A full plate

Chef Paul Hyams juggles his organic catering business with other cooking jobs.

NPaul Hyams 311 (photo credit: NSholom Rosenson)
NPaul Hyams 311
(photo credit: NSholom Rosenson)
Starting at a young age, Australian-born Paul Hyams waited tables, tended bar, assisted chefs and eventually did his own cooking at kosher eateries in Melbourne and London. Now he claims to be Israel’s first organic kosher caterer and personal chef.
In the 10-plus years since he landed in Israel, 36-year-old Hyams hasn’t stopped working as a chef and kashrut supervisor in a variety of establishments, including Vaqueiro, Red Heifer, Darna and the Great Synagogue. He added the catering business to his mix of jobs when he discerned a market for people seeking kosher organic cuisine.
His research revealed that although Israel’s consumer base is very small, it represents the fastest-growing market for organic food in the world. Thus was born BisBari (Healthy Bite), which began accepting clients before Succot 2008.
In addition, he specializes in adapting recipes so that customers with conditions such as celiac, diabetes and high cholesterol “can have something to eat besides rice cakes.”
Hyams has catered functions ranging from a 100-person event at the International Cultural and Community Center in the German Colony and a vegan brunch for 50 in a Baka private home to a post-Fast of Esther brit mila for 35. “I have done sheva brachot and a few other things, too, but usually I make Shabbat and hag orders.”
Until he finishes translating his Web site (bisbari.com) into Hebrew, Hyams expects to continue attracting mainly English speakers in Jerusalem’s southeast neighborhoods. He has also worked with clients in Tel Aviv and Beit Shemesh and did private catering in New York and Miami.
His dishes abound with raw or lightly cooked organic vegetables. For example, his crunchy salad is composed of fennel, kohlrabi, Spanish onion and dried cranberries with fresh coriander-and-lemon dressing. Among the dairy and vegan entrees he offers are Moroccan salmon with chickpeas, lemon-dill-and-caper cod, mixed wild mushroom pasta, Thai sesame tofu and organic spicy chili.
On his first restaurant date with his future wife, Chaya, he realized they were meant for each other when they both looked around for hot sauce to add to their food, says Hyams.
“I like flavor. I want food to burst with vibrant herbs and spices. But it has to look and smell wonderful first of all. Most of my influences are Mediterranean and Mideastern for their wonderful colors and fragrant spices.”
He and his wife – who bakes all the BisBari dessert items – follow a mostly vegetarian diet in their Katamon home, adding chicken or fish to their Shabbat meals. “When I go out to eat, I get my steak,” Hyams laughs.
It is not easy holding down several physically taxing jobs at once. “Every day I think about doing something else,” he confides, “but I have a problem: I love to work with food, and I love working with people. I don’t want to kill myself in a cubicle. I find offices restrictive and depressing.”
He operates his catering business out of his own kitchen for now, but he hopes that BisBari will grow sufficiently to allow him to open a retail outlet with an industrial kitchen. “I started this whole thing from nothing,” says Hyams. “I don’t have the capital to put hundreds of thousands [of dollars] into fixing up a kitchen. I’m looking to rent space from somebody who is already set up.”
Doing business in Jerusalem presents unique challenges, he admits. Most Jerusalemites have little money to spend on luxuries like catering, while their preference for rabbinate kashrut is not yet possible for Hyams because a home-based concern cannot receive certification.
His kitchen was inspected by an Eda Haredit kosher supervisor with whom he worked at the Great Synagogue. And BisBari’s Web site includes contact information for Rabbi Ian Pear of Congregation Shir Hadash, who also has inspected Hyams’s facilities. Hyams is pursuing his own supervisory certification through an Israeli rabbinate-approved course.
“I am religious but I’m not haredi nor trying to be, so it’s adifficult thing,” says Hyams. “You’re never going to make everybodyhappy.”
Why does he stay in Jerusalem? Hyams chuckles. “I gotstuck here. My ultimate Zionist goal was to live in a moshav somewhere,but I got a job here and made friends here. As an Australian, I do feelthe need for more space and one day will probably move to the center ofthe country.”
Despite whatever hurdles he faces as ahard-working businessman, Hyams is committed to a life in Israel. “Ilove my land, and I have since I first came here at 15 in 1988,” hesays.