Meet Mitbachi Owner and Entrepreneur Tamar Fradkin
At Eat.Drink.TelAviv we are excited when we have a chance to share with you some interesting personalities in the food industry here in Tel Aviv be them chefs, tour guides, cafe owners, food stylists, workshop providers, and photographers.
Eat.Drink.TelAviv’s Meet.Talk.TelAviv would like you to welcome Tamar Fradkin, entrepreneur and owner of the open kitchen workspace Mitbachi (56 Shenkin). Hailing from Toronto, Canada Tamar made aliyah two and a half years ago to Tel Aviv. She did not have any clear idea of opening up a business, landing in the promise land and doing what she thought she could and should do: become a server at a restaurant. The opportunity to take over an open storefront on Shenkin presented itself and Tamar jumped at the chance. It was a risk, since she got the rental space before she had any clear notion of what business she wanted to occupy the space.
Tamar had experience as an entrepreneur back in Toronto, trying her hand at personal training, making and selling leg-warmers, and even landscaping. She readily admits that they weren’t incredibly great successes but they all gave her a little insight and experience into doing something on her own. Each experience breeding more lessons learned for the future. “The previous business at 56 Shenkin was a small restaurant, and had this great kitchen,” Tamar tells me, recalling the history of her decision to start Mitbachi. “While I was brainstorming ideas on what to do with this great space, my roommate at the time said ‘you are a nutritionist. Why don’t you teach people how to cook healthy food?” Tamar practically chuckles at the simplicity of the suggestion.
She says it could have been anything like even another clothing store (selling leg-warmers perhaps?) but ultimately her passion for good healthy food won over. Sure it helped that Tamar had a degree in nutrition, but more importantly she loved healthy food. “Mitbachi,” Tamar says proudly “is a centre for cooking.” And that is definitely so, but more importantly Mitbachi is a place to fall in love with cooking.
Fresh red, yellow and greenish-red cherry tomatoes are in a slow simmer. The blackening skin of eggplant sitting on an open blue flame begins to fill the intimate space with an rich, earthy charred scent. The whirring of the blender making home-made hummus, along with the chatter of the participants busily chop-chop-chopping complete the euphony of this kitchen workshop. I’m sitting in the back taking photos here at Mitbachi’s Israeli-food inspired cooking class; the dishes are starting to come together, the class in full swing, you can’t help but notice how much fun everyone is having.
Mitbachi has attracted an array of vibrant visitors and Tel-Avivians: An expectant mother and her friend, girlfriends (bff’s no doubt) spending a fun late morning together, a European visitor wanting to impress his Israeli boyfriend, and a young man bringing his fiancee to the class for her birthday.
At the helm of this breakfast club is Tamar Fradkin.
At her side is Boaz Peled, head chef of Mitbach Lilah (at Lillenblum and Allenby), who also happens to be her boyfriend (edit: now husband.) The two work well together, and with ease and humour gently instructs the class on how to make each and every magnificent and tasty course. Tamar is a natural in front of crowds, a genuine blend of sweet and energetic, fiesty and friendly. She sometimes speaks in quick spurts, trailing on her last word sometimes lost in thought, laughing at her own sarcastic jokes. She’ll shares tidbits on her favourite tahini brand, tricks of the trade on where to find the right ingredients, and even indulges the audience on how she met Boaz.
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and given the circumstances and happenstance of Mitbachi, their story fits nicely, matching the pair’s passion for each other.
Boaz is quietly and dutifully preparing the chicken meat and lamb fat for the shawarma. He is a little slower to open up, but over the course of the 2 1/2 to 3 hour class he comes out of his shell and joins Tamar, imparting his culinary wisdom with a wonderful subtle sense of humour. Boaz trained and worked at North Abraxis, under the philosophy of famed Israeli chef Eyal Shani.
