04/01/18 | share:
Interviewed by Natalie Pattillo
Chef Einat Admony, known as New York City’s Queen of Falafel, is tough and brilliant. She’s not only witty with her words, but also with the delicious Israeli dishes she creates. As a chef-owner of Taïm, Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat, and soon-to-be open Kish Kash, she’s become unstoppable. She’s appeared Food Network’s Chopped three times and won twice. Ted Allen, the host of Chopped, has called Chef Einat one of the “most memorable” competitors on the show.
“Einat had a falafel business, and she went up against an executive chef from a really fancy restaurant, and she kicked his butt,” Ted told Food Network. “She's excellent and great and amazing … I won't forget her.”
Walking into Bar Bolonat one morning, I saw how early Chef Einat’s hustle starts. She briefly apologized for being on the phone and motioned that she’d be done with the call soon. Knowing how incredibly busy she is, I was happy to take a seat in her beautiful restaurant and just observe for a few minutes. Bar Bolonat was warm and inviting, even when it wasn’t open yet.
When her call ended, we sat in the dining room to chat. I learned that Chef Einat’s love for cooking started at the age of 5. “I can say that I’ve been cooking for most of my life,” she says. “I grew up in Israel with a religious, Jewish family that cooked Shabbat dinner every Friday and I was my mom’s sous chef on Thursdays.” Her jobs included cleaning a kilo of rice, which she would do grain by grain to make sure each piece was pristine —"no broken grains or ones with black dots.” She laughed as she told me about the press she received while opening Balaboosta. “There was an article that said, ‘Let’s see if the Queen of Falafel can cook,’” she shared while chuckling. “Of course, I can.”
Even in her teenage years, Chef Einat had an urge to create meals for those around her. When she entered the Israeli military at 18, she started as a driver but quickly became a head cook for her division. With her spirit, there was no way she would allow anyone to pigeonhole into a position that didn’t suit her.
“In my day, 26 years ago, women in the military were mostly secretaries,” she says. “I wanted to do anything but be a secretary and sit down, type, or kiss ass to some man.” (A woman after my own heart.)
After two years in the military, Chef Einat went to college but dropped out after a few months. She wasn’t drawn to sitting down for a long periods of time. So, from there, she lived nomadically in a van. She stayed in Germany, Holland, and Amsterdam, and was a street vendor selling jewelry from Central America. Her desire to cook never stopped even while she was a wanderlust. She says she learned so much about herself in those four years. Now, as a mother of two, she thinks it’s crazy that 18-year-olds have to go to college right after high school.
“I told my kids I will support whatever they want to do after high school, but they need to take a year off before going to college,” she says. “So many people here lose all this money because at the age of 18, you don't really know what you want to do. Then you start your life with all these student loans. I'm going to try and change that path for my kids.”
At 24, Chef Einat went back to Israel and enrolled in culinary school. Then, she worked at one of the best restaurants in Israel. She realized that no matter where she landed, geographically or otherwise, her love for cooking would always guide her.
After two years of working in Israel, she visited New York for three months. She hoped to learn from the culinary greats then head back home. But, she stayed for much longer (life, right?) and worked her way through kitchens cooking diverse cuisines and styles; she worked with Bobby Flay (pre-celebrity chef stardom) at Bolo and other well-known spots like Patria. The industry was male-dominated, but Chef Einat paid no mind to that. As a chef, she spent 14 hours on her feet most days while in the kitchen. The physical demands didn’t phase her. She was up for any challenge as long as she was cooking.
“Most kitchens, I was the only woman. At Patria, I was the only woman who has ever been cooking on the line. There was no woman before or after me on the line,” she says. “I would do what any other man did and probably more.”
In 2005, she felt ready to open up a place of her own because it wasn’t easy to find authentic falafel or couscous in New York City that truly resembled (and tasted like) the street food of her native Tel Aviv. She craved the foods from her homeland, but no restaurant was serving it. Motivated by the lack of options (as most trailblazers are), Chef Einat and her husband opened their very own falafel joint called Taïm (tay’·eem) in Manhattan’s West Village. Taïm has grown to become a New York City beacon for Israeli street food; there will be three more locations opening up this year. Five years after the first Taïm opened, Balaboosta — a Mediterranean restaurant that highlights flavors from Morocco, Italy, France, and Spain — was born. Chef Einat, being the powerhouse that she is, opened Balaboosta while promoting her bestselling cookbook and raising a 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. And Bar Bolonat, an eatery that celebrates modern Mediterranean and new Israeli cuisines, came shortly after that. When Chef Einat became a mother, she realized she had to struggle more than her male counterparts.
“I needed to push harder and be more relevant because I couldn’t travel like other chefs when my kids were younger,” she says. “I saw men getting much more publicity than me even though they weren’t even close to doing what I do.”
But still, 46-year-old Chef Einat is unstoppable and has no plans on slowing down. The creativity of cooking fuels her everyday. She’ll be cooking a highly-esteemed James Beard dinner in a couple of weeks, and in about three months, she’s opening Kish Kash, a West Village restaurant that will specialize in fresh couscous. Cooking meals at home and hosting Shabbat dinners for family and friends makes her feel grounded amidst her fast-paced life.
“Cooking is something I can never get bored of,” says the Queen of Falafel (and our hearts). “It’s a way to express love.”