A family affair

Guy Bensimhon presides over two generations of cooks and adds fusion to traditional Moroccan cooking at La Guta.

'All our lives, we grew up around food. As children, we ate only fresh food," says 33-year-old Guy Bensimhon. He is the son of Moroccan-born Guta Bensimhon, who opened La Guta in the Wolfson Building when he was eight. In 1990, the restaurant moved to Nahalat Shiva, where Guy has been the chef for the past 12 years. At the end of February, the restaurant found a new home in a century-old Arab house on Derech Beit Lehem. Guta, who came to Israel in the 1950s, still works in the kitchen, making all the authentic Moroccan food for the menu that is a fusion of world foods. Yossie, Guy's brother, is manager; his father, also from Morocco, does the shopping; and Guy's wife, Vered, is events manager and in charge of human resources. Guy grew up in Abu Tor. After the army, he entered his parents' business. His mother sent him to take the culinary course at Hadassah College Jerusalem. After graduating, he continued his studies in France and the US, doing internships with renowned international chefs. He continues this culinary trend, having recently gone to New York and Las Vegas. When Guy returned from abroad, Guta had him making salads and cold dishes. After three years, says Guy, "I took the kitchen on my shoulders." Starting his day at seven in the morning and working until midnight, Guy writes the menus, checks the reservations, buys all the produce, meets with the suppliers and prepares the dinner meals. Who does the cooking at home? "My wife," says Guy. "When I get home, I want to play with my two children and just relax." La Guta is open Sunday through Thursday for dinner only from six to midnight. On Friday it is open from noon to three for lunch. On Saturday evening it opens an hour after Shabbat. The menu changes every season with the change of fruits and vegetables. "I create new dishes all the time," Guy says. Sometimes after the restaurant closes at midnight when everyone is gone, he goes into the kitchen to try new things. The primary reason for the move from Nahalat Shiva to Derech Beit Lehem was the feeling that "The city center is now a terrible place. You don't have parking, the city is dirty, there are a lot of bars, and all the restaurants are closing and looking for nice places," says Guy. The Bensimhon family was looking for something "with heart and soul, where in the walls you have stories," Guy says. La Guta found the old Arab building and created five separate rooms. Near the entrance is a lobby area with a bar that seats 50, and an adjoining terrace and deck for summer outdoor eating. The color scheme is black and white. Chandeliers hang over the large dining room, which seats 65. To one side is a private room with a TV, that seats 16 for business or private parties. The central hall is meant to be intimate with four tables for couples. At the back is a wine room, and the wine cellar can be seen below through a window in the floor. Outside there is lots of room for parking. A special feature of the restaurant menu is two sizes of portions - small and medium - "so you can eat in any part of the restaurant and choose a smaller portion at a lower price," says Guy. "Fancy restaurants appeal to only a small number of people. Now, when the economy is not so good, we want all kinds of people to come." In the future, Guy wants "to develop my business with big catering, new deli, all the things that connect to our food, maybe to open another restaurant in the future." La Guta is located at 34 Derech Beit Lehem in Baka. Tel: 623-2322. Kosher