The Mitbachi students chop, slice, dice, stir and pour, working and thus earning their breakfast and lunch. Roasted eggplant, hummus, malabi and shakshuka…. oh the shakshuka! This middle eastern tomato sauce and egg staple is likely the best you’ll ever have – apologies to Dr. Shakshuka. [Full disclosure: Tamar and I share mutual family friends, my cousin Anat is a sort of a surrogate family to her and have known her for many years. Once Boaz and her were visiting Anat’s home up north and Boaz prepared his famous shakshuka for all of us there. It was incredible.]
The class intently listens to Tamar and Boaz, some scribbling down notes. They ask Boaz to repeat what he said a few times, lest they forever forget the secret to perfectly made Israeli breakfast, or a super-smooth hummus. Tamar circulates the class, checking with everyone. Some sit watching, others dive in first to get their hands messy with the dishes like fresh made focaccia.
It is very clear that Tamar loves what she does, fuelled by that entrepreneurial spirit, love of people, and ultimately good food. Mitbachi’s cooking classes are definitely worth their weight in gold — or food alone. I’m impressed at how much food they make with the class and you walk away with some really hearty and valuable cooking insights on really wonderful Middle-Eastern food.
Mitbachi cooking classes are perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. The space itselfs lends well for private intimate gatherings be it a quiet anniversary party with family, or a girls-night-out with a bring-your-own-wine night of food and gossip. Tamar speaks candidly of corporate team-building events, parties and other gatherings.
I sit with Tamar, laughing at the many food trends of Tel Aviv, Eyal Shani and the inside scoop on Mitbachi.
Prof. NomNom: Since Mitbachi is an extension of your healthy cooking choices what are some of your favourite ingredients that you enjoy using or cooking with at Mitbachi or at home?
TF: The nice thing about Israel is the produce. It’s fresh and grown locally. It’s all the things you wish you had living in Canada. It’s the middle of February you don’t eat a damn thing that’s been grown on Canadian soil, so it’s really nice to know that most things come from here and they taste like they are from here – they are fresh, they are tasty, and they have flavour! So I’m for all produce, and I live by the Shook [Carmel Market] and go all the time and get them without any plan on what I’m going to do with them and just have them sitting on the counter; like eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. When I’m hungry I’ll be inspired to make something out of them because they are simply there.
Prof. NomNom: For people trying to eat healthier, would you suggest buying a small basket of vegetables to have in house?
TF: Absolutely. I didn’t invent that idea, it’s just a matter of accessibility. If you have it in the cupboard you don’t go for it, but if you have it on the table it’s an easy thing to grab. So I’m for getting the healthy stuff and putting it in a visual stimulating place – on the counter or on the table. Not in the fridge or the cabinet because you won’t find it.
Prof. NomNom: So what are some of the more fun events you’ve had at Mitbachi?
TF: I love having families here, the ones that are cross generational. And not necessarily big, say 12 people but include kids, parents, and grandparents. It’s fun but also challenging, because you have to plan things that appeal to a 5 year old and an 80 year old.
Prof. NomNom: Food wise?
TF: Food wise and activity wise. They are here for a few hours.
Prof. NomNom: You can’t have wine tastings with a five year old?
TF: Ya, exactly, or you can’t talk about fine cheeses with five year olds. But when we succeed and we do succeed we have these occasions, where families get together and it’s so fun to see everything we believe get validated. These kind of activities bring people together from all different backgrounds, and ages. When you see it in practice it’s really nice.
Prof. NomNom: What’s your elevator pitch for Mitbachi?
TF: There are the cooking classes, bachelorette parties, company events. Companies have leisure activities with a set budget so they come for cooking classes. We can incorporate more activities like team building or competitions in a friendly way. I love children’s birthdays, or kid’s cooking class, where they come once a week and learn. We even had engagement photos done here. It’s an open kitchen space for any use.
Prof. NomNom: What are some of your favourite restaurants here in Tel Aviv?
