There was the suckling pig recipe on Yom Kippur. There was the successful push to overturn a ban on the sale of bread during Passover. And there was the disappearing act after he sold his successful bakery chain.
Now, Israeli superstar chef Erez Komarovsky is taking his bad-boy act on the road. As the Forward reported this week, Komarovsky — who Breads Bakery co-founder Uri Scheft has called “an artist” — is opening fast-casual Middle Eastern spot Mint Kitchen near Union Square in Manhattan.
But it’s a subdued Komarovsky who responds to the Forward’s interview queries by e-mail, through a publicist. Komarovsky has not shied away from politics, as GrubStreet noted; during the Second Intifada, he cooked a weeklong dinner series with Arab chef Duhoul Sfadi. But he seems to be playing it safe in the hyper-charged, divisive political climate Stateside. Will that get reflected on the plate, we wondered?
New York has seen a bunch of openings of Israeli restaurant in the last couple of years. What distinguishes Mint Kitchen?
When it comes to Israeli food in New York, the majority of the places are either fast-casual and centered around hummus, falafel, or pita sandwiches, and on the other side of things there are the more high-end options. We’re different in that regard. Mint Kitchen offers a menu inspired by my work in the organic garden of my Galilee home. It’s my take on healthy and modern Israeli cuisine, and at an affordable price point.
Why is Israeli food having such a moment right now?
There has been so much change and expansion of Israeli cuisine in Israel and a lot of that energy and excitement is carrying over to the United States.
What was on your mind in preparing a restaurant in New York, as opposed to some other location?
The team [including partners Zeev Sharon and Assaf Harlap] wanted to share with New Yorkers their take on this kind of exciting modern Israeli cuisine. They also wanted to create a purpose-driven brand. To achieve this, we’ve partnered with City Harvest, New York’s largest food rescue organization, to implement a unique “Mint it Forward” program, where for every 10 meals purchased by a diner, Mint Kitchen will make a donation to City Harvest to help provide a healthy meal to a family in need.
Any Mint Kitchen recipes inspired by anyone’s family traditions?
The Ima’s Herb and Pinenut Matzo Soup is my mother’s recipe, and it brings in Polish influences to Israel.
Any recipe you’d highlight as a signature?
Many of the menu items are cooked in a taboon oven, and nothing on the menu is fried, since we do not have a frier in the restaurant. The menu also features ingredients from several different cuisines and modern techniques. The falafel crusted salmon is one of the most innovative dishes on the menu. It is served with tahini, roasted fennel, and green salad with yellow tomatoes. This dish is a merge of a local product, salmon, as you cannot find that fish in Israel, with old world flavors, and it created something very interesting and a new approach to the cuisine.
Any signature cocktails we should mention?
Mint Kitchen is serving gazoz, which are old-fashioned Israeli sodas with fresh fruit and herbs. I grew up on them, and when I was 5 years old, my biggest treat was a gazoz in a small kiosk in Tel Aviv with strawberries or apricots. I am doing some twists with fresh herbs such as cilantro, mint and lemon verbena.
Can we expect any surprises like the suckling-pig-on-Yom-Kippur event?
Many of the dishes at Mint Kitchen are a take on modern Israeli cuisine, such as shrimp kebabs with barley, green leeks and spicy mango salad.
You’ve also been quite active politically, as the Forward reported. Do you plan to bring any of that into the restaurant - incorporating Arab cuisine or working with Arab chefs?
Israeli cuisine pulls from other regions including Lebanese, Egyptian, and Moroccan, which we incorporates into our dishes.