The Israeli ‘balaboosta’ in New York

Admony was born in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood near Tel Aviv, to a long lineage of balaboostas, a family that became religious when she was around eight.

 EINAT ADMONY: I started out as a fine-dining chef. Opening street food falafel was shocking for me. (photo credit:  EINAT ADMONY)
EINAT ADMONY: I started out as a fine-dining chef. Opening street food falafel was shocking for me.
(photo credit: EINAT ADMONY)

NEW YORK – Einat Admony’s innovative approach to modern Israeli dining makes her a “balaboosta,” which is why she named her Manhattan restaurant after the Yiddish expression meaning “perfect housewife.” 

“In the 21st century, a balaboosta is a little bit different,” Admony, 50, explained. “She’s someone who is on top of things. The name Balaboosta is my baby. It’s everything: my restaurant, my book, my future show.” 

Admony was born in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood near Tel Aviv, to a long lineage of balaboostas, a family that became religious when she was around eight. She recalled starting cooking at a young age, helping her Persian mother from Iran prepare Shabbat dinner, which consisted of a blend of Yemenite (her father was born in Yemen), Persian, Moroccan and even Eastern European dishes. 

“Pretty much everywhere I went, I ended up being the one cooking, whether it was professionally or not,” Admony told The Jerusalem Post. “As a child, and then during my two years in the Israeli army, where I started out as an air force driver and then became a cook, and then during my time traveling in Europe.” 

At 24, Admony briefly took a course at the Tadmor Hotelier School in Tel Aviv, after which she worked at several restaurants, including chef Haim Cohen’s Keren. After a short, failed marriage, she returned to New York with $200 in her pocket, set on making a fresh start. Shortly after her arrival she met the man whom she would eventually marry, Stefan Nafziger, who was working at the famed French restaurant Balthazar. 

 Einat Admony, the Israeli ‘balaboosta’ in New York. (credit:  EINAT ADMONY) Einat Admony, the Israeli ‘balaboosta’ in New York. (credit: EINAT ADMONY)

Although Admony has cooked all over the world, New York has served as the base for much of her career. She first opened the falafel joint Taïm, which means “tasty” in Hebrew, with Nafziger, her husband and business partner, in Manhattan’s West Village in 2005. “That was a difficult year, but everything since has been exciting and surprising. The amount of press we got that year was unreal. For the square footage, I think it’s the most press any restaurant in New York has ever gotten,” Admony said. 

In 2010, Admony returned to her fine-dining roots by opening the Middle Eastern restaurant Balaboosta. “During the Balaboosta launch, The New York Times wrote a piece saying, ‘Let’s see if the queen of falafel can actually cook,’ Admony recalled. “And I can.”

“Friends encouraged me to open more branches of Taïm instead of a new restaurant,” Admony continued. “But I really needed to cook. I started out as a fine-dining chef. Opening street food falafel was shocking for me.” 

Alongside the success that came in those early years, Admony also recalled facing antisemitism. “I got swastika graffiti right after [president Donald] Trump was elected in 2016,” she said. “Early in 2017, someone carved a swastika on my wooden table in the West Village. Over the years, there’s been a lot. I used to react when I was stupid, but it’s not going to get me anywhere. Now I don’t get into it, I just answer with love. I also am careful to always give the right name to everything I cook. If something is Arab I don’t pretend it’s Israeli. But I mean, both of my parents are Mizrahi Arab.” 

In 2018, she opened Kish-Kash, New York’s first Moroccan couscous bar, named after a sieve, one of the kitchen utensils used to hand-roll couscous, Admony’s favorite dish to cook. 

Taïm has grown to eight locations, including one in Washington. The chain was aided in 2018 by financial investment and new management from former Chipotle executives, who decided that falafel is a healthier choice than Mexican fast food. 

During the pandemic, Admony “decided to move on” from Taïm. She remains an investor and partial owner but no longer runs the chain’s operations. 

She is also the author of two cookbooks: Balaboosta and Shuk. 

Along with her restaurants and books, spending time with family is a priority for Admony, something she has gotten to do more of in the past two years. When the pandemic erupted in March 2020, Admony hunkered down with her two teenage children in an upstate New York farm house she purchased in 2019. 

“There were chickens and beautiful vegetables growing. I was very fortunate that I had this space where I could explore and test recipes. And I spent a lot of time with my kids, I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not,” Admony recalled with a laugh. “Financially, the pandemic was a disaster and super scary, but it was the first time in my life I relaxed since I was 15.” 

Now back in Manhattan, Admony has no plans to slow down for good. 

“I’m working on a million things right now,” Admony said. “I can’t even share all of the details, but Balaboosta is what I’m mainly concentrating on, it’s a great restaurant with a beautiful staff. I’m also working on a new book that is more like a memoir. I’m performing at Comedy Cellar, I have a TV show coming, I’m trying to perfect my craft.”