A chef in his own right

Boris Braginsky ignores warnings of the difficulties of living here, and today he is happily employed in the restaurant business.

Boris Braginsky 521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Boris Braginsky 521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Working in a top gourmet restaurant must be the dream of every chef, and it happened to Boris Braginsky eight years ago when he landed a job at Messa in Tel Aviv. It’s considered one of the best restaurants in Israel.
“If Michelin stars were given out here, then Messa would get three,” says Braginsky proudly.
His work involves mainly the entrees and he explains that the restaurant serves a fusion of Mediterranean and European food, with a touch of home cooking.
Back home in Moscow where he was born, he trained as a chef, but even before that he enjoyed watching his mother and grandmother when they were busy in the kitchen.
“I was always drawn to food,” he recalls. “Even when I was a small boy I used to prepare desserts, taking a cookie and piling some fruit on the top.”
The family was Jewish (“not a hundred per cent, a thousand per cent” he says) but when he was growing up he says it was dangerous to be openly Jewish. But later he remembers going to the big synagogue in Moscow and celebrating Simhat Torah with an outpouring of joyous Israeli songs.
He remembers that his grandmother spoke Yiddish, while his mother could understand it but not speak it.
“Unfortunately I can neither speak it nor understand it,” he says with a smile.
In 1991, when Russia opened up, he decided to come here with his wife and small daughter. Many of his friends and some family went to the United States.
People were warning him that Israel was a very difficult place to live, and his own mother and brother, who came before him and lived through the Gulf War, told him how difficult it was.
“It never appealed to me to live in America,” he says.
“I don’t mind visiting but to live I feel freer and safer in Israel.”
He went to live with his brother, who works for the Prisons Service, in Rehovot until he could find his own feet. Through connections he soon landed a job in a wedding hall and began to work in the kitchen.
“The only Hebrew word I knew was ‘Shalom,’” he says, “but I was very lucky that the chef I worked under was very patient and explained everything to me in simple, clear language and I quickly picked up the differences in cooking here and in Russia. I learned about new spices and new raw materials I’d never seen before.”
Today Braginsky speaks impeccable Hebrew with a slight Russian accent, a testament to his language skills. He also picked up enough kitchen knowledge to become a chef in his own right – although he acknowledges that the work was very hard.
“We worked from morning to night,” he recalls. But he enjoyed the work and learning about new foods.
He stayed at the wedding hall for three years, then branched out, getting jobs in various workers’ cafes in the center of the country.
“I liked the fact that food in Israel is like the ingathering of the exiles – everyone brings his own tradition,” he says.
After the family left Rehovot, they moved to Tel Aviv.
His wife worked in the Gottex factory but the marriage did not last and they divorced several years after arriving in Israel.
When he lived in Russia he was enlisted in the Red Army, and like other young Russians, did two and a half years’ army service.
“I was three and a half thousand miles from home and had a very hard time; there was a lot of anti-Semitism in the army. I only got home once in all that time, when my father became ill,” he says.
In Israel he does regular reserve duty and serves in the Home Front Command, which is a change from what he did in Russia, serving in a tank unit.
“I went through a lot in the army in Russia,” he recalls.
“Here, I am far happier and consider it a privilege to serve in the Israeli army.”
Nine years ago he saw an announcement in the newspaper. A gourmet restaurant was about to open its doors and needed staff.
“I called and had an interview with the head chef, Aviv Moshe, and to my delight he took me on,” says Braginsky.
Since then he has worked nonstop at Messa and says it’s a great place to work.
“It’s like family there,” he says.
“I start at 6:30 in the morning and I’m there until the night. If I want to make something special the chef gives me a free hand to be creative, and I learned a great deal in the past nine years.”
The owners have a very enlightened attitude to the workers, organizing days out and excursions for them. They also help out if someone needs a loan. “I really enjoy my work,” says Braginsky.
Even more, he enjoys living in Israel, especially the sense of freedom as an individual that he only experienced once he made aliya.