Bạn Đang Xem: A Cheesy Green Shakshuka, by Way of Tel Aviv & Vienna
Haya Molcho has plenty of her own stories to tell. She’s the chef behind the wildly successful NENI restaurants, nearly a dozen of which have cropped up across Europe. She’s lived in China, India, Israel, and Austria. She’s written more cookbooks than most people could name. And she’s married to a mime.
But with her latest project, Tel Aviv, Haya turns the focus to others.
Part-recipe compilation and part–man-on-the-street profiles, Tel Aviv is a chimerical sort of cookbook that aims to capture the spirit of its eponymous city through both its culinary scene and its inhabitants.
“This is not just a book for cooks—this is a book for fans of traveling, or anyone who loves reading stories about passionate people,” says Haya.
People like Kobi Rubin, the “Taxi Driver and Food Blogger,” who knows where to find the best kebabs and hot filo, stuffed with spinach and cheese. There’s food writer Ronit Vered, and Saado Zeinab, head of the Jaffa Fishermen’s Union. There are community organizers and DJs, spice merchants and urban foragers. There’s Ariel Rosenthal, magician-cum-restauranteur, who is “also working on a cookbook—dedicated exclusively to one single food,” though, “he won’t tell us what it is.”
“[The city of] Tel Aviv has a new wave of young innovative chefs that do incredible combinations. It’s very smart, very refined, very modern,” Nuriel Molcho told me in Vienna last year when we sat down to discuss the book, then still in production. Nuriel’s the oldest of Haya’s sons and leads public relations and marketing for NENI. He took the photographs for Tel Aviv.
The book is a family affair, through and through. Haya and her four sons Nuriel, Elior, Ilan, and Nadiv seem to walk through life in lockstep. The boys’ first initials even headline the business, though NENI’s configuration isn’t quite chronological, in an effort to dodge nein (the German word for “no”). Together, the crew spent weeks in Tel Aviv eating as many sabich as they could get their hands on, recording accounts of local life, filming, photographing, and serving as astute taste-testers for Haya.
Her recipes and those of Tel Aviv’s subjects are scattered between profiles as abundantly and appealingly as the cheese on a Molcho family favorite: Haya’s leek and spinach shakshuka (p. 49)—it’s “always served at Sunday brunch.” In practice, family members dunk crisp hunks of bread into a large, centrally placed pan.
“A classic well-known recipe for shakshuka is always made with tomatoes, but because I like working seasonally and sourcing my vegetables locally, I had to think of a different creation for the winter months,” says Haya, who grew up in a small town just outside of Tel Aviv.
Nuriel attributes some of his mother’s culinary aptitude to her earliest kitchen encounters. “My grandfather was a dentist. He’d go from house to house, fix a farmer’s tooth, and get ten kilos of tomatoes as payment,” he told me. “My grandma had to get creative with my mom: ‘I can’t just do tomato sauce…how can I pickle tomatoes, how can I make a tomato jam.’”
Years later, tomato jam fully mastered, Haya met Samy Molcho—who grew up in Tel Aviv, too—through sheer coincidence, on an airplane in Germany. A hop, skip, and Shabbat dinner invitation later, Haya and Samy were married and traveling the world while Samy performed as a mime.
After seven years, they set up headquarters in Vienna, where their four sons grew up with some of the best packed lunches around.
“My mom would cook insane things and send it to the canteen to heat it up for us,” Nuriel recalls. “We always had crazy meals, while everyone else was sitting with sandwiches.”
MORE GENIUS…FOR YOUR EARS
As her youngest son prepared to leave for university, Haya’s neighbor asked her to cook for a 200-person birthday party. Haya got so many inquiries from its guests over the ensuing weeks that she founded a catering company. She ran it for 10 years before beginning to think about a more permanent brick-and-mortar operation.
“She called me the day after I’d just graduated—I’d just written my last exam, and she said ‘Nuriel, I’m thinking of opening up a restaurant. What would you think, and would you help?’ And I said, ‘Haya, I would fly back to Vienna tomorrow,’” Nuriel told me.
Together, Haya and her sons launched the first NENI location in 2009 in Naschmarkt, an old collection of market stalls in Vienna’s sixth district.
In order to secure space in what was, according to Nuriel, an insular community of just a few families owning the majority of the market’s real estate, the Molchos agreed to an address at the very end of Naschmarkt, used by other proprietors as a place to let garbage pile up.
To acquire financing, Nuriel recounts showing up to the bank with an artist, a hand-sketched mood board, and a bunch of hot food. “The bank guy was like, ‘What’s your ROI?’ And we were like, ‘We have no idea. This is how the food is going to taste, and here’s how it’s going to look.’ He took a gamble, and we got the credit.”
It’s one that’s paid off—NENI opened to critical acclaim, serving traditional and modern takes on mostly Levantine fare. The Molchos have since established another nine restaurants across Vienna, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, France, and the Netherlands. They have a supermarket line (think: really good hummus) as well. Haya and her sons are now heads-down on their next storytelling project, focused on Los Angeles in the style of Tel Aviv.
And as for the sixth Molcho?
“My father comes here and eats, and enjoys it,” said Nuriel. “He enjoys life. He’s 83.”
What’s your favorite cookbook from 2019? Let us know in the comments.