TF: I’m going to let the cat out of the bag, there is a really, really good place in Schunat HaTikva (South Tel Aviv by the Old Bus Terminal). Basically restaurants here are split into chef restaurants and home-style restaurants (Oochel Bayti). And you feel the difference in the places, although there is a lot of places in-between too. And so this is a place called “Achim Boaz” which is funny because (my boyfriend) Boaz took me there [on one of our first dates]. He’s a chef and he likes that kind of food. It’s a Yemenite soup place, which is funny because we live in the Yemenite Quarter and all the soup places around us don’t even come close to this place – it is just so good! We probably go there once a month, and he is amazed at how much soup I can eat. The soup is so good told him he should quit his job and work there! I’m just talking about the soup and it makes me want to go down there right now.
Prof. NomNom: Is it just soup?
TF: No there are other things but we go there to eat the soup. Boaz usually gets the lung soup, and I get the meat soup.
Prof. NomNom: Lung soup!? You don’t say–
TF: It has a weird texture, different than regular meat. Boaz loves it, and claims it’s good for lung infections. (It’s one of those grandma home remedy things.) So you get the soup and a huge thing of bread but also a pot of what’s called “Chilbeh.”
TF: Chilbeh is fenugreek, which makes you really smelly, and we eat two little pots of Chilbeh which is a lot of chilbeh and we stink for the next four days. Everything stinks.
Captain Blarg: I think there is a saying if you stink together you stick together. At least that’s what I tell my wife.
TF: It’s true! (chuckles) The first time he took me there I was so into this soup, that I asked for seconds. And you can get more liquid, but not more meat and they won’t charge you for it.
Prof. NomNom: Any chef restaurants you’d recommend?
TF: Well.. I’m biased, because Boaz is the head chef of Mitbach Lilah, but I really like it there.
Prof. NomNom: You love him, you love the food… Any where else you’d recommend?
TF: I’ve heard of Taizu and want to try that. But I do want to say that there is a lot of really good food, but I’m missing the variety of ethnicities that there is in Toronto. You know… I would love a Chinatown here in Tel Aviv. It’ll have to be a mini China-town because it’s in Tel Aviv and everything is mini here. But I just read that Toronto has five Chinatowns.
Prof. NomNom: Maybe we can just take one and bring it here. (laughing) I remember once you telling me there are a lot of fads here in Tel Aviv, care to elaborate?
TF: There are a lot of food-fads here in Tel Aviv and everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Everytime I used to visit Israel it was something else. I’ll give you some examples: One time it was raw tahini – the sesame paste/butter. That’s without the water, lemon and garlic. The next one was truffle oil. Truffle this, and truffle that. Any restaurant that had a soup would serve it with truffle oil. Once it was peyrot ha-ya’ar. (berries). Which is funny because berries here are quite exotic, as opposed to mangos and other things that grow here. Berries don’t grow here and are exotic. Now there is a trend of… I’m going to say it… “Eyal Shani” restaurants. Eyal Shani is the chef responsible for a bunch of restaurants and was Boaz’ mentor when he worked at North Abraxis. Chef Shani has Salon, Miznon, and Port Said. His army of chefs are very good, because I have met them through Boaz. And they are great. I don’t know his impact, but according to all his chef disciples he has done a lot to change the landscape of the food in Israel.
The one thing I noticed from eating at some of the restaurants is taking the most basic thing like cauliflower or a sweet potato and making it the BEST. I remember having this experience of eating a whole sweet potato at North Abraxis and was like “Yes! This is a sweet potato!” and not making fancy shit and you know, a lot of restaurants are trying to do that, but they don’t get the point. The point is to really make this one ingredient the main thing. The idea is making it the best. Simple, but the best.
Prof. NomNom: What trend do you see coming up?
TF: Vegan restaurants. Nanuchka just went totally vegan so I think that will be a big thing.
Prof. NomNom: Any future plans?
Update: Tamar Fradkin has moved up north in Israel and closed Mitbachi since 2015.