Times Will Tell

Podcast: Use it all, says slow food, fermenting chef at Jaffa’s award-winning OCD

Jerusalem-raised Shalom Elbert started with schnitzel and kube before bread miso and Sprite-scented dehydrated lime at OCD, named for meticulous care put into nightly tasting menu

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

This week on Times Will Tell we’re speaking with Shalom Simcha Elbert, head of research and development at OCD, recently named Israel’s best restaurant at the 2022 Israeli Kitchen Awards, sponsored by American Express.

The name (an acronym for obsessive compulsive disorder) refers to the meticulous care that the culinary team, led by chef Raz Rahav, pours into each dish of the nightly tasting menu served to every diner.

The Jerusalem-born and raised Elbert, who studied in a yeshiva high school where he first learned cooking skills frying chicken schnitzel for his friends, later made his way to cooking school in Italy.

It was there that he immersed himself in the slow food movement — as well as Italian — and he now handles all aspects of the fermentation process at OCD, which prides itself on being a zero waste restaurant.

Every part of each ingredient is used, whether it’s a loaf of bread or fish tails and heads, often fermented for use in the restaurant’s pantry.

When one OCD grower had an overflow of apricots, tells Elbert, the restaurant took them all, fermenting, curing, making hot sauce, baking into bread and bringing that conversation to the open bar where all 23 diners are seated each night, in constant conversation with the chefs cooking right in front of them.

“We tell the story of what’s going on,” said Elbert.

Elbert’s mentor has been David Zilber, head of the fermentation lab at Copenhagen’s Noma, rated the world’s best restaurant and closing, as reported in The New York Times, because its grueling hours and intense workplace culture make it “unsustainable.”

Jaffa’s OCD is currently riding high, winning accolades from diners and reviewers for its mix of Mediterranean with Jewish and Israeli culinary flavors, and expanding from two seatings each night of 19 diners to 23, thanks to a recent renovation.

As Elbert said in the interview, “I think that’s what we’re trying to do here; to really give our cooks the responsibility and the understanding of what it means to be a new cook. To think not only about the plate but also what comes before and after.”

The following transcript has been very lightly edited.

The Times of Israel: I am here this morning with Shalom Simcha at OCD. No one else is here.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:

The Times of Israel: And we are sitting around the bar, the bar seating at OCD. And we’re going to talk a little bit about how you came to your role as head of R&D. I know that you mentioned to me beforehand that you found your way when you were 15 years old and fried a batch of schnitzel for yourself and for your classmates. Tell us a little bit about what was happening at that point in your life.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Good morning. Basically, I was at high school, studying in a dorm, and for Saturday, I was there for Shabbat, and the food was terrible, so I decided to try making schnitzel. It was the most basic thing that I knew how to make, and I thought that it was a good idea. It was the first time in my life that I had something that was reciprocatory, that I got good feedback. It was something that finally people wanted something from me that I had to give. And it clicked within that time period how powerful food can be, that it brings people around the table, that it’s more than just a physical feeding, but an actual understanding about what a strong sociological tool food can be. From there, it just never stopped.

The Times of Israel: Right, but you were only 15.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I was 15.

The Times of Israel: You had a while to go before you could break out from school.

Shalom Simcha Elbert: So actually, not at all. But it just fascinated me from that time. I started reading books and watching TV shows and reading magazines and cookbooks, and I was eating kosher at the time. I was also fascinated by food that wasn’t out there. And I was in an internal dilemma about how I was going to do it and what was going to be.

The Times of Israel: And not the first person to deal with that issue, I’m sure.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I was actually talking to my rabbi a lot. And he told me always that’s the challenge, that would be my challenge in life. Obviously, I chose not to take it as a challenge. But that’s also part of why I left. I felt that being religious was holding me back. And it was just something that followed me throughout all high school. I wouldn’t learn, I would read books, cookbooks. I wouldn’t go to class and I would just try and cook for my friends and try new things.

The Times of Israel:
What did trying new things mean at that point in your life?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I mean, it wasn’t anything sophisticated, but if you take, for example, grilled cheese in the morning and then give it a little more finesse, using different breads and different sauces and different cheeses and learning about it. It was all self-taught.

The Times of Israel:
I can imagine the white bread that you were using.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Of course, but then suddenly you go into sourdough and you’re like wait, what is sourdough? And then you learn about bread. And that’s actually where I started fermentation with bread. Bread was the first thing that I fermented.

The Times of Israel:
You were fermenting in your dorm.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
That was after high school. Before I went into the army I started making bread, sourdough, and it just fascinated me.

