Chef, restauranteur and author, Avi Bitton visited Atlanta from Tel Aviv, Israel. Bitton started working in the restaurant business at 14 years of age, and went on to open restaurants – Bucharest (Romanian inspired), Adora (named 10 best restaurants in Israel), Chill (chic bar on Tel Aviv’s famous Dizengoff Street), and Mercado (Kosher restaurant on the top floor of the highest building in Tel Aviv). Bitton is now one of Israel’s top celebrity chefs. Bitton hosts two shows on Israel’s main TV networks called “A Maximum of 24” and “Global Kitchen.” He is also a frequent host on various programs on Israel’s Food Channel. Bitton is author of the books – My son and my Father Cook and Tell Chicken.
Here’s a Q&A with Chef Bitton courtesy of Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta.
#1. You started working in restaurants at the young age of 14. When did you know you wanted to be a chef and run restaurants?
AB: I think when I was maybe 5 or 6 when I cooked my first recipe at home. It was tuna salad from a children’s magazine.
#2. At 24 you opened your first restaurant. What were some of the major challenges you faced?
AB: There were a lot of challenges! First, when I agreed at 24, I was in shock. I was only a cook at the time and I had never organized a restaurant or managed a kitchen. It was a challenge to handle waiters, bartenders and manage salaries. When I started in my restaurant I thought I only had to buy ingredients, cook and serve. After one month I realized it’s like the army – everything needs to be perfect of you lose everything.
#3. Today you have several eateries. What’s the difference between your restaurants? Why did you choose to open a Kosher restaurant (Merkado)?
AB: I have one restaurant and two bars. Adora, my first restaurant, is a fusion between Israeli and Mediterranean. We serve seafood, but with Israeli serves small tapas that are both Mediterranean and Jewish. The Jewish food is a little trendy including foods like chopped liver and gravadlax.
I opened a kosher restaurant because kosher is important. Our religion is 5000 years old and it’s important to respect our religion. In my other restaurants I mix milk and meat. For example, I make my roast beef with lots of butter. I want Israelis and tourists who keep kosher to have the ability to eat at one of my restaurants.
#4. Let’s talk about your food. Do you consider your food Israeli? How do you define Israeli food?
AB: I call it “New Israeli.” Actually, we don’t have an Israeli kitchen. It doesn’t exist. The Israeli kitchen is a unique blend of all cultures that came to Israel. There are recipes from Europe, Africa and all over the world. Only in Israel do you find Chinese chicken served in warm baguettes or fresh prawns that are typically European with tahini . When I was in New York three months ago I ate at 36 restaurants in three weeks! Everything was perfect, but I didn’t find any good fusion.
Chef Bitton was scheduled to teach a modern Jewish cooking class at Hal’s Kitchen/ Go Eat Give. Here is one of the recipes he shared with us…
Veal Fillet Stuffed with Nuts RecipeIngredients: Fillet weight of 1 kg For the filling:
2 onions, chopped and fried in olive oil
1 cup chopped walnuts
salt & pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 Tablespoon of toasted sesame Preparation:
Mix the ingredients for the filling. Make a hole in the center with a knife dropped all the way and put the mixture nuts. Season the roast with salt and pepper and roast in the heat of 250 C for about twenty minutes. Slice and serve.
~ Recipe courtesy of Chef Avi Bitton. To learn to make this recipe join the cooking class on February 25 hosted by Hal’s Kitchen and Go Eat Give in Atlanta.
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