Yuval Leshem is Head Chef at HaSalon in New York City
Yuval Leshem is Head Chef at HaSalon in New York City. The restaurant is the US outpost of Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani’s Tel Aviv hotspot. Shani is also behind Port Said, Romano, Teder, Malka, and North Abraxas in Tel Aviv, as well as branches of Miznon in Israel, Paris, Vienna, Melbourne and New York. Chef Yuval has worked closely with Shani since 2008, and moved to America to open HaSalon NYC.
We chat with Chef Yuval about reinventing street food and why Israeli cuisine is a growing global food trend.
So Yuval, what do you see as the defining characteristics of Israeli food?
In Israel, the sun and environment define the flavours of Israeli food – they create a colour and taste unlike anywhere else. Our food here at HaSalon is not traditional “Israeli”, but we are Israeli chefs so we have the same mindset.
In Asian restaurants, soy sauce guides the cuisine. In all of our restaurants, we use a specific brand of Israeli olive oil (Masik), which acts as the leader for our food.
In the past, when people thought of Israeli food, hummus and falafel probably came to mind – would you say this is changing now?
Absolutely. In Israel, we’re a mix of many cultures because Jewish people came from all around the world. This creates something bigger than simply the country we live in. It’s not just about falafel and hummus, it’s much bigger than that.
How would you say dining in Tel Aviv has changed over the past 5-10 years?
Unfortunately, I think it hasn’t really changed much. We have several iconic restaurants that have been there forever, which makes it hard for a new generation of chefs to succeed. Tel Aviv is super expensive which makes it prohibitive for new, lesser-known chefs to make it.
You redefined the pita at Miznon – why did you decide to update this dish?
At HaSalon in the beginning, we used to make fresh pita bread in-house and serve it with upscale, unique fillings. We would take “fancy” ingredients like prawns, lamb ragout, sardines or grouper liver and put it inside of the fresh pita. It’s ironic, and fun, to put something fancy inside of a cheap, simple base. Instead of on a plate, we just stuffed it inside a pita. We realised that we could make anything in a pita version. The idea for Miznon was born from this creation, and it’s our way of making great food more simple, approachable and affordable.
What’s special about Israeli street food?
Typically Israeli street food is very exaggerated – strong flavours, lots of ingredients, and large portions. It’s not delicate – it bombs your mind with flavour. Miznon takes parts of that philosophy, but with a more minimalist approach.
Why do you think Israeli food is becoming more well-known around the world?
Overall, Israeli food is a dramatic explosion of flavours, which is the product of a diverse mix of cultures. There’s something uniquely warm and generous with Israeli food and hospitality: we’re generous with both flavours and quantity, and we want to make you feel happy during the experience of dining.
What other traditional Israeli dishes have you reworked?
We do research and development in the kitchen at HaSalon daily. This is one of the key workings of HaSalon – we think and develop there, and then spread it to the other restaurants. When something is good enough, we share it.
There are several dishes at Miznon that are our interpretations of traditional Israeli street food. For example, shawarma is very common. Instead of typical shawarma meat, we roast a whole free-range chicken, break it up, sear it on the plancha with za’atar, and stuff it into a pita. Same thing with falafel: we shape the patty like a burger and serve it with pickles and tomatoes like a hamburger. These items are very Israeli. Another example is the Folded Cheeseburger Pita at Miznon, which is a hybrid between typical American and Israeli foods.
Thank you, Yuval, and looking forward to seeing more of your fun reinterpretations of street food in the future.
HaSalon NYC, a 124-seater with open kitchen, brings sophisticated and high-priced Israeli food to Hell’s Kitchen, before turning into a raunchy dance party from 10pm. The a la carte menu is rooted in Israeli cuisine, but there are French and Japanese influences, and dishes change on a nightly basis according to what is available in local NYC markets. Plates include such dishes as naked tomato sashimi – thinly sliced tomatoes with olive oil and salt; red snapper carpaccio; and sage-spiced pici pasta made from a single 12-foot long noodle.
We’re always looking to add rockstars to both our front of house and back of house teams. Please email email@example.com if you’re interested in applying.