Raz Rahav – Co-owner and chef at OCD Restaurant
Raz Rahav says he’s singlehandedly trying to revive a fine dining scene in Tel Aviv, Israel. This talented and dynamic young chef – only 28 years old – is co-owner and chef at OCD Restaurant, where he serves long and intricate tasting menus of almost entirely Israeli ingredients.
We sat down to chat with him in Tel Aviv to see what he’s up to and where the local dining scene is at.
So Chef Raz, you’re very young to be already running your own restaurant …
Yes, I opened OCD when I was 24. People said I was rude, arrogant, and I knew they were right, but I wanted to do my own thing. I knew what I wanted and so opened OCD. People also said we would close soon, but here we are 4 years later.
Where did you get your training?
I studied law, originally, but then I started working in kitchens. I staged at London’s Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs, before coming back to Tel Aviv to work at modern European restaurant Popina. I also spent a year in NYC just eating everywhere, working out what I liked and what I wanted from a restaurant.
So you didn’t study at culinary school?
No, in Israel it’s not that common to go to culinary school, certainly not 7 years ago. It’s more common now. I did, for a while, feel like I was missing formal training. I didn’t experience any prejudice from others, but I do feel that I have holes in my knowledge.
You’ve got quite a presence on social media, now with more than 18,000 followers on Instagram …
Yes, I used to be a food blogger and when I started working in kitchens, I began posting what I cooked at home on Instagram under my profile razi_barvazi, and got quite a lot of followers.
You’re known in Tel Aviv for your long tasting menus. Why did you decide to offer this style of menu?
We serve only tasting menus, our last menu was 19 courses, when we first started out we had 9, tomorrow it could be 20 or could be 3. The main idea of our tasting menus is that they tell a story – if the story has only 3 chapters, then we serve 3 courses, But most of the time we want to show off, so we have more.
Your menus change regularly, too …
Yes, we change our menu every 2-3 months, depending on the season and the creativity as a team. We have no signature dishes, I don’t like this concept – we don’t want an a la carte menu that changes once a year, and nor do we want to keep signature dishes we make over and over.
What are some of the more unusual ingredients you use?
Almost all of my ingredients are seasonal and sourced from Israel. I only import things that are not grown here but I still think can be classified as Israeli, such as buckwheat and black pepper. We use a local duck, which we serve with a twist on a Polish sauce – I’m Polish by background – with raspberries instead of beetroot and pickled mustard seeds instead of horseradish cream. My trout is from Kibbutz Dan.
You just closed your sister sandwich shop, Barvazi Urban. Why was that?
Yes, for the last year and a half we had a sandwich shop. There are many chefs in Tel Aviv doing street food, but I realised it wasn’t what I wanted, so I closed it. We are here to create something new in culinary culture, and it wasn’t that new or fun.
We want to focus on new things, and are planning to open a small bar that serves our best dishes from OCD from the last few months a la carte, along with the best international wines.
Dining in Tel Aviv has gone much more casual in recent years – how do you see yourself as positioned in relation to this?
The dining scene in Tel Aviv has changed a lot in the last two decades. About 15 years ago, we didn’t really have any fine dining restaurants, then casual fine dining became quite popular. This was great for 5 years, with a lot of reality cooking shows, etc. But then, perhaps it was the economy, but either way restaurateurs went more in a very casual direction, opening bistros and celebrity-chef branded street food establishments.
In the last 2-3years, casual fine dining has come back. And we’re trying to create true high-end fine dining, but not so strict like 3-Michelin-starred French restaurants, but high-level dining in which you can feel free and comfortable.
We have been described as the first true fine dining restaurant to open in Tel Aviv in 6 years. I think Israel has space for fine dining. Without a fine dining scene people don’t know where to look up to. It’s important for the overall dining scene to evolve.
Do you struggle to find good staff in Israel?
There aren’t that many chefs here, but there are enough. I find there are two types of cooks: those who work mainly for the money – if you pay a lot they will work, and don’t care about the food or ambience – and they go to work in cafes or high-end street food restaurants. Then there is the kind of cook who wants to work in a place that helps to create and define who they are, where they can learn a lot.
I know some casual restaurants say they have difficulties finding and keeping staff as the chefs get bored doing the same food over and over. I don’t want to take it for granted but I don’t have a problem finding chefs. I think cooks see it as luxurious to work here, and they want to learn. We need to give chefs challenges to create, and give them responsibility.
Thank you, Chef Raz, and all the best with continuing to define and expand Israel’s fine dining scene.
OCD Restaurant offers a tasting menu experience, served to all diners at the same time. Seating is around a bar placed in front of the open kitchen, so guests can view all the activity carried out by the kitchen staff. The menu draws inspiration from local culture, raw materials, history and ‘chutzpa’, while being aware of the availability of raw materials and the season, influences from around the world and memories.
Are you an ambitious chef willing to work in Israel? Would you like to work with Chef Raz and help build Tel Aviv’s fine dining scene? Check out www.ocdtlv.com