Tamar Cohen-Tzedek’s Italian kitchen

It’s hectic but possible to be a woman chef in today’s young, dynamic food culture.

Chef Tamar Cohen-Tzedek (photo credit: boaz lavi)
Chef Tamar Cohen-Tzedek
(photo credit: boaz lavi)
A chef’s workday is spent on his feet, directing kitchen operations for most of the 24 hours. Weekends and holidays find him on the job, cooking and coping.
No wonder women making a career of food usually opt for the less responsible, less prestigious status of cook.
But Tamar Cohen-Tzedek, 40, likes her life as a chef just fine. Admittedly, her friends and family seldom see her outside her restaurant, the cozy Cucina Tamar in Tel Aviv, but at least they always know where to find her: either there or at home with her toddler.
A single mother, she dedicates ample intervals in her day to spending time with her three-year-old. It’s hectic, but possible to be a woman chef in today’s young, dynamic food culture, and Cohen- Tzedek proves it.
Cohen-Tzedek was 25 when she decided to dedicate her career to food. “I came into this relatively late. I was never one of those kids who hang out with Mom in the kitchen,” she says lightly.
“My mother is an eighth-generation Jerusalemite. She cooks great traditional Sephardic-style food. Nowadays, I do cook with her, especially when the extended family gets together.
“But until I spent time in Italy, I never thought of preparing food.”
Cohen-Tzedek first went to Italy to study veterinary medicine, but the delicious aromas and flavors of Italian food eventually seduced her away from university studies. “After I’d lived in Italy for a while, I began getting interested in the raw ingredients of the amazing food I was eating. I visited the markets, and started talking food to people. I realized that while I’ll always love animals, my career had to be in food – Italian food. I left the university and studied hotel management for a year in Bologna. Then I worked and learned in local restaurants for another five years.” Returning to Israel, Cohen-Tzedek worked her way up the culinary ladder. She took all kinds of cooking jobs and had a catering company of her own. Eventually, she established a restaurant.
“It’s gone through a couple of incarnations, but basically the restaurant has been running for eight years now,” she tells Metro.
Asked if she experiences discrimination as a female in a predominantly male workplace, her confident answer comes immediately: “No, I don’t feel any difference in the way people relate to me professionally. Men and women naturally have differences, but in my day-to-day life, I receive the same respect as male chefs.”
Cohen-Tzedek says that her style does reflect a womanly way with food. “It’s warm, comforting food, a very feminine approach,” she says.
Authentic Italian flavors are the restaurant’s brand, but the customers aren’t raving about the handmade ravioli tartuffo and calamari fried in garlicky olive oil also. Reviewers also comment favorably on the intimate atmosphere at Cucina Tamar. Diners also like that the chef is present and approachable in the restaurant, and that she occasionally breaks into Italian with visitors from abroad. “You can see how connected she is with Italy,” one online commenter wrote.
As dedicated as Cohen-Tzedek is to Cucina Tamar, life changed three years ago when her daughter, Ruth, came into the world.
“I used to live in the restaurant, 24 hours a day, but when the baby was born, my priorities changed. My daughter is the most important thing in my life. She’s my biggest joy, the accomplishment I’m most proud of. “ Glad to acknowledge her little one’s claims, the chef regularly gives way to the mother throughout the day. “I’m with Ruth in the mornings, before I take her to kindergarten, and we’re together all afternoon, too,” Cohen-Tzedek says, with unmistakable tenderness in her voice. A baby-sitter takes care of the toddler in the evenings, when she is at work.
A phone call interrupted our telephone interview: builders couldn’t be ignored. Cucina Tamar is closed for renovations at this time and is scheduled to open again in early December.
Cohen-Tzedek runs from meetings to renovations to home again, not resting, nor even eating much. Photographs show a slender brunette slicing a crusty homemade loaf with a look of absolute concentration on the task at hand. Producing wonderful food day after day, what did she eat the day we interviewed her? “I had two rolls and a cup of coffee,” she laughs. “I just don’t have time to eat right now. When I do have the time, I enjoy eating. And when I go to Italy, then I really relax with friends and eat, and dream up new menus.”
Cucina Tamar’s kitchen produces all kinds of little handmade condiments for sale at a side section called the Dispensa.
Customers can pick up fresh pastas and breads, liqueurs, marmalades, sauces, pickles, spices, herbed olive oil and imported balsamic vinegar.
“The Dispensa is an extension of the restaurant experience,” explains Cohen- Tzedek. “In Italy, it’s very common. You enjoy a meal, then take home some of the same foods you ate here.”
And what does the chef recommend to hungry people who aren’t familiar with the menu at Cucina Tamar? “Pasta, of course. The tortellini with artichokes, or the tagliatelle ragu, which is long pasta sautéed with three kinds of meat. In fact, any of the pasta dishes are good for getting to know the cooking here.”
Parmesan Budino (Pudding) You may use muffin tins or ceramic ramekins to bake these savory puddings.
6 servings Ingredients: 4 whole eggs 11/2 Tbsp. flour Salt and pepper Pinch nutmeg 200 gr. Parmesan cheese, grated 3/4 cup sour cream 3/4 cup milk 2 Tbsp. olive oil 1 tsp. butter 1 basket fresh mushrooms, sliced 4 shallots, coarsely chopped Preheat oven to 180°.
Beat eggs 3 minutes, then slowly add flour, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste and cheese, while continuing to stir.
Add sour cream and milk and continue stirring until a uniform batter is obtained.
Grease 6 muffin tins and divide the batter between them equally. Place the tins in a pan with water in it. The water should come halfway up the tins.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until the surface of the budinos is golden.
Melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Fry the shallots in it, 1-2 minutes until golden. Add the sliced mushrooms and fry until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Remove each budino from its tin and set it on a plate. Garnish each with shallots and mushrooms, and serve immediately