If you ever visit Jerusalem, you better not miss Rachel’s booth. I know, it sounds like a simple sandwich place, but trust me- there is so much more to it.
When walking around the upscale Rechavia neighborhood (built at the early 1900s), it is so much fun to find this small island in the middle of the street. One step in, and you feel like you’re in an amazing bubble. One bite- and you receive new wisdom, feeling like you have known Rachel forever. The couple of hours I planned to spend at her charming booth-like sandwich place, transformed into a full day fiesta, accompanied by her great food, friends, and random visitors. Actually, it’s hard to tell who is who, since she behaves as if all are her own close family.
Rachel’s Kitchen is very much inspired by her Spanish roots. Born and raised in an old house in Jerusalem, she is from a Spanish-Jewish family. “At first, When I entered Master Chef, I felt that maybe I am just not good enough. But then I realized all I needed was to connect to my home, my roots, what I’ve been raised on. Just cook from my heart”. And indeed, it worked- she not only conquered the 2nd place at the final competition, but also the hearts of millions of Israelis.
Before we even start talking, Rachel invites me to sit at the table while she disappears. The table fills up with so many magical plates, I can’t tell where I should start. Beautifully stuffed vegetables, so delicate and creamy, the best I have ever tried. The bruschetta with mushrooms is magical, the aubergine- carpaccio like salad- I can’t stop. What can I tell you? Luckily Rachel’s friend reminded me to take pictures, otherwise, I would have no proof that I was there!
In seeking her roots, Rachel spent a couple of years in Spain. You can see a reflection of this on her plate and food. “This place is very much a Tapas Bar” says Rachel, “My mother used to tell me that the whole idea of tapas was to have small dishes to accompany the alcohol when hanging out, while making sure you won’t get back home too stuffed for your mother’s food,” she says.
“I don’t consider myself a chef, and I don’t know if I cook Spanish, Moroccan or any other food. It just comes from my heart, and it’s inspired by all the kitchens I happened to meet in my life, especially my home. My Father is from an area in Spain close to Morocco, so it also has inspiration from there. You can meet many Spanish dishes that are originally from Morocco. When the Moroccan food arrived in Spain, it went through some transformational process, that made it a little more delicate”.
“I am writing for people who might be living far away, what should they do to somehow connect to your food, and taste these flavours?”
“You better have really good olive oil, and thyme, I use it everywhere… when I was a child I remember that we didn’t have thyme in Israel, so when anybody traveled to Spain, he had to bring a huge amount of it for my mother” she paused, “But you know, the most important is that no matter what ingredients you have at home- cook from the bottom of your heart, put your soul in it, and it will be delicious, even if it all comes from canned products.”
Rachel always thinks of how to make comforting and delicious food. “When you want to eat at your mom’s place, but she is far away- come to me” she says. That’s why she is choosing to share with me a recipe for a traditional Spanish Pastel De Atun, which might come in so many versions, but the overall idea is pretty simple- layers of bread with some aioli, tuna fish, vegetables, and pickles. For the full recipe click here.