The Times of Israel:
This is before the craze that has happened in the last bunch of years.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Exactly. I wrote my thesis about why people start baking during times of crisis and why during COVID sourdough took such an uprise.

The Times of Israel:
I want to hear more about that. Let’s stick with the timeline for the moment. Then you did the army.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I went to the military. I had nothing to do with food there. Even though in the middle I was thinking about going and trying to be a cook in the army, also to learn logistics. I think people don’t understand the importance of logistics that go into restaurants and cooking. And at the time I wanted to be a chef, I wanted to be a cook and I wanted to learn what it was like to feed 5,000 people.

It didn’t work out. Which was a shame because I think there’s a lot to learn. I think the logistics behind it are incredible and it’s really something that as somebody who wanted to open a restaurant at the time, really wanted to learn and study. I got out of the army, and then I went traveling, which was very food-oriented. I went from the Galapagos Islands all the way up to California. I had a little kubeh business that funded my trip. We would sell kubeh in Jerusalem, and it was just a lot of fun. Then I realized that kitchens are just a little bit too small, and the impact that they can have if you feed 150 people in the evening.

That’s not a lot of people to have a real effect on food and education, on what the world is going through.

The Times of Israel:
Meaning you don’t want to just give people a meal and send them off. You want some other kind of longer-term effect.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I felt that food is a sociological tool and that I can impact through it a lot of people and do something that’s also good and educate and change something, make a change within the food system, which is very broken.

And then I was looking for schools or for something to do. And I found this amazing university, which feels like Hogwarts as if somebody went into my brain and picked it and basically just built a university around what interested me.

The Times of Israel:
Okay, tell us where and what?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, in Piedmont.

The Times of Israel:
Not shocking that it would be in Italy.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Italy, but of course, it’s where the Slow Food movement was born. And the founder of Slow Food also founded the university, Carlo Petrini.

The Times of Israel:
How’s your Italian?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I’m fluent now. I went without knowing a word of Italian.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
And the first year is all in English, and then the second and third years are in Italian.

The Times of Israel: So you got to pick up Italian in your first year.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Preparation is the difference between picking up Italian and speaking like a third grader or studying academic Italian, I would imagine, which was probably the biggest challenge, but also one of the biggest gifts.

The Times of Israel:
Was it similar to an ulpan?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
It was six months of intensive classes. I immersed myself in it and made sure my Italian friends only spoke to me in Italian, and no English.

The Times of Israel:
No practicing their English.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Even if the evening started off in English, then they would quickly go to Italian, especially once the wine was flowing and conversation and different cultural references that you don’t understand and they could only explain in Italian. I immersed myself with my Italian friends in the first six months. I would just sit there and not understand anything. Slowly, slowly. And then during summer break, instead of coming back to Israel or traveling, I went and did an internship on a farm. And that really changed everything.

The Times of Israel:
So that’s what brought you into fermentation?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
No, actually, I was always fascinated with butchering and yes, that’s right. And I worked as I don’t have a good word, a better word than…

The Times of Israel:
Tell us the Italian word, just so we can hear it.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Machelio, which is a butcher, but also somebody who slaughters the animals.

The Times of Israel: So you’re in the process from the beginning.

Shalom Simcha:

A good friend of mine, she has a farm in northern Italy, and they grow in a biodynamic type of agriculture. They rise all their animals, chicken, pheasants, ducks, pigs, rabbits, goats, sheep . A whole menagerie, everything. And they roam wildly in a 60-acre farm, and everything is slaughtered on site, and the butcher is on site, and everything is farm to table, zero kilometers. And the butcher there has never left his city. He doesn’t speak a word of English.

The Times of Israel: And you were at his side.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
For two months.

The Times of Israel: Was it going harkening back to your religious roots at that point? Was it just understood that this is where you were heading? Was it bizarre to be handling certain animals that you knew from your religious studies that this was not something you would have touched way back when?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I think it was. I mean, my father was a religious slaughterer on a farm in the Soviet Union.
There’s a bit of a background. There’s a connection, for sure. I thought it would be a lot harder, but it wasn’t. And I think it gave me an understanding of where my meat comes from and what it means to slaughter and what it means to take a life and to know every part and to use and really do nose to tail and to understand the anatomy of animals and what you can do with it. And different temperatures and aging. And it was really fascinating and amazing. But it also takes a toll to take an animal’s life.

