An Englishman in Tel Aviv: Chef Golding cooks Japanese food Israeli style

When the owners of Dinings in London heard that Golding was in Israel, they approached him to open a branch of the established London restaurant in Tel Aviv.

Chef Chris Golding cooks signature dish. (photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
Chef Chris Golding cooks signature dish.
(photo credit: ANATOLY MICHAELO)
British chef Chris Golding arrived in Israel to help a friend open a restaurant in Tel Aviv. He intended to stay for a three-month consultation. That was almost three years ago, and he hasn’t left yet.
He had fallen in love with the country, with the people, with the food, and above all, with the daring, open-ended Israeli culinary style. Now senior chef at the Norman Hotel’s Dinings restaurant in Tel Aviv, he tells Metro what he finds special about living and cooking here.
“I love the young restaurant scene here. The food is amazing, a real melting pot. In London, food is pigeon-holed. You find only French food in a French restaurant, only Thai food in a Thai place.
“But here, there are no rules with food. There may be pasta, ceviche and falafel on the same menu, and it works. Fusion like that wouldn’t work anywhere else,” he declares, adding, “And the home cooking is great. So many influences from so many places in the world.”
Golding’s first job, at age 13, was washing dishes on weekends in a Japanese restaurant. “I was at the bottom of the pile,” he reminisces, “peeling vegetables, doing things no one else wanted to do. But it made me want to move to London and be a chef.”
At 16, he left school to work in a French restaurant under chef Marco Pierre White, the youngest chef ever to earn three Michelin stars. It was a learning experience in a workplace with high standards, but a hard one.
“It was manic in that kitchen,” Golding recounts. “People screaming and throwing pots at each other, someone always shouting at me and threatening to throw me out. Very hard, especially after working in the Japanese restaurant. A Japanese kitchen is quiet. There’s a hierarchy and respect.”
He stuck it out for two years. By the time he left, he was a trained sous-chef and went to work at Nobu, a Japanese restaurant in London, and later at the Michelin-starred Thai restaurant Nahm, under chef David Thompson.
He traveled the world, learning and cooking as he went. “I traveled all over Europe, the USA, South America. I worked in Cyprus for six months, too. Did I cook in my travels? Yes, I did. Where I’ve traveled, I’ve always wound up cooking for someone,” he says wryly.
When the owners of Dinings in London heard that Golding was in Israel, they approached him to open a branch of the established London restaurant in Tel Aviv. It was a perfect opportunity for the chef, who, enchanted with Israel, was hoping to stay.
He describes the restaurant’s concept as “Japanese-Mediterranean. It has a Japanese backbone with all the beautiful Israeli produce. Take, for example, our most popular dessert: green tea panna cotta.” Fusion cooking if ever there was.
His associates from Dinings London are three Japanese chefs who fully support the Tel Aviv branch and the chef who runs it.
“If I need anything at all, any ingredient or special equipment, they’ll fly it over, even come themselves,” Golding says. “They even send me staff.”
When I expressed surprise at the need to import restaurant staff, Golding explained. “There’s a massive restaurant staff shortage in Israel. It’s hard to keep good people.
“You have chefs going up to restaurants after closing hours to hunt for cooks and waiters. I’ve learned a lot about managing staff. You have to make sure they’re well-treated and happy to stay with you.”
In his role as senior chef at Dinings, he spends a lot of time keeping his staff motivated.
“I consider myself a teacher. I sometimes come in to work even on my day off, just to be with the staff. If someone’s discouraged, I’ll text them with encouraging messages. You know, like, ‘Good job with whatever it was today.’ Because if you’re happy, you work better. If you’re under pressure and stressed, you won’t care about the food.”
Golding’s soft-spoken, deliberate manner hides a warm heart. He raised £1,000 for cancer research in a London pop-up restaurant project three years ago, and plans to go back and do it again. He also cooks in the kitchen of a Tel Aviv home for disadvantaged children in his free time.
What advice does Golding have for aspiring young chefs?
“It’s a hard job. You’re under pressure all the time. You can’t do it to impress people; it’s nothing like on TV. You have to love it. You have to love cooking and working with people, and the buzz of the restaurant, even the competition in the kitchen.
“It’s long hours. A chef will often finish at 1 a.m. and start again at 9 the next morning. You see young cooks come in and their shock, until they start in and get used to it.”
Metro asked if he plans to stay on in Israel.
“Always, even with the struggle of having to renew my visa every year. It’s worth it. Israel has an amazing food scene the world hasn’t discovered yet. “The food in Jerusalem is mind-blowing, even more than Tel Aviv,” he continues. “I love the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk and the street food. And I like finding all the different cuisines there are here.”
Golding observes that another factor in Israeli food diversity is the post-army Israelis who travel the world, then come back inspired to recreate the foods they appreciated in other countries.
“The world’s getting smaller and chefs are working with different ingredients. The rules are loose. You can be laid-back, experimental. I’ve definitely accepted those influences. My approach now is not to hold back as much as before.”
He adds with a twinkle, “My mother loves it here, too. She’s visited four times. She’s always looking for an excuse to come.”
Dinings is on the roof terrace of the Norman Hotel 23-25 Nahmani Street, Tel Aviv.
For reservations: (03) 543-5444.
Not kosher.