Chefs Moshe Gamlieli (upper right) and Itamor Navon of Mona. Photo courtesy of Mona. Kim and Kanye dine with the Mayor of Jerusalem at Mona. Photo copyright of the Daily Mail.
By Danielle Frum
In the coming weeks I’d like to introduce you to some of the best and exciting chefs who are taking the Mediterranean diet to the next level, producing sophisticated and distinctly Israeli fusion cuisine not to be missed on your next visit. Each one has agreed to share a signature recipe for FT&V’s weekly “Seasonal Shabbat” feature. Even if you can’t get to Israel, you can bring some of its flavors to your Friday night dinners.
So first up: chefs Moshe Gamlieli and Itamar Navon, who took over the elegant and popular Mona restaurant in Jerusalem five months ago. There is a reason Kim and Kanye stopped by to dine here on their visit to the Holy Land in April, where they baptized their daughter North.
Located in what was a 19th century Ottoman mansion-turned-art-school (Bazelel, the first art school in Israel), for 40 years Mona served mainly as a non-Kosher bar to the city’s political activists and intellectuals, being one of the few places to drink on a Friday night. in subsequent decades, it became a more formal, intimate restaurant serving French-based cuisine. Four years ago, Mona was bought by the owners of a popular restaurant based in the famous Mahane Yehuda market, where Gamlieli, now 28, worked as a chef. The menu changed to a more seasonally-based one. Then, earlier this year Gamlieli and Navon, 30, were able to able to secure financing to buy the restaurant. They completely upended its menu. “We were unleashed,” the two young chefs told me, smiling.
To do what? As they say themselves, “it’s hard to refine our cuisine to one style.” Gamlieli has cooked in the United States, France and London; Navon for his part has worked in London and Australia. “We are always trying to learn,” Navon said. “Sometimes our dishes are classic. Sometimes they are very young.”
The menu itself appears simple: Printed in Courier font, the descriptions are terse.
I asked the chefs what was their most innovative dish. To my surprise, Gamlieli replied, “The tomato consommé. It is outstanding.” What could be so outstanding about a consommé? Not wishing to leave me in doubt, he disappeared to the kitchen. He returned with a small glass bowl. empty except for a little pile of chopped garnish — some dried olives, oregano, Swiss chard, and fennel leaf. On the side was an equally small glass pitcher filled with a clear, cold liquid. Gamlieli poured the liquid over the garnish, offered me a spoon and invited me to taste it.
“Where is the tomato?” I asked. He nodded at me again to taste.
What I tasted was indeed outstanding. The soup, while completely colorless, was rich with the flavor of the freshest tomatoes, cucumbers and other elements of an Arabic salad — which in fact was what the chefs had based it upon. The secret lay in blending the vegetables all together, and leaving the mixture to drain overnight through cheesecloth. It makes for the perfect starter to a Shabbat lunch, not least because it is made the previous night and served chilled. Plus, there is that WOW factor from the very first sip.
Next week I will take you to Tel Aviv and Dalida, in the Levinsky market, where chef Dan Zoaretz is fusing Israeli dishes with North African and Western European elements.