The Times of Israel: What’s the word in Italian for slaughter?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Amachato. Related to kill.
But it was intense. It was intense.

The Times of Israel: Now, you did that for how many summers?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I did that for two months in the summer, it was intensive. By the end of it, I was speaking more Italian than I remembered English.

The Times of Israel: Well, that’s a way to remember to learn Italian.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
And I was fully immersed in an Italian environment.

The Times of Israel: So now you were in your second year of school.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
And I was fermenting throughout the whole entire time. And the Noma guide to fermentation just came out and fermentation took off in the world right well, the record of fermentation, people recording how they were, how.

The Times of Israel: They were doing it. But what were you fermenting?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
From bread to pickles to everything.

The Times of Israel: In other words, what was coming across….

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
…your table in Italy, you really don’t have an option other than seasonal.
Because you go to the markets and you won’t have a tomato in the winter. You just don’t.

The Times of Israel: So tell us a little bit about fermentation, because sometimes our audience, they might be familiar, but they might not be, just to give us a sense of what fermentation is as we go forward.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Fermentation is a microbial process that takes, from my perspective, one ingredient and turns it into another. Turning grapes into wine, flour and water into bread through microbial interaction, basically, bacteria, yeast, mold, fungi, all of that family are basically feeding off of what we give them and turning it through their digestive system into something that we enjoy a lot. It’s very funny to look at it that way.

But we’re usually not familiar with how much fermentation we have in our life or how much we’re dependent on fermentation. I mean, we’re fermented. We’re fermented; our bacteria and the microbiome in our body and everything that’s going on is bacteria that’s working and helping us and making sure that we’re healthy and that our gut is healthy and we’re dependent on it. And it’s very sad to see how we’re trying to avoid bacteria because it has a negative association, even though it’s a critical part of our life. If fermentation or bacteria wasn’t happy, then we couldn’t have coffee in the morning. Coffee has to go through fermentation. Cacao has to go through fermentation, wine has to go through fermentation. Beer, bread, these are just the basic, the basics. So going down that rabbit hole, which is a rabbit hole, yeah, it fascinated me from doing bread when I was 18 or 19 years old. I just understood there was something amazing to me to see. I took flour and water and I mixed it together, and the next day it doubled itself. And it was just something that I hadn’t added any yeasts or anything. It was just out in the open and there was magic happening. And it teaches you a lot about also processes and learning what time is. And timing is a crucial ingredient. With implementation, you have to be very patient, which nowadays is very hard.

The Times of Israel: I have learned that through my own sourdough process that I’m in the midst of. And my sourdough fell very flat yesterday.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
It can happen, of course. And that’s also the beauty about bread. Bread usually always tastes good, no matter what.

The Times of Israel: Okay, so bring us back to where you were going to go with this. So you’re, of course, exploring all the time in your own kitchen, I imagine, at that point.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
And after my first summer, I went to volunteer at Mad in Copenhagen, which is a symposium through the Noma group. And it was actually, sadly, the last Mad because of COVID.

The Times of Israel: What year are we in at this point?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
This is 2018.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
And I went to Mad and I was fascinated with what was going on in Noma and how they were organizing this event. And the volunteers that I met there were just incredible. And I had the privilege of meeting David Zilber, who was head of fermentation at the time, at Noma. I brought him to our university to come and teach. It was a lecture for the whole entire university. They stopped classes and everybody came. The biggest hall was packed. Really an amazing three-hour lecture, which was incredible. And then the next year he gave a course to a master class, which was really an amazing thing to see how somebody saw the value of teaching, not only being in a restaurant and educating and really teaching what he believed in.

I was always fascinated. I really wanted to go work for David. David, he really is a genius. He’s somebody that I find fascinating and artistic and mindful and really just out there. He’s always thinking in different ways and.

The Times of Israel: Different, really pushing the envelope on this.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
He always spoke out about being better in the kitchen and why kitchens are flawed and what’s going on and how he wanted to be better and how he felt the system could be better. And I was not planning on coming back to Israel. I was planning on going to Copenhagen, and staying there for at least a few years.

The Times of Israel: Right, I see. And the pandemic really interrupted that.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
And then I came here for a visit to Israel, came to visit a family friend. In July 20, the sous chef of OCD reached out to me and wanted to start fermenting.

The Times of Israel: So then you come back to Israel sort of unexpectedly before you really had planned to, in a sense.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Right. I was already consulting for OCD. It wasn’t really consulting. I was just helping them get the right equipment and start fermenting.

The Times of Israel: Shalom, tell us. We spoke a little bit in the intro about what OCD is and how it just actually won best restaurant in Israel. But what are the concepts behind OCD?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
OCD, opened eight years ago by Chef Raz Rahav and Idan Blumenthal. They opened the restaurant with the concept of having, at the time, 18 people around the bar getting the same food at the same time, a closed menu, seasonal. That changed every three to four months.

The Times of Israel: Now, 23 seats.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
23 seats. After the renovation in October/November, the restaurant is still giving the same menu to everybody, but with a different ideology that’s been developed in the past two years since I’ve joined. And we’ve kind of put together our minds and understood the responsibility that we have. Raz and Idan opened with the knowledge that food is a medium. And again, it’s a medium to educate, it’s a medium to speak, it’s a medium to talk about what’s going on in the world, because the beauty of the restaurants is that the cooks are the people who also obviously cook, but they also serve the dishes.

The Times of Israel: We’re sitting here, listeners, at the open bar system. Essentially, the kitchen is right across from the bar seating. So you are looking and speaking and watching everything as it happens.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:

The Times of Israel: So now you’ve been at OCD for how long?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I’ve been here for two years. We basically understood that when Raz and his sous chef were starting to ferment, we understood that we wanted to build a pantry. And then it was during Covid and it was lockdown, and we had a lot of time to sit and talk and play. And then we understood that because of the profile that OCD has or because of the type of menus that we serve, everybody gets the same food. So if we serve a piece of fillet, fish, fish filet, everybody is going to get the center. So we have a lot of trimmings and a lot of waste. And that waste, it’s good. And through fermentation processes, we can use it for the next menus and build ourselves a pantry. And then it started clicking. So since July 2021, we’re a zero-waste restaurant. We’ve moved I mean, I’ll say 98%, but we strive to be zero. Zero. There’s no such thing, I believe, as really completely 100%. There are always things that don’t turn out.

But, yeah, we’ve moved to an almost zero-waste restaurant where we use all of the products to create, through fermentation processes, our pantry for the next menus. But that goes further. And we also work with our producers and our farmers that get stuck with different produce that they can’t sell.

The Times of Israel: So you end up trying to do menus based on that. Yeah.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
So we talk to our farmers and we say, okay, suddenly a farmer can come up to me and say, listen, they were just crazy winds. And 600-kilo green apricots that haven’t even ripened are on the floor, and nobody’s going to take 600 kilo. At the time we bought, I think, almost 450 kilo, we had a whole dish just about apricots. We had four different types of bread with apricots. It was the bread serving here. We fermented, we cured, we made hot sauce. We did different, different processes, which aren’t as interesting as just bring the conversation to the table, because what happens then?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
And we tell the story, and we tell the story about what’s going on. Right now on the menu, we have a dish that’s homage to the garlic crisis we had here. We bought 100 kilos of Israeli garlic, which is a lot of garlic, and we buy it almost once a month. And what we do with it is we have a dish only surrounding it because we want to tell the story. We don’t even tell the customers what’s happening on the plate, but we tell them why it’s important and what we did with it because people don’t know what’s going on. Some people I mean, we were really scared that people are also going to be like, why are you serving me waste? But then they taste it, or they understand that it’s not just waste, but it’s a process because they’re not coming here because of your no, they’re not coming here. Right? We hope so. We try. So they’re very reciprocating and understanding and they follow up and they ask a lot of questions as well.

We’ve just launched a line of products under the name of Tene. Tene means a basket in Hebrew, it’s a very common name. So basically it’s a basket or a pantry that we believe that these products can also or should be in people’s homes to make them better cooks without having to change what they’re doing. So bringing OCD to people’s homes. So let’s say if you’re cooking bolognese ragu at home and you’re doing the same exact thing, but if you add a spoonful of our miso, it’s going to change and make it even better, richer, deeper umami, you’re going to caramelize it more, you’re going to have everything. Or if you’re going to use our soy sauce and you taste it versus store-bought soy sauce, you’re going to taste the difference, and you’re not going to want to use store-bought soy sauce.

The Times of Israel: Is there anything specifically Israeli or Tel Aviv about OCD and about what you’re doing?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
It’s a good question. I think it’s happening in the world and I think in Israel, it’s up and coming. I believe that this is the next trend in the food world. I see cooks in restaurants, and first of all, I’m going to be completely honest talking about our pocket restauranteurs and restaurants. Every gram of every product is important and we feel it, and we’re privileged enough to know how many customers are going to come and to order the exact amount. But what happens if you’re a restaurant that you order for 80 people in the evening and you don’t serve 30 people only?

