We’re counting down the days until we open the doors to our fully kosher community hub for Brighton & Hove next summer, and we’re delighted that Israeli Chef Yanir Mrejen will join us to lead our catering team.
An outstanding and imaginative chef, Yanir has worked in top international restaurants alongside world-renowned chefs, including Gordon Ramsay. Yanir recently helped launch Novellino Bistro in London, and we are proud to be working closely with Novellino to benefit from their experience in creating superb kosher restaurants. Yanir will be relocating to Brighton & Hove with his wonderful family to run the whole catering facility, from the bakery to the bistro restaurant and from menus to cook-along events.
We recently spoke to Yanir to find out more about his experiences training under Gordon Ramsay and to get a sneak peek into the delicious menu options we have to look forward to at our restaurant.
What made you want to be a chef?
I think I’ve always wanted to cook, even when I was 6 or 7 I was making salads and dishes with my family. But there was definitely a moment in my life that decided my career change and gave me my purpose to become a chef. After I left the army I experienced a severe terror incident in Israel that changed my perspective on life. As cooking was always something I loved, I decided to get experience working in hospitality and begin my training to become a chef. In 2005 I sent an application letter to Gordon Ramsey to work in his restaurant and I never looked back.
Can you tell us more about your experience working for Gordon Ramsay?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with quite a few famous chefs. I trained with Gordon Ramsay when I first started out (although I only got to work with him around four times a year), but despite his TV persona, he’s actually a really nice guy to work with. I was also grateful to work with OBE Chef Oliver Peyton. But as much as I loved being a London Chef, it was also an incredibly tough and fast-paced environment. As soon as I became a father I realised that being a parent comes first and I couldn’t manage the long hours anymore, so I moved away from the industry and started working in kosher restaurants.
You’re now the Head Chef for Novellino Bistro in London. What’s it like to run a kosher kitchen and what have been your challenges?
When you run a non-kosher kitchen, every ingredient is available and possible to use. You can create incredible dishes by combining unique flavours and textures to create something really special. But when you’re cooking in a kosher way, you have to keep in mind many dietary requirements that can sometimes be limiting, and substitutions (e.g. dairy-free cheese), doesn’t taste quite the same. It has made me work hard to find imaginative ways to recreate these flavours in a kosher way. It’s also a challenge with suppliers, as all elements of cooking need to be kosher, so if there’s a shortage of kosher margarine for example that’s key to making a delicious fondant, it can get a bit tricky to deliver a quality meal.
“The restaurant will definitely be a real fusion. The menu will be based on French bistro cuisine, but elevated with delicious Mediterranean mezze and fresh, earthy dishes. It will be fine dining, but simple and well thought out cooking.”
How would you describe your style as a chef and what are your favourite dishes to cook?
I really love combining textures together in my dishes. There’s always something soft, salty, crunchy on my plate. I enjoy using high-quality ingredients and prefer to make the cooking process simple to really showcase the elements of the dish. I don’t like cooking ingredients until they disappear! I want people to look down at their plate and know exactly what they’re eating. The influences in my cooking very much come from my family heritage in the Middle East. My grandmother came from Morocco, and my memories of her food is of so many incredible flavours and spices. In the last year I’ve also enjoyed learning to cook more traditional Ashkenazi style dishes too.
Can you give us a sneak preview of the menu at BNJC when we open next summer?
My menu will definitely be centred around fresh Mediterranean ingredients. I plan the dishes to be tasty, healthy, fresh and sourced from great suppliers. I really love mezze or tapas, so I plan to create a selection of tasty dips and dishes to share on the table to start each meal. I particularly love dishes with aubergine and tahini. People don’t know the secrets of how much you can create with aubergine! The restaurant will definitely be a real fusion. The menu will be based on French bistro cuisine, but elevated with delicious Mediterranean mezze and fresh, earthy dishes. It will be fine dining, but simple and well thought out cooking. We’ll also offer Ashkenazi staples like chicken soup, and other traditional dishes with a French twist, for example a delicious chicken pate rather than chopped liver. Ever had chopped liver with a pear and wine jam? It’s delicious.
Brighton is known as the vegan capital of the UK, will the menus at BNJC offer a variety of choices for all lifestyles?
We definitely plan to create menus that will be accessible to everyone. We plan for allergy tolerant options, such as gluten-free, nut-free and of course dairy-free with the many pareve options we will have to offer. Veganism is a growing community and we will make sure to have both vegetarian and vegan options for every meal. For example a selection of vegan sushi at our sushi bar, tasty vegan options in our bistro menu and vegan-friendly desserts (I especially love a delicious vegan carrot cake.)
What value do you think a kosher restaurant will bring to Brighton & Hove?
Currently, there are no kosher restaurants in Brighton & Hove and I really believe that bringing kosher options to any city is a real Mitzvah. Although it presents a challenge, it will be so worth it to provide the community with a really great place to eat, that just happens to be kosher. I hope our restaurant will bring good competition to the restaurant scene in Brighton. As the only kosher restaurant in the city, I want to go beyond what people expect. I’m really looking forward to getting to know the Brighton & Hove Jewish community and learn what they want to eat, and I hope to provide amazing food for the community to enjoy together.