Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem executive chef Itzik Barak (Courtesy) (Sarka Babicka)
Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem executive chef Itzik Barak

Itzik Barak, executive chef at Jerusalem’s luxury-brand Waldorf Astoria hotel, was chosen to participate in a prestigious culinary competition in New York. “It’s a great honor for Israel,” he said.


The first-class Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem has announced its participation in the second year of Taste of Waldorf Astoria, a global culinary program of Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and the James Beard Foundation, the foremost culinary arts organization in the US.

The Jerusalem hotel’s executive chef, Itzik Barak, will compete with four other master chefs of Waldorf Astoria brand from New Orleans, Orlando, Beijing and Amsterdam. Each participating chef will prepare his or her unique recipe in New York on February 24, 2016, for a panel of culinary experts, who will decide the winning dish.

“It’s a great honor for Israel to get the recognition and to attend the competition in New York,” said Barak, who was born and raised in Jerusalem and lives with his wife and two children in the suburb of Mevaseret Zion.

In creating his tasty, aesthetically pleasing dish – sea bream coated with sourdough bread and eggplant, served with fresh salad dressed in extra-virgin olive oil, and adorned with tahini and swirls of colorful vegetables – Barak worked together with celebrated New York chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson.

JJ, of The Cecil and Minton’s restaurants in Harlem, one of the hottest areas in New York culinary life, is featured on the Forbes’ list of most promising chefs under the age of 30.

New York chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson

New York chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson (Atara Beck, UWI)

Speaking to the press last Thursday at the Jerusalem hotel, where Barak and JJ presented for the first time their signature “Seven Species” dish, JJ acknowledged that it was a new experience creating high-quality cuisine in a kosher kitchen, according to Jewish dietary laws. “Itzik was smart,” he quipped, for choosing fish rather than meat and thus avoiding complications such as the prohibition to mix meat with milk.

The name “Seven Species” seems appropriate for an Israeli product. It is taken from the bible, pointing to the seven agricultural staples in the Land of Israel.

“Our cooking is a little bit different,” Barak said, adding that he mixes traditional Israeli food with modern, international cuisine, using fresh ingredients from the market.

“We have a lot of fun together. It’s not my dish. It’s not JJ’s dish. It’s our dish….and I think we’re going to win!”

“We share ideas. Nobody insists is his way only. We mix,” JJ concurred.

The “Seven Species” is a “healthy dish – fresh fish, salad with fresh ingredients, herbs. Lots of color,” Barak continued, saying it went through “at least five reiterations. We’d go eat outside and then get new ideas, and then think that maybe we should change something.”

The quintessential Israeli ingredients include, for example, olive oil, dates, pomegranates – and “excellent wine,” he said.

Chef Itzik Barak and Chef JJ Taste of Waldorf Astoria

Chefs Itzik Barak (L) and JJ present their new dish. (Sarka Babicka)

The two met through networking, Barak explained. “We stay in touch by phone, internet, whatsapp. Today the world is big, and it’s also small.”

JJ’s trip to Israel was also an eye-opener. “He told me before he came that his impression of Israel was very different…just war,” Barak said.

“There are really good people here,” Johnson added. He also agreed that the “wine here is really good. The first time I had wine here, I asked where it was from.”

Indeed, the wonderful wine served with the “Seven Species” dish came from Flam Winery in the Judean Hills.

Guy Klaiman, general manager of Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, stated: “I am proud that chef Barak was elected to be one of the five master chefs to compete in the prestigious Taste of Waldorf Astoria competition. It is a great honor for Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem. This nomination, along with being awarded the best hotel in the Middle East and seventh best hotel in the world, is very exciting. We will continue to strive for service and quality of the highest levels.”

John Vanderslice, global head, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, praised Barak’s “wealth of culinary talent and expertise.”