So I think that’s going to be the next trend, just in terms of the bottom line. I think people see it from the bottom line and then they understand the value that it also has, which in my opinion is just as important. I don’t think that it’s something that Israeli yet. I don’t see it might just be.

I mean, we’re making it Israeli because we’re here in Israel. Sure, we believe that we can really have an effect and bring it also to the world. To the world. But we’re trying to educate, if that’s not too big of a word. I think that’s where the world is headed. And sustainability is running a lot of companies and a lot of restaurants, and we understand the importance of it.

The Times of Israel: So now we’re in the kitchen, and Shalom has three, six, nine little very delectable looking ceramic bowls with things that are in them, and he’s going to tell us what they are.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
So this is a little bit of the processes that go on here. Eight out of nine of these products are from waste. The 9th one is just a guess.

The 9th one is just something that we people love and really, really adore. So it’s also one of the products that we sell. Okay, but all of these products are on the menu. No, it’s on the menu, but that’s not the product I’ll go around.

So this is what we call magic powder. It’s different. Basically, after we strain our soy sauces and our different vegetables from the trimmings, we dehydrate them and it becomes an umami powder. This is vinegar made out of celery.

So last year we had a dish where we only use the leaves and we had nine kilos a day of celery. The stocks, just the stalks, and we had nothing to do with them.

I mean, that’s also closing the loop. Part of my job here is also designing the menus, it’s part of the r&d with Raz. So I also know when I build a dish, I know what’s going to be at the end of it and the waste and what I can start making for the next menu when we plan, I’m planning a year ahead.

The Times of Israel: Knowing the season, knowing the produce, knowing…

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
The waste, and then what I can make from that waste.

We use a lot of limes and lemons in our restaurant. Obviously, after we grate them and we juice them, all the peels that usually been thrown away, we blacken them like black garlic.

This is a dehydrator, so we keep it at 60 degrees. And basically it’s become black lime. Black lemon.

The Times of Israel: Persian lime.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Okay. It’s made out of lime in it. We had a dish smelling it, so you can really smell it. It smells like Sprite.

The Times of Israel: It does. And it has this very dark brownish tint to it.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
That’s one of the most amazing ingredients that we’ve created here.

When we opened our bakery last year, we had a lot of tests, and we had a lot of bread. That wasn’t good enough. We were testing your bread out and the correct recipe, and so we made a bread miso, which is now being baked back into the bread. Closing the loop.

Look at this. Nine months old miso, and it’s closing loops. So, like, we didn’t throw away any.

The Times of Israel: Bread, you’re saying crust of bread?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
No, the whole entire bread.

The Times of Israel: The whole bread. The whole bread is then made into.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
This and made miso.

Miso, of course, is a fermented paste that comes from Japan. Basically, it’s usually made out of soybeans or chickpeas, but why not make it out of bread? So that’s what really has been going on in the past years and using the ancient techniques in some modern cuisine and understanding that there are no limits and that you can do whatever you want. Clearly, we had it in our menu. The last menu in the summer, we had a dessert made out of bread miso. So dessert only made out of bread and bread miso. So it’s a soy sauce that was made out of it’s not a soy sauce. It’s the process of making soy sauce, but only with bread.

So there’s no soy in it. So it’s not soy sauce, but it’s a bread sauce. And bread miso, but a soy like sauce. It tastes like soy sauce, but there’s no soy in it. This is actually looks like a chili-ish sauce made out of dates.

The Times of Israel: So it’ll get a little darker as it ages.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Exactly. The longer it ages, basically, what happens is, very slowly, over time, it caramelizes. When we take meat and put it on a hot pan, it caramelizes very quickly because it’s high temperature and very quick. What we’re doing here is very low temperature but very slow. So it just takes a lot longer.

The Times of Israel: But then your flavors are richer, I imagine.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Yes, often. Okay. We have on the menu right now almond milk that we cook fish in the almond milk. We have a lot of leftover almonds. And with the garlic that I was telling you about before, we made almond garlic miso, which is like a skardelia.

The Times of Israel: This looks like soy sauce.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
So it’s actually not, which is a sauce made out of vinegar and caramel. This is blackberry vinegar. Because it is very deep, deep wine color, really? And thicker than soy sauce.

And this is olive oil jam, which I was telling you about.

The Times of Israel: It’s beautiful. Looks like an egg yolk.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Yeah, people love it. It’s quite delicious.

