Rediscovering Jewish Cuisine with Chef Kalika

Located in Buenos Aires, at restaurant Mishiguene, roughly translating to ‘crazy’ in Yiddish, the cuisine here is anything but. In a lively atmosphere, it has found a place on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Bringing his Jewish-Argentinian roots, travels and culinary experience to his cuisine, Chef Tomás Kalika is making a name for himself on the world stage. We met Chef Kalika in Bogota and were intrigued.

Aspire Lifestyles: Your cooking is modern Jewish. It sounds like you were raised with Eastern European Ashkenazi cuisine and your professional background was cooking Sephardic cuisine in Israel. While cooking dishes from various areas, do you keep them fairly traditional or do you reinterpret to make them your own?

Chef Kalika: I grew up in a Jewish home where my grandmother’s cuisine was very important. The Jewish cuisine of Eastern Europe was her repertoire.

I started in Jerusalem as a chef but with a strong base of classic French cuisine. After starting in the cooking world with Eyal Shani as steward, I worked in the restaurant that Jacques Divellec opened in the same city. No doubt that the culinary world of Jerusalem was also important in my training. The wide variety of cuisines that make up the Israeli culinary culture is very large, the cuisines of the Mediterranean Levantine, North Africa, Europe and the Middle East, all coexist in the same city; the aromas of the market, the spices, the herbs of the mountains, the olive oil, the lamb, the legumes, all that was a foundational pillar in my formation.

Today in Mishiguene, we take the recipes of my grandmother, Olga and also those of many others. We bring them from the past to the present to recreate them from a modern optics, with current cooking techniques.

Aspire Lifestyles: What is your favorite dish from your childhood and do you prefer your version or the version of the family member who originally made it?

Chef Kalika: The favorite dish of my childhood are the varenikes of my grandmother Olga. The memory of my grandmother kneading those varenikes in her kitchen, her hands full of flour, the aroma of fried onions, the schmaltz and the gribenes. All this is linked to my emotional memory so it would be impossible to prefer any other dish to that which my grandmother with so much love and cariño (affection) for me.

Aspire Lifestyles: What is the most important value in cooking that you teach and stress to your kitchen team?

Chef Kalika: In Mishiguene, we have a mantra: make it worthwhile. It is a concept that I try to apply to each step and in each instance. Do not advance as automata but on the contrary advance with consciousness to make everything we do have meaning.

Aspire Lifestyles: When friends come to town, where do you take them, both to dine and to get an insider view of Buenos Aires?

Chef Kalika: Don Julio, Sudestada, Proper, Cuccina Paradiso, Florería Atlantico, Presidente Bar

Aspire Lifestyles: What has been your most memorable food destination (city/country)? Why?

Chef Kalika: There are many cities in which I am attracted by its diversity, breadth and style … Several cities come to mind, such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, New York, San Sebastian, Lima, Paris … but today I think Buenos Aires. It has grown and changed a lot. I think it’s the moment when Buenos Aires can begin to show itself as a destination and I choose it as my favorite.

Aspire Lifestyles: You get to take 5 chefs to dinner at any restaurant in the world. Which chefs do you bring along with you and where do you take them? Why those chefs and why that restaurant?

  • My grandmother Olga. I would take her to Mishiguene because she could not see everything that I achieved in recent years and because much of what we do in Mishiguene is in her honor. I would love to share with her the recipes we are developing and know her opinion about them.
  • Luis Andoni Aduriz. With Andoni I would walk the streets of New York and enter every place that we like and that calls our attention. A sort of tapas trip, but in New York. We would talk about gastronomy, friends, politics, friends and a bit of everything. Andoni is great. He is a dear friend, one of the most intelligent and irreverent chefs I’ve ever met… and most of all, talks with Andoni are always great and unforgettable.
  • German Martitegui. I would take him to Blue Hill. Because I think it has a lot to do with the look of German about the gastronomy industry, the care of the product and above all the producers. I know we would have a great time. I admire his work, his way of seeing gastronomy and because I think it is one of the fundamental pillars of what is happening with Argentine gastronomy today. I enjoy chatting with him a lot, he’s a guy with a very intelligent humor … he’s great.
  • Dan Barber. One of the best culinary experiences of my last years was in Blue Hill in the farm that has outside of NY. I felt overwhelmed by the incredible concept they created, with so much creativity and above all the incredible style with which they carry out each recipe. I would love to share a table with him. I would take him to Tegui – I think Barber could be fascinated with what German is doing in Argentina.
  • Harry Sasson, because Harry is adorable, because I enjoy spending time with him, because we have recently joined in a search that will come to light very soon. I would take him for hummus and falafel to Tel Aviv and Jersualem and make a tour to find the best of all … of course all accompanied by some cold beers.

Aspire Lifestyles: How has your placement on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list changed your life?

Chef Kalika: I am very honoured and I feel an incredible achievement to have entered this list with a concept like ours, wow! … But to be honest the 50 Best did not change my life. My life remains the same. I see the list as a tool that must be capitalized in an intelligent way to raise the bar with which gastronomy is created and projected in general. The list, if used in an intelligent and healthy way, provides greater visibility and helps restaurants to continue improving every day.

Photos courtesy of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants