Cooking from the heart

Marwan Jaber has come up through the ranks to become head chef at Ticho House.

Marwan Jaber Anna Ticho 248.88 (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
Marwan Jaber Anna Ticho 248.88
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
Ticho House was one of the first houses in Jerusalem built outside the Old City walls, in the second half of the 19th century. Anna Ticho, an artist, had come from Moravia. She immigrated to Palestine in 1912 with her cousin Dr. Avraham (Albert) Ticho, an ophthalmologist, whom she later married. They bought the house in 1924 and converted the lower level into an eye clinic, where she worked as his assistant. Dr. Ticho died in 1960. Before Anna died in 1980, she bequeathed the house to the Israel Museum. The house contains temporary exhibitions, an exhibition of Anna Ticho's works, Dr. Ticho's collection of hanukkiot, a reference library and a café with garden. The Little Jerusalem café and restaurant have been managed by Nava Bibi since 1994. Her husband, Joseph, looks after a variety of things in the restaurant.His great-great-grandfather, Rabbi David Shaul Chai, came to Palestine in 1890 from Iraq to Syria to Tiberias by horse and cart. The two Bibi daughters work in the restaurant as well. Anat is in charge of all groups and events, and Orit is in charge of the staff and service. Anat's husband, Roni, makes the phone orders for supplies. Chef Marwan Jaber comes from the Arab suburb of Shuafat and has been part of the Ticho House Café-Restaurant family for 16 years. Born in Jerusalem, he took a job in the restaurant after high school, washing dishes. After a year, he was upgraded to cutting vegetables. In 1999, Nava Bibi wanted Marwan to further his studies. "She saw potential in me," says Marwan, so she paid for him to go to the culinary department of Hadassah College. For a year and a half, he went to school in the daytime and worked at the restaurant at night. "Because he knew how to work in a kitchen and wasn't a regular student, he made food at Hadassah College for the teachers," says Anat. "The chef giving the classes told me I was so talented, that he could learn from me," says Marwan. "I think I was the first Arab to take the culinary course. It was very hard for me to write in Hebrew," he says. "He would listen and when he came to the restaurant, we helped him," says Anat. Marwan also did some apprentice work at the Nova Hotel in east Jerusalem. When the chef there saw how well he worked, he sent two students to learn from him. He also offered him a job at the hotel, but Marwan said he did not want to leave the family business at Ticho House. Marwan graduated Hadassah College in 2000 and then took several courses at the Tadmor cooking school in Herzliya, such as fish, sushi and Italian food. Then he became the chef at Ticho House. "I was born here, and I will finish my life here," he declares. "I feel very good here. It's not like I am coming to work; I am coming to my family. When I go to their [the Bibis'] houses, I am very comfortable and I always feel like I am one of the family." Over the years, Marwan has built up a good team. "We work together, but if someone has a new idea or opinion, I want them to try," Marwan says. Because the staff is so good, Marwan says, "they all remain here a long time." And because of the warm atmosphere in the kitchen, "they work from the heart." The restaurant serves various styles of food, all of which are simple and tasty and are prepared fresh every day. On the menu are appetizers, soups, salads, pasta and sauces, baked potatoes, sandwiches, sautéed options, omelettes and a children's menu, as well as alcoholic beverages and a wine list. The menu itself, which is written in English and Hebrew, features examples of Anna Ticho's artwork. The goal of the restaurant is to make the clients happy. If someone wants a special dish, they are able to prepare it. When Marwan first became chef, there were only a few items on the menu; now there are 60 different selections. Every year they remove six or seven dishes that didn't go so well and add a few new ones. Now they are emphasizing healthy food and highlight the dishes on the menu that are especially low in calories. The only advertising the Anna Ticho restaurant does is by word of mouth. "We want everyone who comes here to tell others that they had a good experience - that the food was tasty, the service was good and the atmosphere was pleasant," says Marwan. Adds Anat, "We are the only restaurant in Israel that has a senior citizen menu, where portions are smaller. We have a lot of clients who come once or twice a week because of this." In addition to its regular clientele, the restaurant is also a venue for private parties and larger events. The garden can accommodate 300 for weddings, bar or mat mitzvot, britot, as well as business groups and institution functions, such as the Hebrew University and the Israel Museum. The inside seating capacity is 80. For the past 10 years, every Tuesday evening Ticho House has been hosting Jazz, Cheese and Wine, a musical evening with a buffet dinner that includes wine, cheese, soup, salad, pasta and coffee for NIS 95. On the personal side, Marwan is 33 years old, married and has three daughters. At home, Marwan says his wife cooks every day. If they have fish or a special salad, he makes it. Ticho House recently won the right to operate three restaurants in the Israel Museum to be ready by 2010, and Marwan will be working there. There will be a regular restaurant, an espresso bar and a cafeteria. "We are starting to build the menu, and we'll also have events there," says Marwan. Ticho House, also known as Little Jerusalem, is located at 9 Harav Kook, midway between Rehov Hanevi'im and Jaffa Road; Tel: 624-4186. Hours are 10 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday; Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday night from sundown until midnight.