This is our soy sauce, which is golden in color because it’s made out of buckwheat. Because both Raz and I come from Eastern European background, so we made it out of buckwheat and freekeh.

The Times of Israel: But did you like buckwheat as a kid?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
My dad made it, I didn’t love it, but now we really love it. We have a mix of buckwheat. And right now on the menu, we have a dessert that’s made out of buckwheat.

The Times of Israel: You’re not making kasha varnishkes.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Both sides, God forbid.

The Times of Israel: Like kasha popcorn.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Like kasha popcorn. Or we wanted to make on our menu right now, we wanted to take on gefilte fish made out of shrimp.

The Times of Israel: Crazy.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
It didn’t go on the menu. We want to push where we came from and what we know to the limit, because we think that that’s what Israeli food is.

The Times of Israel: So that actually goes back to the earlier question. So then what is Israeli food?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
At OCD, there’s a great sentence that we say that not everything that is local is Israeli and not everything that is Israeli is local.

The Times of Israel: So taking it’s like Israeli Cuisine 2.4.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
I don’t know, because I think it’s all still in the making. It still doesn’t have a shape yet. And we’re also learning what we know.

The Times of Israel: But if you’re thinking about making a gefilte fish out of shrimp…

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
We’re trying to have no limits.
But we’re also seeing that if both of us grew up in Israel and Raz’s grandmother lived in Israel, and his mother lived in Israel, and my dad was Russian, but we both had kasha or buckwheat in Israel. Why is that not Israeli? Why is just Moroccan fish Israeli? How is this not part of the culinary scene? Because who said so?

So what we grew up on are, what, Ashkenazi food or it doesn’t even matter if it’s Ashkenazi, but things that we have from home that we grew up in Israel, why aren’t they part of the cuisine?

The Times of Israel: So how much arguing or discussion is there around those menus that you change every few months?

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
We talk about and we look, we work a lot. I mean, the moment that’s just the.

Basically, when we change a menu so it’s a week later, I’m already working on the next menu.

The Times of Israel: How long does it take you?

Shalom Simcha Elbert: It takes four months to create a menu but you start a year earlier. Because I know that next year I’m going to have this miso paste.

Even though it’s on the menu as well now, but in a different shape, but inform and yeah, it takes a lot of time, and because of my job, we were trying to push Tene to be in the forefront.

So it’s a balance of building the menu, talking about what we’re trying to speak with the menu and to give through, and also creating actual dishes that taste good. Because if it doesn’t taste good right, obviously not.

The Times of Israel: And how much are you influenced by your colleagues around you, the restaurants around you, the food around you?

Shalom Simcha Elbert: I mean, it’s an amazing scene, what’s going on in Israel. And now to see what’s happening, and I think it’s really like the forest right after it rains and looking for mushrooms. That’s what I feel the culinary scene is going on right now. It’s very alive and it’s very vibrant, and I think everybody, in their own way, every chef and every restaurant is taking their own direction into developing what Israeli cuisine is.

We don’t know. We don’t have it yet. I feel like it’s not full. We can’t say this is Israeli cuisine yet, because also, 75 years is not that long. Very long.

The Times of Israel: When you come from Italy.

Shalom Simcha Elbert: I think that’s the beauty. Also, if I would be in Italy right now, my possibility of changing the culture would be zero because it’s been there for so long.

The Times of Israel: It’s been there for years. And who am I to ever come and talk about what you’re doing? Pasta.

Shalom Simcha Elbert: Who am I? But what about this? But this presentation is a way that we have the possibility to create what Israeli cuisine is or try to recreate what Israeli cuisine and doing it in also a way that’s responsible and giving added value to cooks, to farmers, to people. And here we just got our fish for the day.

The Times of Israel: Heads and tails and what’s in the middle.

Shalom Simcha Elbert: Exactly. I think that’s what we’re trying to do here is to really give also our cooks the responsibility and for them the understanding of what it means to be a new cook. To think about not only the plate, but what comes beforehand and after and after. Exactly. And to think already, obviously, nobody’s going to work here forever. And I want cooks who live here to think, to bring this mentality to other places. I want them to go and build their own dishes or restaurants and have it in their DNA, because that’s how you create change. Not only if I do it, but if other people do it. And if they’re going to build dishes around their waste, right?

The Times of Israel: Then you’ve done it.

Shalom Simcha Elbert: I don’t know if I’ve done it.

The Times of Israel: Well, you’re on the way, too.

Shalom Simcha Elbert:
Exactly. I’ll be very happy to see that.

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