Einat Admony on Great Ramen in NYC & Why to Check Your Ego
During her 10+ years as a New York City chef, Einat Admony has launched three successful restaurants (Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat and Taim), authored a stunning cookbook (“Balaboosta”) and competed with the best in the industry on reality TV (Esquire Network’s “Knife Fight”).
Einat Admony, Chef/Owner of Bar Bolonat
Having grown up outside of Tel Aviv, cooked in the Israeli army and traveled through Germany as a gypsy, her dishes seem magically infused with a colorful, open-minded and creative worldview. When not zipping around downtown Manhattan on her motorbike to check in on the various operations and staff at her beloved restaurants, she and her husband enjoy life in Brooklyn with their two young children. We recently chatted with her about her sources of inspiration, the ever-evolving perception of ethnic food and her favorite spot to grab a bite in NYC.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I take care of the kids in the morning, go to the gym or to the park to have a run (or try to) and then to the restaurant. Lately, I spend a lot of time at Balaboosta and then at Bar Bolonat. I have a Vespa so it’s very easy to run between the restaurants. I’m doing a lot of cooking now, working on a cookbook, maybe opening a new restaurant in LA. I’m going there in August to see, maybe. It’s in the very beginning stages.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Everything — just everything. It could be dining in a restaurant and something from dessert will take me to a savory place. Or a commercial billboard. I talk a lot with friends about food, and they can take me to a totally different direction.
Given the recent rise of chefs becoming media powerhouses, how do you think being a chef today is different compared to even a few years ago?
I don’t know. It’s funny because today young people are going to culinary school because they want to be on TV. I did a lot of different segments for the Food Network, and I enjoyed it. It’s great for the restaurant (and my ego), but I had a long, long way before I felt comfortable doing any of that. I spent eight years as a line cook. It’s a process. I didn’t jump from culinary school to TV in one day. I think some people are getting spoiled doing TV with no real cooking experience, knowledge or maturity.
In what ways has the state of ethnic cuisine in NYC (and the country) changed since you opened Taim in 2005?
It’s changed a lot. It was especially problematic with political things. On September 11th, I was in Israel. I had just gotten married the day before. I came back to the U.S. a year after and I remember when I came back, all the Middle Eastern places were closed — Egyptian, everything. Today it’s different. People separate food and politics. I was afraid with the war last year, and I was scared that the Israeli media was not making things look so good. Today, we’re seeing that maybe food can bring people together. People are much more open to all kinds of food. Everybody is a foodie now; there are so many bloggers and websites and places. It’s great that people are more open to all kinds of ethnic cuisine — Korean, Indian. The last few years there has been more about Israeli food. In New York there were only two falafel places when I first came here. I’m sure that there were many more, but it was impossible to find since no one was known for it. It’s nice to see a lot more shops now.
How has technology affected the way you run your business?
It helps and hinders sometimes — it can be both. A lot of sites are helping to give people better dining experiences and reservation experiences. But also, a lot of sites that have reviews (which I can’t really complain about because overall they are okay for us) — sometimes people get on there and are bored and scared to just call and communicate to the restaurant. Now they can sit in their PJs behind their computers, and I hate that. So with technology it’s always been both good and bad. Great things come from being able to improve, but then there’s all this other stuff, giving people power. And they love it.
What advice would you give aspiring restaurateurs?
Choose a different profession. [laughs] No, it’s not true. I look at myself, and I couldn’t do anything else. It’s in my blood. I need to cook. It’s always been like that and will always stay like that, but it’s getting hard. Young chefs say, “I want this, I want that,” but the truth is they’ll probably make much more money as an employee, as a chef with benefits. It’s hard for me to say, because I enjoy not working for anyone else. I know how hard it is to make money in this business. Advice? The minute you can control your ego, that’s what’s going to keep you okay. It’s hard and it’s nonstop on a daily basis, collaborating with my kitchen and the wait staff. I need their opinions to grow and to think better.
What’s your favorite NYC haunt?
I’ve been going to Ramen Lab lately, because they change chefs a lot. I really like what they’re doing. I go there every time they have a new chef. It’s two blocks away. I took my kids there; they love it. Another spot is Lulu & Po. It’s a tiny 30-seat place in Fort Greene across from my building. The food is so nice, delicious, simple, and we love it. There are a million small sandwich places I really like. I like Asian food a lot.