Chavruta is not a word you often hear from an Israeli chef. Nor is it commonly associated with food. But chef, Omer Shadmi, chooses it to describe the way he and best friend, Daniel Zur, cook together.
It’s a word I’ve never heard, and, talking to them on a video call from Tel Aviv where they both live, I’m trying to surreptitiously google it when Shadmi explains: “It’s when two people study Torah together. Each brings his vision and the other listens and gives his view. That’s how Daniel and I work together in our cooking.”
His unusual choice of word is reflective of his background. His parents are academics — his father, a judge, and his mother, an archaeologist with a doctorate in Jewish art; his grandparents — German and Lithuanian refugees. They kept a kosher (and not particularly epicurean) home. The menu was typically Ashkenazi — he recalls celebrating many Jewish holidays with gefilte fish. Fine dining was not a priority — “If we travelled, it was all about museums and not the food.”
Nonetheless, Shadmi had a passion for food from a young age, deciding he wanted to be a chef from 16 years old. “I’m the black sheep of the family” he jokes “But my parents said I should do what makes me happy!”
He and Zur (now 30 years old) met at the age of eight, growing up in the same Jezreel Valley village in Israel’s north. Zur’s family are also descended from German refugees — his grandparents survived Auschwitz. He says they were more artistic.
“My father is a jewellery maker and we kept small farm animals. For us it was all about food — at home and out. We’d eat in the Arab and Bedouin villages that surrounded the area we lived in. I was always amazed by and loved that sort of food” says Zur.
Both are self-taught. Shadmi trawling through books and experimenting with recipes from an early age. “I’d visit pastry places to ask for work.” He then found work in a restaurant in Israel’s north, and during his military service, worked at night in a pizza place. After leaving the army, he joined Zur in Berlin, where Zur was seeing a bit of the world.
They both settled in Berlin for a while — Zur serving up salt beef and pickles at Jewish New York deli-style restaurant, Mogg, and Shadmi joining him.
Shadmi’s ultimate goal was to find work at a Michelin-starred restaurant, which he did, staying for four years. Zur returned to cook in Tel Aviv before being headhunted in 2017 to work at one of London’s more famed Israeli outposts, The Barbary, where he stayed for two and a half years.
Both are now back cooking in Tel Aviv, at modern Italian restaurants, but jumped at the offer of a ten day residency at London’s Carousel. “We were connected with them by Shuli Wimer, who did a residency there last year. She is still cooking in London” explains Zur.
The food they will be bringing to the table is a mixture of the wide influences they’ve drawn from. The usual ‘melting pot’ we’ve become used to from Israeli chefs, but in addition to the Ashkenazi/Sephardi and Mizrachi flavours, there are Italian flavours and techniques plus a clear nod to local ingredients. On the currently planned menu are cured Cornish mackerel sumac plus horseradish labneh and parsley salad; potato salad with bottarga (salted, cured fish roe); brill with a tomato and green chilli Marduma sauce and a very English-sounding sticky toffee pudding made with with (not so English) date molasses toffee.
Aware of his kosher-observant English family members who will want to visit, Shadmi will be making adjustments where he has been told his diners are kosher or vegetarian.
They dream of opening a place together and believe their partnership makes them stronger. “We divide the work according to our strengths or interests. I love pastry and Daniel has a passion for Arab flavours” says Shadmi. “It’s not always easy but we have the same values, which helps” says Shadmi.
“Some tell us that there can be only one captain, but we believe differently” says Zur. “Together we can run further — maybe not so fast, but far” adds Shadmi.
Shadmi and Zur’s pop up is at Carousel February 18 – 29
Booking info at www. carousel-london.com