With a vibrant smile and boundless energy, Chef Haya Molcho is always on the go, keeping tabs on her three NENI restaurants and jetting around the world gathering inspiration. Her menus incorporate the flavors of her native Israel—items like flavored hummus, caramelized eggplant, and the classic Sabich—along with spices, ingredients, and techniques from her travels. With her newest location, the chef is bringing these delicious flavors and her laid back-style to Berlin. We recently caught her on a visit to the city to talk about her passion for cooking, favorite ingredients, and world travels.
How did you get interested in cooking?
I started early. My father was a dentist and he went with a drill all over the little towns in Israel. He went from one little town to the other, and instead of money he got food. Tomatoes, chicken, eggs, everything came from the farmers. We had to do something with this food, so my mother would cook for the whole neighborhood, she would cook for everybody. The neighborhood was poor, nobody had anything, and so the house was full of guests, my aunts, my grandmother, me. Everyone cooked.
So this was the beginning, when I was a child. Then I studied something completely different in Germany, philosophy. And I married an artist and we went to Vienna. And after Vienna, we spent seven years living all around the world, in India, China, Morocco, all over. My husband was on the stage performing and I was in the kitchen. This was the start of my learning to work in the open kitchen and to have respect of other cultures.
This was the start of my career. Well, not my career. My career was my four boys. I stayed at home when they were born, up until they were seven years old. And I started with a catering company when Nadiv, the youngest, was 13. But I always made parties and things and I was always cooking. Cooking was my passion, the same as today. The Israeli kitchen, I call it the eclectic kitchen. It’s a collection of the world. People from Morocco, Romania, Bulgaria all came to Israel, and of course every mother brought her dishes. And then they are making their own dishes inspired by the fresh foods of Israel. This is my kitchen. NENI is this kitchen.
Tell us about NENI. What is the concept?
NENI is my four boys. Nuriel, Elior, Nadiv, and Ilan. Three of them work with me and one does film and art in New York and Los Angeles. One is also DJing; he does music here. Nuriel is in charge of marketing. So I think with the passion and the family together, it’s a lifestyle. It’s music, art, food, nice decoration. This is NENI.
We have another very nice location in Vienna. It’s a mixture of a Tel Aviv beach and Bauhaus and it’s really beautiful. Everything is white and there are about 700 young people always dancing there. If you are in Vienna, you are always welcome. We’re also doing items—hummus, tahini, lentils, salads—for supermarkets all over Austria. We just started that two years ago.
And why did you decide to come to Berlin? What attracted you about the city?
We never decided. We never made a request. The projects always come to us. The supermarkets came to us. 25 Hours came to us. The projects develop and we decide to do them or not. And with these people, we love to do it. We love the 25 Hours. It’s so special. They came to us and it’s very NENI; we have wood, we have nature, they took a lot of elements from NENI here.
And how are you finding Berlin?
I am in the kitchen a lot while I am here. German cooks have to learn the mentality: it’s not just cooking, it’s a passion. My cooks in Austria have the passion already. It’s important for me. If a cook comes to me and asks how long his holidays are, then he won’t work for me. But if he comes and asks ‘What are you doing? What can I learn?’ then he has the biggest chance.
Is the menu similar at each location?
It’s of course NENI stamped, we have the hummus at all our locations. But here we have a bigger kitchen, so we can do more stuff. At NENI am Naschmarkt in Vienna, they have a very small kitchen, and I admire my cooks because we sometimes have 400 people come in a day. But I have a fantastic crew, young people that are full of passion. The cooks in Vienna have been with me for 5 years. We’re also doing items—hummus, tahini, lentils, salads—for supermarkets all over Austria. We just started this two years ago.
Do you have a favorite dish that you can tell us about?
Aubergine, eggplant, it’s my favorite. I put the whole eggplant on the grill and take it off just when it’s black. I make a ratatouille with this eggplant. It’s very nice, smoked. This is my favorite. And with eggplant, I make a hundred different recipes.
Tomatoes are also important to me, but I need very good tomatoes. I have someone who goes to buy organic tomatoes for me, like the ones back in Israel. For me, it’s important to have good produce. I have someone that’s doing garlic for me, a French guy. You just have to cut it with a knife and it’s like a cream.
So aubergine, tomatoes. Hummus, is also important. Tahini and really a lot. Sweet and salty and in the oven and out.
And do you have any upcoming plans or working on any new projects?
Yes. We are working now on NENI am Tisch, or NENI on the Table. It’s a line of whole salads, nice, modern, and simple, to bring to Germany. And then, let’s see. There are a lot of possibilities. I’m going to India at the end of this year—every year I go to India for three weeks to do yoga, relax—and then the ideas come. I get a lot of inspiration in India. This is my ritual and this is very important for me, to calm down once a year in India.
NENI Berlin, Budapester Straße 40, 10787 Berlin
Interview & Text by Katherine Sacks
Photos by Ashley Ludaescher
Original POST: http://atthetable.co/haya-molcho-neni-berlin/