In the kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton

‘Metro’ goes behind the swinging door at the Herbert Samuel restaurant in Herzliya.

Chef Mor Cohen, who is taking over the Ritz-Carlton’s kosher kitchen in Herzliya (photo credit: RITZ-CARLTON HERZLIYA)
Chef Mor Cohen, who is taking over the Ritz-Carlton’s kosher kitchen in Herzliya
ipping Coke at the fashionable Ritz-Carlton Hotel and gazing through picture windows at yachts anchored at the marina is certainly an enjoyable way to spend time. However, I found it more exciting to slip behind the swinging door next to the bar – the door marked “Hotel Personnel Only.” Waved through by the kindly management, I entered the backstage world where the hotel’s de- lectable meals are concocted, catering to guests’ appetites 24 hours a day.
Knowing that the restaurant meals and room service food all come from the one kitchen, I was surprised not to find an enormous expanse with a dozen workers bustling around. Soon I realized that the space was more than ample because the chef manages time and resources with super efficiency. I had a quick look at the dairy side, separated by a short corridor from the main meat kitchen. Neatly labeled storage boxes containing almond flour, colored sprinkles, brown and white sugars and other dry goods stood on a shelf: things familiar to the home baker. Then turning around, some two dozen golden, delicately layered, flaky croissants on a baker’s rack reminded me that a professional kitchen turns out such pastries that most home bak - ers only dream of attempting.
Returning to the meat kitchen, I met with chef Kobi Ohayon, 31. Ohayon first learned to cook at home. “At age six or seven, I was already standing next to the pots on the stove, with my mother and grandmother,” he says. “They’re fabulous Moroccan cooks. Growing up, I worked in a Moroccan catering business. There I learned all the seasonings, the cooked dishes, the salads, and the breads that Moroccans love.” After his army service, he studied at the Tadmor Culinary School, going on to work in various restaurants as sous- chef and eventually opening his own kosher health-oriented restaurant. His two years at the Ritz-Carlton’s Herbert Samuel restaurant won it Time Out mag- azine’s Best Kosher Restaurant title.
“Kosher cuisine always lagged be- hind secular cuisine by five years,” claims Ohayon. “Now kosher custom- ers demand the same level of sophisti- cation as the non-kosher world; they want restaurants with excellent cui- sine, service and ambiance. That’s who we’re here for.”
Ohayon offered to show me how to make gnocchi. How could I refuse a pri- vate cooking workshop at the Ritz-Carl- ton? He removed a tray of potatoes baked on a layer of salt from an oven. We split the potatoes in half when just cool enough to handle, scooped the flesh out and pushed the warm mass through a stand-up ricer. Back at the work table, Ohayon dusted the stain- less-steel surface with flour and pro- ceed to knead egg yolks, salt and flour into the riced potatoes, making a light dough that we rolled into snakes and cut into small squares. I produced some awkward-looking little dumplings, while the chef efficiently produced per - fectly even, square gems of potato and flour. We discussed the traditional gn- occhi cooking method detailed below, but Ohayon then showed me a differ - ent way: a good tip for the householder who needs only one or two servings at a time. He soaked a small handful of dried mushrooms in a cup of hot water un- til soft, then strained the water. After sauteing chestnuts, fresh mushrooms and garlic in olive oil, he seasoned the vegetables, added the mushroom-in- fused water to the pan, and cooked about 12 of my misshapen gnocchi in it. The sauce formed and the gnoc- chi cooked through; the whole thing took only a few minutes. The dump- lings stayed whole and the flour on them thickened the sauce to just the right luscious consistency. At the last minute, Ohayon chucked a handful of snow peas over the top and just al- lowed them to heat through. He then sprinkled seasoned bread crumbs over the whole and served it to me. Abso- lutely delicious, and the gnocchi’s looks had only improved. Extra gnoc- chi can be frozen.
The chef recommends that begin- ning cooks start by attending at least a few workshops (cooking courses and workshops are available in most towns these days). “For Israelis, food is part of our daily enjoyment, something we think about and plan for,” he says. “It’s really worth investing a little time to learn good home cooking.”
Ohayon has since moved to the non-kosher Herbert Samuel branch in Tel Aviv. Chef Mor Cohen is taking over the Ritz-Carlton kosher kitchen in Herzliya. Cohen acquired his culinary education in Le Cordon Bleu, London and after graduating, continued his career at the Ritz Club in Piccadilly. He worked as sous chef in the Herbert Samuel restaurant in Tel Aviv for six years before being promoted to chef in 2 013 . Judging by the high standards that the Ritz-Carlton sets, Cohen’s kitchen will be as successful as Ohayon’s. •
Herbert Samuel (kosher) The Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya 4 Hashunit Street, Herzliya Pituah Potato gnocchi with chestnut/mushroom sauce Serves 4 For the gnocchi: kosher salt ½ kg. floury white potatoes, skins on 2 large egg yolks 1 tsp. salt ¼ tsp. ground black pepper 1 cup all-purpose flour plus more for later (chef Kobi Ohayon recommends using Italian 00 flour if available).
For the chestnut/mushroom sauce: ¼ cup olive oil ¼ cup unsalted butter 100 grams peeled, roasted chestnuts (available ready to cook in vacuum-sealed bags) 100 grams fresh white or brown button mushrooms (in Israel, a small commercial basket of mushrooms) 4 cloves peeled garlic Salt and ground pepper to taste To garnish: ¼ cup fine, seasoned and toasted bread crumbs Optional: 50 grams sweet peas Preheat the oven to 180°. Put a thick layer of kosher salt down on a baking tray. Place the potatoes on the salt. Bake until slightly overdone and dry-looking, about an hour and 10 minutes. Remove the potatoes and set aside to cool until you can handle them. Halve the potatoes and scoop the flesh out into a bowl. Mash the flesh very thoroughly, or put it through a ricer.
Add the yolks, flour, salt and pepper. Stir until a dough forms.
Flour the work surface and place the dough on it. Divide the dough into quarters.
Roll each quarter of the dough into a “snake” about 1.5 cm. tall. Cut each “snake” into squares about 2.5 cm. Dust the gnocchi with more flour as needed to pre- vent sticking.
Boil a large pan of salted water. Cook the gnocchi in it and cook until they float to the surface, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the water to a large platter. Place in the oven at lowest heat to stay warm.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the chestnuts