NEW YORK — You might say that this burgeoning eatery has a split personality — one for each of its founders.
Orly Gottesman, the founder and CEO of Blends by Orly, a line of gluten-free flours and baking supplies, and executive chef Nir Zook, are fusing their talents in a new Upper West Side restaurant venture.
By day, the space will be “Modern Bread & Bagel,” a gluten-free and kosher bagel café. By night the space will transform into “Arba,” a Mediterranean gourmet, gluten-free dairy and fish restaurant.
But don’t be fooled by the labels. The partners envision the eatery as a destination for anyone craving wholesome, fresh and innovative food that happens to be kosher and gluten-free.
“The restaurants will have amazing food inspired from all of our travels and places we’ve lived. It’s about freshness and different flavors. It won’t be noticeably gluten free,” said 31-year-old Gottesman.
Both Gottesman and Zook see the restaurant as being a space where diners come to relax. In the morning customers can choose from babka bread pudding, lemon ricotta hotcakes, a bagel with in-house smoked salmon — or perhaps order a sandwich to go. In the evening diners can enjoy one of 200 kosher wines, 20 of which will be available by the glass. They can order a la carte from Arba’s menu, or enjoy a six-course tasting menu featuring locally sourced vegetables and fish.
The enterprise marks a first for both: It’s Gottesman’s first-ever restaurant and Zook’s first restaurant in the United States. The International Kosher Council, IKC, certified the establishment, which will feature both kosher mevushal and non-mevushal wines. An observant Jewish sommelier will be on site to open each bottle.
“When doing a kosher restaurant, you think about food in a different way. Everything has to be precise. It makes you more accurate and you behave in certain way,” Zook said.
The two spoke with The Times of Israel about the soon-to-open establishment while seated at one of the interior’s several square tabletops. Next to a freshly baked oversized chocolate chip cookie (gluten-free, of course) sat a steaming glass of Zook’s custom lavender, verbena and mint tea. From above, woven basket lampshades from Thailand cast a soft glow on the tabletops, which are stained the color of toasted almonds.
Born and raised in a kosher home in Englewood, New Jersey, Gottesman found her culinary footing after moving to Paris with her husband Josh Borenstein. She was inspired to master the art of gluten-free pastry and bread because he has celiac disease. She first trained at the Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute in Paris.
When they moved to Australia, she enrolled in the Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute in Sydney. Over time, she developed a line of OU-certified gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free flours.
“In general gluten-free bread usually comes from the freezer, without a lot of taste and with a sandy texture. It’s sub sub-par. It will be amazing to see all these creations come to fruition — mock rye bread, ciabatta, focaccia, brioche and baguette,” Gottesman said.
Gottesman spent three days teaching Modern’s new pastry chef how to work with her line of flours. While she will pop in and lend a hand in the kitchen from time-to-time, she will still devote most of her time to her flour line.
Zook, 42, grew up on a family flower and fruit farm in southern Israel, and has years of restaurant experience. He recently opened the kosher restaurant Mapu in Tel Aviv and previously had several restaurants in Jaffa, including Cordelia and Noa Bistro. He’s also catered private events large and small, in Israel and the US.
A chance encounter two years ago brought the business partners together.
While Gottesman’s sister and brother-in-law were waiting for a table at Mapu, Zook happened to walk by. He asked the couple if he could help, and when they realized he was Mapu’s chef and owner, they told him about Orly. Zook said she could contact him.
Gottesman and Zook first connected through Facebook. Soon after, Gottesman and her husband — whose family runs Chompies, a chain of kosher New York deli-style restaurants in Arizona — met at Zook’s apartment in Jaffa, overlooking the sea. Gottesman wanted to pick Zook’s brain about her idea, but before long he himself was on board.
“It happened very fast. We just had a lot of chemistry there,” Gottesman said.
“Timing is everything,” Zook agreed.
Zook, who created and starred in the television show, “A Chef by Surprise,” looks forward to a menu that changes weekly depending on what’s available and in season. The idea is an extension of that from the show, where he would arrive unannounced at homes throughout Israel and prepare a meal using only those ingredients people had on hand.
So far, Zook is pleased with the plethora of fresh produce and fish to be found in markets in the Bronx and farther upstate. Still, he’ll import olive oil and spices from Israel to use in his dishes.
When both spaces are fully open — Modern Bread & Bagel launched February 18 and Arba plans to open on March 7, pending its liquor license — it will be the realization of two years of planning, Gottesman said.
“Everything they said was impossible about gluten-free we made possible,” she said.
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