the gentlewoman

Reader of the Month

Einat Admony will feed you. This is a statement of fact and a point of pride – the 44-year-old culinary entrepreneur is the brain and palate behind five of the most delectable menus on offer in New York City. At Taïm, with locations on Waverly Place and Spring Street, she doles out shatter-crisp falafel; at Balaboosta, Mulberry Street, it’s the tastes of her childhood in Israel; Bar Balonat over on Hudson and 12th Street is spicier, but no less good-natured for it. And Soho’s Combina fuses Spanish and Israeli cuisines, which is as delightful as it sounds. Each is a modest revolution; a place you go to be nourished. Over platters of hummus and fresh pita, Mattie Kahn convinced Einat to take a break from kitchen duties and spill her most delicious secrets.

Einat Admony

Mattie: I read that you used to hate falafel, which seems implausible.

Einat: It’s true, but I think I eat it every day now.

M: Is there any food you used to despise that still repels you?

E: I hate truffle oil. It’s disgusting. It smells bad and it doesn’t taste natural at all. Fresh truffle – I can have a little. But truffle oil makes me gag. It’s very “Emperor’s New Clothes” to me.

M: Do you ever get a chance to cook at home?

E: Well, I’m cooking at home tonight and tomorrow. I do a lot of cooking at home. Now my husband has also started, which is great and upsetting at the same time.

M: Why so?

E: He’s amazing. He says he learned from the best so that’s nice, at least he’s giving me some credit. But it’s hard to let someone in my kitchen. I know it’s funny, because most chefs don’t cook outside the restaurant – maybe they’ve gotten too used to someone else doing the dishes and peeling for them, but I’d rather cook, always. It’s relaxing for me. When my father-in-law died a few years ago, I found cooking a very useful way to grieve. The whole family came for the wake, and I just cooked all the things he loved for everybody all day long. It was very, very helpful. When I’m stressed, when I’m sad, when I’m happy, it’s what I do. I always have.

M: Are there any recipes you struggle with?

E: Oh, yes! I tried to make a couscous cake once. I wanted to use fresh couscous. I tried to fry it. I tried to make a dumpling out of it. I just loved the idea, but it didn’t work out. I’ll probably try again until I can get it right.

M: And does that usually work?

E: It did with the chicken at Balaboosta. When I came up with the idea, I really wanted to do it under a brick. It was all I could think about. So I went to some restaurants around that had that on the menu, and one in particular where everybody raved about the chicken under the brick. But I thought it was horrible – almost burnt and so salty you couldn’t eat the crust. It was served with this sautéed purple cabbage – weird, no? I was like, Really? This? Of course, it fired me up to make the recipe much better. And we did.

M: Who’s opinion do you trust to tell you when a dish is good or not?

E: Oh, I know when it’s good. I’m very confident. And I know when it’s bad, too. I do listen to my husband a lot, and my kids, actually, because they’re very honest. They might be picky and their palates might not be as advanced, but they’re very forthright with their opinions. They will tell me.

M: Now that you’re the boss, running your own kitchen, has your experience of being a woman in the restaurant business changed?

E: Previously, when I’d start in a new kitchen, no matter what, they’d put me on the appetizer station and not on the hot line. Regardless of your expertise and your experience, that’s the spot that’s supposed to be for women. I never cared. I’d work it for a few weeks, and then I’d convince them to let me move. It was hard work. But, you know, it’s a different world now.

M: How so?

E: The kids – they’re so spoiled now. Oh my God! They don’t want to work too hard. They want to be promoted quickly. They ask for a raise after a second in the door. They don’t want to put in extra work. When I started out 20 years ago, I’d come in on free days to learn and to get better. I worked 80 hours for less than $350 a week. There wasn’t overtime back then. There wasn’t any protection. For sure, all that new stuff is good and conditions are better now, but still I see young cooks today and I want them to want it more.

M: So, it’s 2am and you’re hungry: what tastes so good you’ve got to eat it standing right in front of the fridge?

E: My husband’s granola – it’s amazing! It has chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and coconut chips. He adds cardamom and a lot of nuts – walnuts, peanuts, sliced almonds – and uses olive oil instead of butter with maple syrup, some juice and tahini. It’s so good! Sometimes, he even adds fresh turmeric and lately, he’s been putting coriander seeds, which sounds so weird, but it’s really great. To that, I’ll add a little yogurt and some berries or a few slices of banana. I’ve tried a lot of granola, but he’s doing the best one ever. I need to start selling it.

Interview by Mattie Kahn. Photograph courtesy of Einat Admony. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!