Pop-up star

Jerusalem’s ‘Shuk Cook’ plans his first pop-up restaurant.

Goose breast at ‘Shuk Cook’ (photo credit: JEFF HANDELL PRODUCTIONS)
Goose breast at ‘Shuk Cook’
Uri Zaltzman has been cooking for as long as he can remember. Growing up in London, he would help his mom in the kitchen. From the age of 12 on, Zaltzman was cooking dinners for himself.
As he got older, he began to host Shabbat meals for friends. Zaltzman came to Israel in 2007 and after finishing the army in 2010, realized that the options for kosher cuisine in Jerusalem were not the same as in his native England.
“There was food that didn’t exist here in the kosher restaurants, like Chinese food, so I started making it for myself,” he recalls.
“I was making beef chow mein and Peking duck, two of my favorite Chinese dishes. Around the same time, I watched this Gordon Ramsay show. Not one of his cooking competitions, it was him in the kitchen teaching people how to cook. Then my mom bought me the accompanying book, Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course. It was full-steam ahead from there. Although I was cooking for a long time before that, it was never such a prominent thing in my life.”
The 34-year-old Zaltzman is known on social media and in Jerusalem foodie circles by a different name, The Shuk Cook. Launched on the social media a year and a half ago to encourage himself to cook more and share his culinary journey with others, the Shuk Cook has become a burgeoning online presence. Through Facebook, Zaltzman offers advice and answers cooking questions. He also keeps people posted on what is going on in the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk.
“The main thing in the beginning was to encourage me to stay on track with my cooking and be more experimental and creative with my food,” he explains.
“The name made so much sense; I live in the shuk. I’ve been living in Nahlaot since I moved to Israel. Everything I buy comes from the shuk. The shuk feels like home to me. It’s changed a lot in the nine years that I’ve been here, but whenever I leave Jerusalem and come back, I take a walk in the shuk and feel like I’ve come home.”
Zaltzman is quick to point out the uniquely Jerusalem essence of the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk, especially when it comes alive into a near frenzy on Fridays before Shabbat.
“I went to Borough Market in London, which is much more upscale,” Zaltzman says. “It just didn’t have the same character that the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk has. The shuk has definitely been going through a gentrification, but it still has that crazy shuk feel.”
The Shuk Cook has a presence on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Zaltzman uses Instagram to post pictures of his food. Snapchat is used for creating cooking stories; beginning with Zaltzman going to the shuk to shop for ingredients, and culminating in him cooking a meal. On Facebook, he posts food pictures and fields cooking questions. He is active not only on the Shuk Cook page, but also on groups like Israeli Foodies and Restaurant Club Jerusalem. He is often asked if he does culinary tours of the shuk, which is something the home cook is considering for the future.
The Shuk Cook currently has over 1,200 likes on Facebook.
“It’s not enough, but I’m building the brand,” he states. “When I first started the page, a food blogger asked me when I was going to do a ‘pop-up restaurant’ and I instinctively responded that I would do it when I got 1,000 likes.”
Zaltzman hit 1,000 likes a few months ago and knew that it was time to plan his first pop-up restaurant, which will open right after Passover. He has a prime outdoor location in Nahlaot, which will remain a mystery to Shuk Cook fans for now. What Zaltzman will divulge is that the menu has been decided.
“Because Chinese food is something that I miss so much here, it’s going to be a modern twist on Chinese food and flavors,” he enthuses. One of the featured dishes will be his take on beef chow mein. The pop-up will be open for two evenings, each with two seatings of 12 to 15 diners.
Zaltzman is aiming for a fine dining experience, in terms of the food and service, but at the same time, he wants it to be fun. As of now, the plan is to have guests congregate family-style at one big table. Sign-up will be done online.
“The price will be reasonable, considering it will be my first attempt at a pop-up,” he says.
“It will be a multi-course menu. I tested one of the dishes a few weeks ago and it came out great. Dessert is the only part of it that I haven’t finalized yet because desserts are not my forte; I’m more of a savory guy. I’m excited, but it’s daunting at the same time. I’m not the kind of guy who likes a lot of attention. When I’m thrust into the limelight for cooking, I do enjoy it, but it’s not something that I look for.”
Zaltzman wants people to experience his food and feels that a pop-up is an exciting way to achieve that, but the anxiety of cooking for 50 to 60 people in a setting that is completely new is understandable. He points out that he has hosted barbecues for 75 people in the past, but that it’s not the same as a four- or fivecourse tasting menu. Luckily, he has a really great support system in the form of friends who want to help and see him succeed.
“First and foremost, I want people to have a nice evening and enjoy my food,” he shares.
“Pop-up restaurants are a massive success outside of Israel. The movement has hit its peak, I would say. In Tel Aviv, you can find them, but not really in Jerusalem.
There’s the website Eat With, which is like pop-up dinners. I’ve been to one pop-restaurant in Jerusalem, which was a Mexican evening and it was great. I think there should be more of those kind of events going on in Jerusalem.
“What I hope to do with my pop-up is to offer something that isn’t available in kosher restaurants in Jerusalem.
That’s a theme that I’ll continue if I do more in the future. There is a culinary scene here in Jerusalem, but it’s not like the one in Tel Aviv, New York or Chicago.
I don’t know how much I can do, but maybe to just add my little bit because every bit helps.”
Stay informed about the Shuk Cook’s latest culinary adventures and the upcoming pop-up restaurant at www.facebook.com/TheShukCook/