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Chef Divine

Barbara Bensoussan

Chef Shalom Kadosh creates sumptuous kosher cuisine for heads of state — and he’s put Israel on the culinary map

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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Kadosh believes that serving top-quality kosher gastronomy to non-Jews or nonreligious Jews is a way of making a kiddush Hashem, demonstrating that adherence to Torah law in no way impedes a chef from creating royal repasts. When Kadosh prepared a meal for former French president Jacques Chirac and Israeli president Ezer Weizman, Chirac pulled Kadosh aside and asked, “Is this really a kosher meal, with kosher meat?”

T he word “chef” typically brings up one of two stereotypes.

The first — the old fashioned one — conjures an image of a Gallic prima donna in a toque, whose snooty gastronomic sensibilities assure the perfection of a cream sauce or perfect timing for a standing crown roast. Then you have the newer, reality-TV-style chef; a brash, foul-mouthed tyrant brandishing blow torches and blocks of dry ice, concocting bizarre and often unnatural riffs on real food.

Israeli chef Shalom Kadosh calls forth neither of those stereotypes. Now in his late sixties, tall and solid-looking, he has a soft-spoken, humble manner that evinces no snobbery or flamboyant showmanship. Yet beneath the unassuming demeanor lies a quiet confidence and deliberate, seasoned approach to food that’s the product of over 45 years in the industry.

He’s worked hard to get where he is, but still seems a little surprised it carried him so far. “Who would have thought a kid from Afula would one day cook for the president of the United States?” he says with a little smile. “But everyone needs to dream. If you don’t follow a dream, you won’t get anywhere.”

For 42 years, Kadosh has served in the kitchen of the Leonardo Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem, for most of them as top chef. But he’s also the go-to chef when the Israeli government needs to host a state dinner. When Begin received Carter, when Netanyahu hosted Obama, when Putin and King Hussein came on official visits, it was Kadosh’s world-class cuisine that created the gracious ambiance for the conversation. In 2011, despite never having officially been appointed the top government chef, he was invited to join the Club des Chefs des Chefs, a prestigious association of chefs who serve heads of state.


The World from a Galley

We meet Mr. Kadosh on the Upper East Side, at a table at the relaxed-yet-high-end Mike’s Bistro. Owner Mike Gershkovich, an impressive chef in his own right, takes a seat with us to listen in. While almost 20 years younger than Kadosh, he has years of experience in the food business and contributes the occasional judicious remark.

“The younger generation doesn’t want to go to cooking school. They watch these reality cooking shows and think they can spring onto the scene without any background,” he says. “But a chef needs cooking school. Trying to be a chef without it is like a building without a foundation”

Kadosh comes from a family who knows what it is to follow a dream. His parents, who moved from smaller villages in southern Morocco to Casablanca, had been making a good living selling groceries. Shalom was sent to yeshivos in Casablanca, Meknes, Sefrou, and Fez. But in 1962, when he was 12, his parents left it all behind and followed their dream to live in the Holy Land. “My father gave up his business and took a job planting trees for Keren Kayemet,” Kadosh says. “But he didn’t care — he was so happy! He always retained a deep love for Eretz Yisrael.”

Life in Afula Illit in the 1960s was enlivened by simple pleasures, like watching politicians come to town to give speeches. “For us, it was the best show,” Kadosh says. He once went to Haifa to watch Menachem Begin give a speech from the back of an open truck. 

At the time, he says, he never imagined that one day he’d get a call asking him to cook a meal for Prime Minister Begin and President Jimmy Carter. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 674)

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