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Published Friday, November 6, 2015

Israeli Chefs Help Fuel Wave of Culinary Interest

By Matt Robinson

Ilan Barniv of Bonapita

As centers of intellectual and technological development, Boston and Israel maintain strong business ties. Now, a growing group of restaurants in Boston with ties to Israel have been feeding that progress.


Popular private chef and caterer Ilan Barniv opened Bonapita in Downtown Crossing in June 2014 and enjoys daily lines out the door.

Having grown up in an historic family bakery (Lendner’s) in Jerusalem’s Mea Sharim district, Barniv developed early on a talent for dealing with dough, one that he now brings to his Israeli-designed pita maker that pumps out hundreds of fluffy, delicious pockets an hour. After studying culinary arts and serving under such top chefs as Tamar Blay and Ezra Kedem of the famed eatery Arcadia in Israel, Barniv came to the U.S. to study at the Johnson & Wales University in R.I.

“The culinary experience in Israel is extraordinary,” Barniv observed, noting how flavors from all over the world are incorporated and how all the ingredients are grown nearby and prepared fresh. “This is what we are trying to bring to Boston with Bonapita… exceptional quality, wonderful flavors, great value and fast service.  That’s the Bonapita way of life!”

While in Providence, Barniv also earned an MBA that has helped him handle the often complicated and overwhelming business elements of owning and operating a restaurant. 
Though he was eager to make his mark in Boston, Barniv took his time to find just the right spot.

“It took almost three years to find the available space at 49 Franklin Street,” he said. The space, which was previously a chapel and still has a hand-wrought ceiling, is accented by Barniv’s own woodwork and tables that he designed and built himself, and currently features an installation that is part of the Design Museum of Boston’s Design for Dining exhibition, as well as a new homemade hummus bar.

“When The Millennium Tower opens right next door to Bonapita next spring,” Barniv predicts, “we expect to have a whole new group of friends to introduce to the restaurant.”


Moshe and Danny Sander of Cafe Jaffa

A few blocks away is the long-popular Cafe Jaffa, which is run by Israeli brothers (by way of Romania) Moshe and Danny Sander.

“I was inspired by my mother’s passion for cooking and baking,” Moshe explained, adding that his mother was the regularly the one asked to cook for any neighborhood simchah. “We also had an uncle who had a restaurant in Haifa.”

Having come to Boston for college, Moshe found himself working in various restaurants around town. When he decided it was time to open his own, he called his brother and, in 1991, they opened the Gloucester Street eatery, and have been wowing locals and tourists alike with such favorites as the vegetarian Mosaic Plate and their signature potato bourekas.

“We wanted to bring a little bit of Israel to the heart of Boston,” Moshe explained, citing the Cafe’s authentic decor and food, “and we have been, for 24 years!”


Platters at Inna’s Kitchen

Having started in Newton Center, Inna’s Kitchen, which specializes in Jewish cuisine from around the world, recently opened a second location in the newly opened Boston Public Market with the help of Inna’s son, Alex.

“I think my mom… and I share that instinct to want to take care of others,” suggested Alex Khitrik, 31, who grew up in the business and found his own passion for baking, cooking and serving food. While neither he nor his mother have any formal training, they have been successful in creating and delivering food for many years. ”I am certainly inspired by my mom and how she experiments with, and adapts, traditional recipes in creative ways.”

While the original location of Inna’s Kitchen in Newton is meaningful to the Khitriks as it is near their adopted home and part of a strong Jewish and culinary community (members of which often return for a from-scratch breakfast and lunch on the same day), the new location near the Holocaust Memorial has special meaning for Alex as well.

“Every time I see it I think about how our mission as a business is connected to that history,” he said.

Though their ties to the Boston area are strong, Alex and Inna both find time to visit family in Israel many times each year.

“I feel at home there,” Alex said, recalling an early trip with Birthright Israel. “I feel connected to the people and the land.”


Avi Shemtov of The Chubby Chickpea 

Avi Shemtov of the Canton-based Chubby Chickpea food truck shares his Middle Eastern cuisine throughout Boston and beyond, through its Mobile Food Truck and catering. Known for its authentic falafel, Chubby Chickpea also offers other unique treats, such as beer-battered flower petals.

“I grew up in kitchens around my father, who is an Israeli chef,” says Shemtov, who recently released his debut cookbook ‘The Single Guy Cookbook.’ He was my biggest inspiration both from a culinary standpoint and from an entrepreneurial standpoint.”

Though he has spent most of his life in Massachusetts, Shemtov is an Israeli citizen. “It is a part of who I am,” he said of his spiritual homeland, “and somewhere I identify with very closely.”

Shemtov hopes to reveal the Jewish State’s dynamism through his creative cooking.

“I try to cook like an Israeli,” he said, “and innovate as only Israel can.”

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