“Food to me is an easier way to show love—that’s what I found,” says Einat Admony, chef/owner of Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat and Taïm restaurants in New York City. “So if it’s hard for me to say to somebody ‘I love you,’ I will cook for him.”
Admony grew up in a Jewish Orthodox family in Israel and was surrounded by food; she finds being in the kitchen extremely peaceful. “It’s the place that I can channel love, grief, any kind of emotion through which has helped me a lot in my life.”
She began cooking at the tender age of 7 years old, helping her mother prepare Shabbat. Years later, Admony served in the military—it’s mandatory for both men and women in Israel to serve for three years and two years, respectively. “I was a driver and I became a cook after a few months,” she recalls, preparing meals for the generals. Soon, she was the head chef. “So every time in my life, I found myself as the one that’s cooking for everybody. And there is one thing I figured out, that this is something I can do forever.”
Admony came to New York City in 1999 with a plan of completing a three month stage under a top toque, and then bringing her new knowledge back to Israel. “A lot of things changed—this is for a bigger version of the video,” she says. “What kept me here [was] love.” Admony’s husband, Stefan Nafziger, is her business partner.
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In 2005, she opened Taïm on Waverly Place in the West Village; the hole-in-the-wall had a lean five seats. “I never thought I would open,” she admits. “It’s fast-casual falafel [restaurant]. I work in fine dining restaurants—and then I’m opening a falafel [shop], it was outrageous, even for me.”
After missing being behind the line, Admony opened Balaboosta five years later. “I’m a chef and I need to cook. How many more falafel specials can I do?”
At Balaboosta—a Yiddish term meaning the perfect housewife or homemaker—the menu draws inspiration from Admony’s Israeli roots. Dishes include eggplant escabeche with labne and challah chips; burnt flour pappardelle with wild mushroom, spinach, black garlic; and a spice-rubbed skirt steak with rainbow peewee potatoes, cipollini and tomato vinaigrette.
“I remember the first write-up that came—I think it was the New York Times,” she says. “And it said, ‘let’s see if the queen of falafel can actually cook.’ Oh yeah, I can.”
“I feel the most comfortable, the most on ease when I cook the way [that] I grew up,” she furthers. “I want to feed my customers the way I feed my two kids. I can take a very simple ingredient like peasant stuff and then make them delicious and upgrade to a level that is like a fine dining restaurant.”
If she could return to her former 18-year-old soldier self and look at where she is today, “I would be very proud of where I am now—and my food.”
Video and photos shot by Kathryn M. Sheldon, an award-winning producer, photographer and editor with a background in still photography and television production. Having produced food and beverage content for seven years at NBC, she is currently producing video content for the MICHELIN Guide.