Chef Eyal Shani has officially brought Miznon to Canada with the opening of their restaurant in Toronto. We Explore Canada contributor Carol Ann Davidson writes about what makes Miznon unique, how they incorporate local flavours, and also had the chance to chat with the famed Israeli chef.
Two days before I was invited to the opening of the first Miznon restaurant in Canada, I interviewed the internationally renowned Israeli chef Eyal Shani at his home in Tel Aviv. His artful approach to food and the manner in which he communicated his respect for the ingredients are key to his success. His description made my mouth water and infused my brain with a new respect for the humble offerings I was soon to experience.
Take the cauliflower, for example. I used to kill it by breaking it up into florets and boiling each one to death. No, wrong! Chef Shani, known at the King of Cauliflower said “ A cauliflower is to be respected, like a flower without removing the petals. I first cook it, then roast it. I was the first person to do that.”
Then two days later I ate it. It was presented to me nestled in crushed white translucent paper, a flower, indeed. The taste followed the visual into a rhapsody of tenderness, so smooth, that it melted in my mouth.
More About Miznon in Toronto
Miznon, meaning Kiosk in Hebrew, is one of forty of Chef Shani’s restaurants worldwide including London, Paris, Miami, Boston, New York, Las Vegas and Singapore.
The first Miznon opened in Tel Aviv in 2011- a celebration of Israeli street food with pita being its centerpiece. Shani told me that the concept for each restaurant is “to translate into a pita, the character of each city”. In the Paris Miznon, he serves minute steak and boeuf bourguignon; in London, fish and chips and all day English Breakfast pitas. (The pita itself is proprietary, from one of he Middle East’s oldest pita bakeries.)
The pita I ate in Miznon Toronto was filled with a jumble of fresh, bright green beans, lightly salted with a squeeze of lemon, and as light and fluffy as a cloud. The woman sitting at the table next to me, held up her pita filled with ‘Rotisserie Broken Chicken, seared with scallions & za’atar, tahini and spicy green peppers’, proudly displaying it to all around with a joyful smile.
Destined to Be a Different Kind of Chef
Eyal Shani’s joy in imagining such food, began early. As a child, his agronomist, vegan grandfather took control of his diet, offering him only raw vegetables until he was five or six years old. He instilled in the young Eyal a deep appreciation for the essence of each vegetable he consumed.
“My grandfather ate just raw vegetables; a clean taste and texture of each ingredient is a whole world unto itself. Each dish is carrying all the elements of the universe. Naked taste, no masking, pure, vibrant, colourful, a lot of information coming from each ingredient. There is a spirit that comes from the onion, you have to know what is the onion’s wish.
Take flowers in a vase. Where shall I place them, on a table, in front of the window? You end up placing them where they seem to feel most comfortable; same as an onion or any ingredient. Take Pita, for example. creating a pita is complicated. It’s a vertical journey. Each bite has to be different. The bottom of it is an architectural endeavour, you come open to it, bite to bite.”
I must admit I found his passion mesmerizing and it’s no wonder that Shani is considered one of the leading figures in the Israeli culinary scene. He starred in the TV series Food for Thought and was a key participant on the panel of judges during the past six seasons of Israeli Master Chef.
Dining at Miznon
When I walked into Miznon, centrally located on Bay Street just north of Bloor in Toronto, the first vision was that of fresh tomatoes on tables, bushels of potatoes in sacks by the front window, cauliflowers congregating above a long open bar, lean hot green peppers casually lying on counter tops- a veritable open market married to a inviting, atmosphere bustling with pulsating energy.
An enthusiastic employer was weaving his way through the 2,000 square foot space holding a skillet burning with sage. Apparently it is a healing and cleaning herb and apparently this is a ritual enacted regularly.
Clusters of guests sat at tables near the floor to ceiling windows and on milk crates that function both as seats and tables scattered on stadium style benches along one wall. All the walls are art forms in themselves; olive coloured chalk boards covered with expressive chalk art. One wall is covered with names of cities around the world where, in wild calligraphy, the Miznon and his fine dining HaSalon restaurants are located.
Dishes Best Served Shared
Chef Shani told me, “Men and women eat differently. Women share food, men are not so generous at all…men share meat but not vegetables…they share cauliflower…because they recognize it as a whole organ, like an animal…like eating an animal without killing it.”
Sounds a bit like the hunter gatherer days of yore.
While I was eating my own delicious pitas, I looked around to see what the men and women were doing. I hate to differ with Chef Shani, but they were all tasting each others’ food with forks and dare I say, their hands. It seems that the brilliant chef’s food has softened the hearts of the hunters.
A coda: I asked Chef Shani what he would choose for his own dinner at home. “A simple omelette, fresh pita and butter” was his reply.
Sounds good to me, especially if he is making it.
Carol Ann Davidson has been a travel writer since 2009. Her vast travel experiences have resulted in newspaper and magazine articles worldwide. Previously she has been a radio and television producer and on-air interviewer in Canada as well as Director of Program Acquisitions for Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Discovery Civilization.