Chef Efraim Nahon, who grew up working in kitchens overseas in Israel, Greece, and more, has found a reason to call New York home for the past ten years. Originally making a name for himself as executive chef at Taboon, he’s since taken his talents to Barbounia, as well as Bustan, but is now back at Taboon where it all began. I recently went “Behind the Taboon” with Chef Efraim to talk about how he got started as well as all things New York, including it’s ever-evolving culinary landscape.

What was it like first starting out in New York?

I was brand new to the business here. I also had to figure out the food here, because not everything I was doing overseas would work here. Some things did, some things definitely did not. It took a while to adjust, but after a lot of hard work and even more patience, I began seeing good results and receiving great reviews.

You’ve been in kitchens all over the world, what’s kept you in New York for ten years straight?

It’s a great city to cook in, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. This is still a dream for many in Israel. This city and its people make it easy for me to stay, you don’t get bored here very fast. How can you get over this city? The people, the food, it’s always evolving, which keeps things exciting, and keeps me challenged. I love it here.

Do you remember your earliest food memory?

Anything made from the Russian side of my family; the pirogues, all homemade, absolutely incredible. But it’s hard to pick just one memory when my whole childhood was constantly about food. I lived with my whole family, immediate, as well as aunts and uncles and cousins, under the same roof. We’d have three different homemade meals everyday. We never understand the idea of frozen food you’d heat up. Everyday we’d have a new freshly made meal. We weren’t rich, this was just how it was done in our home. I really had no childhood dreams of being in the kitchen, but as you can see, food has always been part of my life and it’s something I’ve always loved.

Do you think you’ll ever stray from this type of cuisine? Try something new?

I can’t imagine myself in a restaurant without an oven like the taboon. I need the old fashioned instruments. It’s not just for the bread either, I can make almost anything in there. And I think this is just the beginning for this style of eating. I love mezze style, with people sharing foods, getting to try a lot, many plates on the tables. That’s a great dining experience. I would love to see more of it.

As far as this style cuisine, I like it because there are really no boundaries. I call it Middleterranean. I can make it more Israeli, more Greek, a little Moroccan too. My food is like Israel, a mixture and combination of many cultures finding unity together. This food is my childhood; it’s what I love. For me making food is about fantasizing flavors and senses from childhood and recreating those in the kitchen. This food is where I come from, it’s who I am.

Any ingredients you can’t live without?

Definitely Tahini. If I don’t have ten huge buckets in my storage, we gotta order more.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given? Or any words you live by?

I got something from each chef I’ve worked with. My experience is like one big puzzle, with each chef I’ve worked with acting as one piece of the larger picture. From early on I was told to just keep my mouth shut and do what I’m told. Overtime, you develop what you want to do, but it takes time and patience to discover. I think it’s also very important to look at what you are doing and constantly ask yourself how you can make it better, what can you improve?

What would you choose as your last meal?

My Moroccan grandmother’s Rosh Hashana dinner for the Jewish New Year. She cooked for three days straight and made an amazing dinner, I couldn’t stop eating; the cous cous, the meat, everything. And it all came from her heart because she loves seeing people enjoying her food. In the same way, I enjoy seeing people enjoying my work. That’s important to me.

Behind the Taboon

 

To learn more about Taboon check out our prior write up on the restaurant and the food.

 

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About The Author

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Healthy Eater

Southern girl at heart, minus the fried food. Fresh on the NY food scene, hungry for a healthy way to live in this food capital.