Voices of Jerusalem: Holy City Tango

Loren Minsky speaks to Guy Kimchi, 33, Israeli chef and owner of the Latin American restaurant La Boca in Jerusalem.

Voices of Jerusalem: Holy City Tango (photo credit: Courtesy)
Voices of Jerusalem: Holy City Tango
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"The idea for La Boca came to me toward the end of culinary travels through Latin America," recalls Guy Kimchi, the owner of La Boca in the German Colony in Jerusalem. The restaurant is the only Latin American restaurant in Jerusalem encompassing the diverse flavors of countries in both South and Central America.
Guy began cooking whilst serving in the IDF’s Golani Unit in Lebanon in 1997. "Though all of the ingredients were frozen, boxed or vacuum packed, I got great feedback from the guys who encouraged me to become a chef," says Guy. "At the end of my army service, I brought home with me a book of recipes that I'd invented under challenging circumstances."
After the army Guy made up his mind to train as a chef and went to Hadassah College. Following a six-month stage at the Dan Hotel in Eilat, he worked at Rafael, a popular bistro chef restaurant in Tel Aviv under well-known Israeli chef Rafi Cohen.
Guy then decided to go traveling with the aim of expanding his culinary horizons. Guy's girlfriend, Ricki, who he knew from the community he grew up in, joined him for some of his travels. He began by working in a restaurant in Madrid for three months in order to make money to support his travels in South America.
Guy was intent on finding new cuisine, and traveled around Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil and Argentina. He lived with a family in Cuba where they cooked meals together. "Although I have warm memories of the experience, I am not a fan of Cuban cooking with its emphasis on boiling and ham as a major ingredient," shares Guy. "I enjoyed the sweetness of Brazilian food with is tropical fruits and coconut milk, the spicy peppery Mexican dishes, and the Spanish seafood-free paellas."
"But the best meal I have ever had was in Bariloche in Argentina,” Guy recalls.“The restaurant, Don Alberto, used home-grown ingredients and vegetables– even the meat was from the cows out in the back-yard!" The owner liked Israelis, and Guy offered to cooked Middle Eastern food like shakshuka and couscous dishes,in exchange for authentic cooking tips.
After a few blissful months of sampling the best in Latin American cuisine, Guy found himself in the lively neighborhood of La Boca ("mouth" in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the tango was born. "I liked the name La Boca for a restaurant, which got me thinking how little Latin American cuisine was available in Israel," says Guy. "I had a light bulb moment and decided to open up a restaurant back home offering all the amazing tastes and flavors I'd experienced on my travels."
"I knew that Israel already had South American-inspired meat restaurants, but I wanted to offer a wider menu with more exotic and colorful flavors," says Guy. However, it was important to Guy to adapt the cuisine to the Israeli palate, and to offer food that was not too sweet, vinegary or spicy. Although he originally thought to open the restaurant in Tel Aviv, he began looking in Jerusalem when he realized the unique opportunity to cater to the kosher market, many of whom had never sampled real Latin American cuisine.
Guy opened the restaurant in 2005 on Emek Refaim Street, on the second floor of a restored historic Templar house that previously housed a well-known hairdressing salon. Guy chose the area for its large kosher contingent and its chic bourgeois and Anglo-Saxon crowd. "The beginning was very difficult," says Guy. "Working in a kitchen and being a restaurant owner are very different things."However, after two years things started to improve and customers started returning more and more. It was around this time that Guy and Ricki got married.
Today the restaurant has a long list of loyal regulars. "There are some customers who come to the restaurant every year on Pessah, and make their reservations one year in advance – American-style," grins Guy. Diners enjoy the choice of cuisine from several Latin American countries – from Mexican tortilla with red tuna ceviche to a hearty Argentinian grilled steak.
Guy works long hours both in the kitchen as well as managing the business. Although Ricki worked in the restaurant for one month as a waitress, she now works at Israel Bank.
"Ricki is from Spain and cooks delicious Spanish food," says Guy. These days Guy eats left-over kiddie-friendly meals when he comes home late at night, like cold schnitzel and pasta Napolitano. Guy and Ricky have three children, including a four-week old baby, and live in HarShmuel near Ramot. "We have great views and I prefer the slower pace and energy of Jerualem to Tel Aviv, where I lived for a brief stint."
Guy was born in Givon, a small community near Jerusalem. His family came from Spain hundreds of years ago and first lived in the Old City before moving to Yemin Moshe. "I grew up with authentic food, a real combination of Israeli and Spanish flavors," remembers Guy.
"Israel is my home; it's the best and most beautiful place to live in the world. I also love Israeli food, which is really a mix of what its immigrants bring with them. It's so special that one can enjoy Iranian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Moroccan and other various culinary traditions in one country."
Guy relaxes by running in nature, taking bicycle tours, and heading to the Dead Sea. He also enjoys traveling and makes sure to go on tasting trips to new restaurants in New York and France in order to keep abreast with trends. "I often travel with my family and although it can be challenging, it's also rewarding and so much fun," says Guy, a real family man.
"What would I be in another lifetime? I would spend more time with my kids. Or, I would be a karate sensai," says Guy, who has his black belt in karate.
Plans for the future include opening up a small dairy restaurant on Derech Hebron with good coffee and home-made pastries. "I have been around so much meat and am looking forward to something completely different," says Guy. "I also aim to keep bettering what we offer at La Boca." ITravelJerusalem.com is a new online international travel portal offering all the latest information on things to do, places to eat and places to stay in Jerusalem