggplants
    • 100 gram (1) sourdough baguette
    • 4 thyme leaves
    • 1 lemon
    • 10 grams of fennel seeds
    • Pinch of salt for taste
    • Pinch of pepper for taste
    • 1 cup olive oil

Bulgur Salad

  • 40 grams bulgur wheat
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 4 dates
  • 40 grams pumpkin
  • 4 pears
  • One piece of ginger
  • 20 grams parsley chopped
  • 20 grams mint chopped
  • 1 teaspoon yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit that can be replaced by lime)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 small red chili, fresh
  • Pinch of salt for taste
  • Pinch of pepper for taste
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Water


  • 40 grams tahini
  • 1 lemon
  • Pinch of salt for taste
  • Pinch of pepper for taste
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup ice water


  • 1 radish
  • 1 yellow zucchini
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 fennel
  • 1 lemon
  • Drizzle yuzu (or lime)
  • Pinch of salt for taste
  • Pinch of pepper for taste
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil


  1. Fill mixing bowl with room temperature water and soak bulgur wheat for 30 minutes.
  2. Grill eggplant on high flame for 5 minutes on each side until soft and blackened.
  3. Remove stems and peel one eggplant, leave the other with charred skin. Cut both eggplants into cubes.
  4. Put all cubed pieces into one blender, add ½ cup of olive oil and juice of 2 lemons. Add salt and pepper for taste. Mix in blender on high until smooth.
  5. Strain water from the soaked bulgur wheat and move to a mixing bowl.
  6. Dress pumpkin with thyme leaves, salt, pepper and oil, and sauté pumpkin in medium-sized pan for 3 minutes until golden brown.
  7. In a separate bowl, add 20 grams yuzu, salt, pepper, olive oil, chili and mix. Add bulgur, sautéed pumpkin, dates, pomegranate seeds, pears, parsley, mint, ginger and mix.
  8. Add yuzu dressing from the first bowl to mixture and taste.
  9. Remove sea bream skin. Cut fish lengthwise and then in half to create four equally-sized rectangles. Season raw fish with thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil.
  10. Add the eggplant paste to one side of each fish piece, and add one piece of sliced bread to the same side as the eggplant paste.
  11. Cut the bread to align with the size of each fish.
  12. Place all four pieces in a sauté pan with a drizzle of olive oil, cooking fish at medium heat for 2 minutes, bottom side first, then flip until top side is golden brown.
  13. Add tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil and ice water to a medium size mixing bowl, stir until smooth.
  14. Peel vegetables lengthwise, placing long, thin slivers in bowl of lemon juice, olive oil, yuzu, salt, and pepper.


  1. Smear tahini in a line on the bottom of the plate
  2. Place bulgur salad directly on top
  3. Add the four pieces of cooked sea bream, shingled
  4. Roll each vegetable and place throughout the plate, on top of the fish or in the bulgur salad
  5. Garnish with leaves