On an upward path

After years of working in other people’s restaurants, Ma’alot chef and owner Gad Ya’ari decided to do his own thing.

Gad Ya'ari 521 (photo credit: Barry A. Kaplan)
Gad Ya'ari 521
(photo credit: Barry A. Kaplan)
‘The soul of the restaurant is the food,” declares Jerusalem-born chef Gad Ya’ari, who opened Ma’alot less than a year ago. Ya’ari had spent a number of years traveling, and then spent 12 years learning his profession under chefs he highly respects. Along the way, he became religious and added another dimension to his profession. Chatting in his restaurant, he exudes charm and enthusiasm for his work.
How it started
After high school, Ya’ari joined the paratroopers. Then, as is typical of many Israelis, he traveled to Thailand, India and Nepal. There, he took food courses and worked in hotel restaurants. Returning to Israel, he taught high school English and math, worked as a computer programmer for a year, and then studied computer science at Hadassah College while working in several restaurants.
“My mom and dad are both into cooking. They took courses together, and my mom is a professional pastry chef,” he says.
When the upscale kosher restaurant 1868 opened, Ya’ari was offered a job there. “They showed the country that you can make kosher food gourmet style. I was privileged to work with the chef. I became sous-chef and then chef,” he recounts.
After a year and a half, Ya’ari went to New York, where he worked in restaurants for two years.
Through Chabad, he saw how people spent Shabbat. “It was a unique experience for me. Amazing.” That led to his becoming religious and getting married. He and his wife now have an eightmonth- old daughter.
He worked again at 1868, did some catering and then began to work at the restaurant in City Hall. “There I learned how to make simple food taste like more expensive food. I worked with the chef, and he taught me everything.”
Then he took the place of the chef for almost two years.
Last year, he decided to do his own thing. In April he took over the restaurant on Rehov Hama’alot. His father helped him do renovations, and they opened with the business lunch menu. It includes a main entrée, bread and dips, a tapas item and a side dish (NIS 45; NIS 55 and NIS 64).
By August, he had put in the evening menu.
The chef named his restaurant after the street on which it is located because it means “to go up,” which for Ya’ari has a positive, spiritual connotation. Hama’alot was named for the first elevator in Jerusalem, which is part of the apartment complex that is across the street from the restaurant.
Ya’ari’s brother Gilad works in the restaurant as manager and waiter.
Ma’alot is a small, quaint, European-style restaurant with wood tables and chairs that seat 18 plus 10 at the bar. Wood beams are exposed over the bar. His father built the tables on the outside deck, which seats 20. Oil paintings by Ya’ari’s mother adorn the textured walls.
Ya’ari adopted the idea of tapas from Spanish cuisine.
This style of food is mixed with the traditional food of his family (his forebears came from Greece, Bulgaria, Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Kurdistan) and the French technique of European restaurants. There are 10 main courses available in the evening plus two specials every day; seven sandwiches; five salads and a soup of the day; five desserts; and many beverages and alcoholic beverages. The 18 tapas choices are available in one piece (NIS 15-20) or four (NIS 50-90).
They include leek and beef patties; stuffed vegetables; salmon carpaccio; duck breast; lamb and figs; and grilled entrecote strips. The menus change with the seasons every three to four months.
Most popular item on the menu
Eggplant soup. “My grandmother used to put chunks of eggplant in her soup.”
Favorite item on the menu
Lamb stews
What the chef likes best about the work
“That I have the freedom to create my own dishes and combine everything I have learned from great chefs and my traditional family with my own style.”
Biggest accomplishment
The restaurant.
Best part of the job
“The satisfaction of the customers. More than 90 percent come back after trying us once. I change the menu all the time and do specials.”
Who cooks at home?
“I do. My wife bakes and I cook, but usually I cook at the restaurant and take things home. I see my wife only two hours a day, and she is the one who gives me all the energy to come back and work 12 to 14 hours a day.”
Ma’alot is located at Rehov Hama’alot 7. Tel: (02) 500- 4334. Kosher. Certification Jerusalem Rabbinate, but all food is Mehadrin. Open Sunday through Thursday 12 noon to 11 p.m. or last customer in winter, sometimes to 2 a.m. in summer. Friday summer, take-out only; winter Friday, noon until two hours before Shabbat. Saturday evening, two and a half hours after Shabbat ends until 11 p.m. in winter and until 12:30 a.m. in summer.
Beef stock 1 kg. marrow bones Oil Vegetables such as celery, leeks, mushrooms, onions, carrots 2 Tbsp. sugar or date honey 1⁄2 cup tomato paste 750 ml. bottle red wine 3 bay leaves A few black whole allspice Water
Place the marrow bones on a tray in a 250ºC oven for two to four minutes. Remove the marrow. Put the bones on a tray in the oven and bake until they are dark brown.
Cover the bottom of a soup pot with oil. Add the vegetables and burn them. Add sugar or honey and continue burning. Add tomato paste and cook until the paste becomes brown. Add the wine, reduce it until none is left and it is absorbed into the vegetables.
Add the bay leaves, pepper and bones, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least five hours.
Reserve 4 cups for the soup. The rest can be used with other dishes.
Confit Tomatoes 6 Tamar (Roma) tomatoes, sliced Olive oil 1 Tbsp. crushed garlic Salt and black pepper to taste Juice of 2 lemons
Place tomatoes in a small baking pan. Cover with oil.
Add garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Bake in 150ºC oven until golden brown (about 40 minutes). Strain off oil and garlic and save for another use.
Eggplant 2 large eggplants Remove skin and fry until brown or bake with the skin until soft or roast over an open flame until soft. If baking or roasting, the remove skin.
Saute tomatoes in soup pot for one to two minutes.
Add eggplant and mix with single-blade electric mixer.
Add 4 cups of stock, bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes.
Turn off heat and continue to mix with electric mixer until smooth.
Makes 4 servings