Let's Eat

Eitan Mizrahi : Top of the league

Meet Eitan Mizrahi, chef to the Israeli football team


He’s not been home to celebrate his birthday in more than a decade. But that’s a small downside when you have one of the most prestigious jobs there is for a chef in Israel.

Make that two jobs; not only does Eitan Mizrahi preside over one of Tel Aviv’s finest kosher restaurant kitchens, he also cooks for the Israeli national football team. And that means he has to attend every game at home or abroad, as well as training sessions and special events.

It’s a job with many challenges, admits Mizrahi, a kitchen veteran of 25 years who trained at the Dan hotel school and cooked in other top Tel Aviv kitchens before being poached by Isrotel for their five-star Royal Beach Hotel. Here he serves dishes such as a fish tartare with cucumber gazpacho at a hotel restaurant where more than half the guests are locals.

Mizrahi believes it’s his knowledge of many different cuisines which helped land him his other job feeding the footballers, notably his success with kosher Chinese: “I met Avram Grant, the team’s coach, when he was a guest at the Pacific Grille at the Crowne Plaza, when I was cooking there 10 years ago,” he explains. “He loved the food, and came to talk to me, and we had a wonderful conversation.

“From our mutual love of food and sports, we went on to the key role nutrition plays in keeping athletes at their best, and right then and there, he suggested I join the team as their chef.” It’s not just about feeding the players their favourite foods, he explains: “I work in collaboration with the team’s nutritionist and their physician.

“I also have to consider the religious laws which govern when food can be prepared for the Sabbath or holidays, as well as the dietary rules.” He sees this more as an opportunity for creativity than a restraint: “Instead of searching for substitutes for cream or butter with a meat-based meal, I’ll use local products like coconut milk, different oils and exotic herbs, fruit and vegetables to create a new and unique dish.”

The players like food which reminds them of home, but Mizrahi reports team favourites are consistently fish and pasta. Also popular is his chraime, fish baked in a spicy tomato sauce which, has become a favourite Israeli dish over the past few years: “It’s now served everywhere from market cafes to industrial kitchens and at home for weekday meals,” he says of the concoction of firm white fish, tomatoes, hot peppers and spices. “The team loves to eat my famous chraime if we’re away together on a Friday; for Israeli Jews from North Africa it’s become the favourite meal for Shabbat dinner and Rosh Hashanah.”

Other dishes the team loves include Mizrahi’s salmon marinated in chili and silan (date honey) and meatballs and peas in tomato sauce: “It’s a very important taste of home which always makes the players very happy.”

Not that the menu can always be guaranteed — despite his best efforts, there was one occasion in 10 years where the pre-ordered kosher meat failed to arrive: “Thankfully we could get local fish, and everyone was happy.” But some challenges have been totally unforeseen: “In the home kitchen I was set up with in the Faroes; I opened the fridge and found 50 sheeps’ heads instead of all the kosher food I’d ordered!

“I had two choices — to cry or to laugh, so I laughed a lot, and luckily the right food arrived in time.” The problem of sourcing kosher food always has to be overcome for a team whose members increasingly eat kosher at home as well as away.

There was also a hitch when the Israeli team took 250kg of kosher meat with them to Switzerland. The meat could not be imported under rules applying to Asian countries, and had to be flown to the team’s next stop, with local kosher butchers providing the team’s steaks.

The problem of how to keep standards up at the Royal Beach Hotel’s West Side restaurant, while travelling so much has been solved by Mizrahi’s investment in a new generation of culinary whizzkids: “I was very lucky to recruit a brilliant chef for the West Side who is responsible for the restaurant and menu. I think it’s critical to promote and mentor young talent, and I see my role as to advise and help them bring their ideas to the fullest potential.”

This works most of the time — except for those birthdays, invariably spent at work cooking for the footballers: “everywhere from Wales to Slovenia. This September, it looks as if I’ll have to celebrate in Italy, where we have a date with the Italian national team.”


Eitan Mizrahi is executive chef at the West Side restaurant at the Royal Beach Hotel, Tel Aviv www.

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