How do you translate a modern eight-course tasting menu to an elegant take-home meal? The answer, as Yali Reichental found out, is that you can’t.
“Fine dining is sexy on the plate, but it’s really not sexy or practical as takeaway,” says the 27-year-old chef and owner of Tenxdining, an Israeli-inspired pop-up restaurant in Sydney's Bondi Beach. What started as two nights a month at Bondi's Good One cafe has, over time, taken over more regularly, as cafe owner Scott Brown allowed Tenxdining to produce dinners from his space every night.
Tenxdining opened last November, as an intimate 10-seater run by Reichental and his wife Emma Edis. The launch inspired their relocation from Tel Aviv just 18 months ago. Edis, an Australian, met Reichental in New York and they lived in Israel together before returning to her home country.
“We came to Sydney with a mission to open [our restaurant], but COVID took everyone by surprise,” Reichental tells SBS.
Before lockdown, the husband-and-wife team had been juggling their respective day jobs at Cho Cho San and Sean’s, while running Tenxdining's eight-course dinners on the side. But both soon found themselves out of work amid mass restaurant closures as pandemic trading restrictions hit the hospitality industry. Offering takeaway food was the only business option available to them now. Suddenly, they needed to come up with a new plan for Tenxdining – and fast.
Turns out Reichental didn’t have to look far from home for inspiration. It just so happens that his mother, Hagit Bilia, is a beloved Israeli food blogger and author of three popular cookbooks.
“My mum is kind of the Donna Hay of Israel,” he says and laughs. “So one day I just started flicking through her books and toyed with the idea of making really simple, fresh dinners that you would want to have when you’re stuck in the house.”
From his mum’s recipes came ideas for takeaway dishes like charred cauliflower, whole vegetables with fresh, vibrant sauces and smoky eggplant laced with tahini. All the things he could picture eating back in Tel Aviv.
The homely element is important to Reichental, if only because Tenxdining was built on the idea of breaking bread around the table at Shabbat – a concept that he cherished and missed. And these days, instead of bringing diners together over a shared meal, he is hoping to channel the memories of Shabbat with an old family recipe.
That dish is cholent – a traditional, slow-cooked Jewish stew that’s so good it’s known to start fights at his grandparent’s Saturday lunch.
“My mum is kind of the Donna Hay of Israel. So one day I just started flicking through her books and toyed with the idea of making really simple, fresh dinners that you would want to have when you’re stuck in the house.”
“The dish came from Germany. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors and it was kind of a ‘scraps stew’. You grabbed whatever you had, put it in a pot and cook for 12 hours,” says Reichental.
Traditionally made with a stock of shank bones, silan (date honey), tomatoes, garlic and charred onions, the prized part of the stew are the whole boiled potatoes that emerge red-brown and fluffy after the long cook.
“My grandma elevated her version with some soy sauce and ketchup, which wasn’t available back then … She taught mum how to make that. And mum taught me and all of my siblings how to make it. It’s very unconventional. Not quite a Jewish stew anymore – it’s better!”
Reichental recalls spending endless Saturdays at his grandparents’ home with an oversized pot of cholent at the centre of the family table, mixing and matching the stew with sides, choose-your-own-adventure style.
“Everybody has their way of eating cholent. We always have a lot of tahini on the table, salads, and you just move everything around and top up your plate until you’re happy.”
For his version at Tenxdining, the potato takes centre stage and is served whole on a bed of chickpeas and topped with tahini and zhug — a spicy coriander-based green sauce made popular in Israel by Yemenite immigrants.
And as tasty as the original version might be, he’s mindful of making his cholent slightly more ‘artery-friendly’.
“Shabbat in Israel has the most amount of heart attacks,” he says and laughs. “I don’t know if it’s because of the cholent or because of the fighting. But it’s one or the other.“
Serves 4-8 people
- 1 cup dried chickpeas
- 2 cups dried white beans
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 large brown onion, skin left on
- 1-2 kg beef or lamb shank (any other rough-cut that can be slow-cooked can also be used)
- 1 kg beef or lamb bones
- 2 cups barley
- 5-10 potatoes peeled
- 8 eggs
Sauce (for each litre in the pot)
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 tbsp ketchup
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp silan, honey or brown sugar
- 1 tsp black pepper
1. Start the recipe two days before, by leaving the chickpeas and white beans to soak overnight. Drain before using and set aside.
2. About 12 hours before you plan to serve the cholent, preheat the oven to low heat (100˚C).
3. Place a large ovenproof pot on a high heat and add the oil.
4. Roughly cut the onion into quarters, keeping the peel on, and sauté the onions in the pot until they become caramelised. Remove the pot from heat.
5. In a pan, sear each side of the shanks before adding them into the pot.
6. Add the bones, barley, chickpeas and white beans to the pot
7. Cut any medium-large potatoes in half before adding them to the pot. Keep small potatoes whole and place them into a pot.
8. Spread everything evenly throughout the pot. Add water until everything is submerged by about 5cm. It's important to keep track and measure out how much water you use as this will affect the quantity of sauce needed. You should be preparing one portion of sauce for every litre of water in the pot.
9. Place eggs, shell intact, on top. Close the lid, return the pot to heat and bring to a boil.
10. Make the sauce: you will need one portion of sauce for every litre of water in the pot. Combine the garlic, ketchup, soy, salt, silan and black pepper in a bowl. Mix until well combined.
11. When the pot comes to a boil, add sauce and stir it through evenly.
12. Return the lid to the pot and very carefully put the pot into the oven and cook for 12 hours. Check the water levels occasionally – you'll want to keep everything submerged, otherwise it will burn.
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