Interview with Chef Einat Admony

tags: chef, food
Posted by: Laura Blum on Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Einat Admony is as cheerful and welcoming as her Mediterranean trattoria in Manhattan, Balaboosta. The name means "perfect housewife" or "gracious hostess" in Yiddish.
On Wednesday, October 10, the Israeli-born chef brings her warm smile and culinary talents to Greenwich at a cooking demo to be held in a private home. Participants will learn how to make specialties of the house, including roasted butternut squash and a tomatoey egg favorite of North African origin called shakshuka.
Einat will also show us how to whip up smoothies. Her West Village watering hole, Taïm Falafel & Smoothie Bar, draws long lines no less for its gluten-free chickpea and pita staple than for its tantalizing fruit drinks. With flavors like strawberry/raspberry/basil and a non-alcoholic version of piña colada among the repertoire, how to quench one's thirst can pose quite a dilemma.
Under Einat’s wing we’ll prepare:
- Butternut squash with Asian tahini, soy rice vinegar and honey.
- Shakshuka with green pepper, onion and garlic.
- Labne balls.
- Smoothies (date, lime, banana or pear, lemon mint).
- Harissa, aSpicy Tunisian salsa which participants will take home in jars.
Along the way, the twinkly-eyed brunette will regale us with stories from her culinary adventures, beginning in her Iranian mother's kitchen, where she first developed her passion for feeding legions of guests.
These stories will also spice up her debut cookbook, The Balboosta Way, due out in Fall 2013. Chapters are arranged by situation or mood, such as “Rainy Day," “Backyard Party” and a children's chapter, "Kidding Around."
How the chef, restauranteur, avid traveler and adoring mother of two has time to write a book remains a mystery (she partly credits her strong delegation skills), but she also managed to squeeze in a juicy interview with JCC Greenwich. Read on below, but you’ll have to wait till October 10 or visit her New York eateries in the interim for an appreciation of the Middle Eastern treats that followed our chat.
Q: How did you get started in New York?
EA: I came in 1999 with my first husband and stayed for three and a half years. I worked at Tabla and Danube and other restaurants, and was always going around to Indian and Spanish and all kinds of places -- anything other than strict French cuisine. Then we went back to Israel and got married and divorced. I came back here and got married to [Balaboosta co-chef and co-owner] Stefan [Nafziger] pretty fast. We had met a Bouley during my first stay and right away had a very spiritual connection. Still I married my first husband but my he left me after two months in Israel. Good stuff. (Laughs.)
Q: Great stuff!
EA: Really, it's the best thing that could've happened to me. You know, some women would moan, Ooooh!... But it's the best thing that's ever happened to me. Because otherwise I would probably be stuck in Israel, in the shadow of some big chef and have five kids, be miserable and have a husband who cheated on me all the time.
Q: My sister always says, "Ha-kol le-tova." (Everything works out for the best.)
EA: Ha-kol le-tova. It's amazing. After three days Stef and I knew we were going to be together forever. It's been ten years. We have a real love story. We opened Taïm seven years ago. It's become an institution in New York City. The first year nobody knew about us and we almost closed. Then one day the editor of New York magazine passed by and she was fascinated by the food. Then it was article after article. We've been in probably every newspaper and magazine as the best falafel in the City. Then we went to The Food Network and "Throwdown with Bobby Flay." So it's nice. And two years ago I had the opportunity to open [Balaboosta].
Q: How do you do it with two kids?
EA: You do it. I actually think they're my biggest achievement. Years ago I used to meet a lot of women around their 30s who'd say they'd never have kids because "they're going to ruin my career." Today I look around and I don't see them in the industry. They've disappeared. I'm still here with two kids and businesses. I come from a country where there's a lot of pressure to have a family. Besides the pressure I like kids and I have an amazing family. After my oldest child was five I was ready for something new. I no longer had a challenge at Taïm. There were recipes and people who could implement them. I need to cook, do specials every day, be creative. So I opened this one.
Q: And the concept here is...
EA: The concept is like the name. It's a chef-driven place with atmosphere and service like a Balaboosta. And we get write-ups like that: "It seems like she invited you their her house and told her family to treat you really nice and kind." It's really important to me that the atmosphere isn't that of a screaming chef who everybody's scared of. And with the food -- I don't say everything is organic and crazy; it's not that there's no fried food -- but it's very healthy and balanced.
Q: You're a world traveler. Which countries and cultures have inspired the menu?
EA: For lunch I wanted to do a little bit more authentic ethnic food, because it's hard to present that in an amazing way, and in the evening I want more presentation and more refined food. For example, for lunch I make khamusta, which is meatballs that have some molina, and a sour soup that's made with fava bean, celery and Swiss chard -- it's really good.
Q: Is that what you'd recommend for lunch?
EA: Yeah, but my favorite is between schnitzel (chicken cutlet) and Moroccan fish. I make schnitzel with cornflakes and it's very crunchy.
Q: And for dinner, what shouldn't one miss?
EA: Cauliflower, fried olives, if you like fish, Branzino, which is grilled Israeli style with a marinade of parsley, garlic, thyme. The cauliflower is mixed with four different kinds of peppercorn -- Szechuan, pink, white and black -- and a little bit of flour, and it's very crispy. It comes with a dressing of currants and pine nuts and parsley. People love it. No tahini. I try to take it in a little different direction. I use a lot of tahini and yogurt, obviously, but I think the food here is unique. I have so much experience with different cultures that you can feel it. This is not strictly Israeli -- oh, babaghanush -- no, no! Yesterday I did a pasta from fava beans, served with short rib and fresh chickpeas and fava bean inside. It's Middle Eastern fetuccini. My pasta on the menu right now is made with fresh beets -- it's red, red, red -- cut by hand in long pieces and sauteed with spinach, shallots, capers and ricotta and parmesan herb bread crumbs on top. So the food is not typical.
Q: What's your favorite dessert here?
EA: The kanafeh (Arab pastry flavored with rose water). I put sugar, honey and berries and mix them all. Then I cook it with a little bit of orange peel and rose water and a piece of cinnamon stick and cardamon, and I put berries to give the sauce some color. Then I put pistachio ice cream and shredded halva. People go crazy. I love this dessert. It's sweet but it's not overwhelming since the cake itself is like a cheese cake. It's with ricotta and a little bit of semolina with milk.
Q: Sounds like something kids would also like. Are your kids sophisticated eaters?
EA: My son Liam is my taster. Both of my kids always cook with me.
Q: What keeps you up at night; what are your worries?
EA: I don't have worries. I have a husband. He's worried!


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