Chef Einat Admony grew up surrounded by the smells and sights of food. Raised by a Persian mother and a Yemenite Jewish father, Chef Einat recalls the feeling of being surrounded by a spread of food on Shabbat. Today, she brings that same feeling of togetherness and support to her two children, husband, and friends. She has authored two cookbooks and is the chef and owner of Balaboosta, a fine dining Middle Eastern restaurant, and the falafel chain Taim.
Food was very important to my family. I remember most strongly the Yemenite Shabbat morning meals I’d have at home in Israel.
My mom is Persian and grew up in an Iraqi home, and my dad was Yemenite. So she learned how to make all of his favorite foods, and these were some of my favorite meals. There was always Jachnun, which is a rolled dough, and Kubaneh, which is this delicious bread-cake. Most of it was savory-ish. It was all cooked overnight, because Jews cannot cook during Shabbat, so they need to prepare everything the night before. On the table with all of these breads you’d also have so many sauces, and grated tomato, and S’chug, which is a Yemenite spicy salsa, and also my mom’s sweet and sour eggplant with tomato sauce which was just divine, crushed brown eggs (cooked overnight till hard)— it was such a spread. Always a spread. I loved mixing the bread with all the different salads and sauces and combining it with our hands. We also had a big Shabbat dinner on Friday night, but my favorite was always Saturday morning, waking up to the whole house filled up with these smells. And of course I remember all the delicious food, but there’s so many layers to the memories— for example, my sister didn’t like to eat egg whites, so we’d swap and she’d eat all the yolk and I’d take the whites. I wouldn’t eat this potato dish that my mom made, but my sister loved it. My father was the only one who loved Hilbeh, a fenugreek sauce that smells very strongly, and we’d always tease him for it. Each one of us had our own things— how the plate looked, what we picked to eat and what we left, and when I remember the food I remember all of our preferences too, and how differently we all experienced the same spread of food. Even though I am not really religious, I still maintain this tradition of a spread of food for Shabbat. I like to fill the table. I remember one night I made a beautiful lasagna for dinner and put it on the table and my kids were so confused! They asked “what happened? Is everything ok? Where is all the food?” Because they are so used to seeing that wealth of dishes and a colorful table. They’re so spoiled! But I like to do that. I love a very colorful dinner table.
That spread feels very home-y to me. That, and the smell of rice. My Persian mother made so many special rice dishes. So anytime I smell anything to do with rice, I immediately think of her, and home.
I also think there are so many ingredients in Persian and Indian cooking that line up together— there’s a lot of overlap. I worked for Floyd Cardoz at Tabla for a long time, and I have very close emotions to Indian food. I remember the first time I went to Tabla to cook, and there was this spice room where we’d grind and prepare all the spices we used. I went inside, and I just started crying. It had been a year since I had been home, and the smell of all of those spices just reminded me so much of my mom. It was exactly the same, and such a powerful feeling.
I love to travel, and in my life I have travelled a lot. I lived all over the place, then I did two years in the military, and then I tried college. It didn’t work out for me. So around the age of 26, I asked myself— what job could I do that I would never get bored?
I tried so many different creative things, but I realized then that the one thing I never got bored of was cooking. Wherever I went, I was always the one who cooked for the group. Even in the military— I didn’t start on kitchen duties, but I ended up there. If someone I was with would tell me they were hungry I’d almost feel panicky and I’d have to go cook and feed them. I know how cranky and horrible I am when I’m hungry, and I never want anyone else to have that feeling! So if someone says they’re hungry I run to do something about it. And when I figured out that cooking was the only thing that kept my brain quiet and happy for a little bit, I knew it was the only thing I’d never get tired of doing. I’ve been cooking for over 20 years now, and I still find myself cooking all the time. I’ve heard some of my chef colleagues say that they can’t bring themselves to cook at home after working all day, which I get, but I’ve never felt this way. I always cook, and I always host, and I am still never tired of cooking.
I’ve have a lot of different views around food. It’s the kind of thing that comes with age. You get wiser. It’s growth.
I’ve worked in all types of restaurants, mostly fine dining, but now for me it’s about simplicity. It’s about color, flavor, texture, balance. It’s pretty but not overly styled. I just want it to taste very good. My cookbooks are for home cooks. Being a mom helped me grow a lot, and to put things in perspective. I really cared about making people feel better about cooking, and feeling comfortable enough to open the book and cook at home.
In my home I had rules for the kids around mealtime, and I still do, though of course things change as they grow up. When we go out they have to try something new. There’s no saying no right away.
And they’ve learned that 99% of the time it will be delicious, and they trust that because it’s true. I tried not to be forceful with them, and to be encouraging to try new things instead. I think a lot of bad eating habits are because of negative emotional connections. We don’t allow distractions at the table, no watching tv while eating or anything like that, because I think we should treat food with respect, concentrate on it, and have conversations about it. Between my French husband and I there is real culture around dining that isn’t related just to the food, but the gathering of the family.