A CHAT WITH SEVEN NORTH’S “KING OF CAULIFLOWER”, CHEF EYAL SHANI
A CHAT WITH SEVEN NORTH’S “KING OF CAULIFLOWER”, CHEF EYAL SHANI
For over 30 years, one of the world’s most celebrated chefs has cooked and ate the exact same simple dish every time he eats at home and says it’s different every single time. That chef is Eyal Shani, “the King of Cauliflower” and the acclaimed chef behind the hugely popular restaurants Miznon, North Abraxas and HaSalon, located across NYC, Tel Aviv and Vienna. He just opened Seven North, an incredible, carefree Southern Mediterranean restaurant that just so happens to be located on the ground floor of Vienna’s Max Brown 7th District.
We caught up with Eyal about his cooking ritual at home, the magic of cucumbers and his new schnitzel creation.
Where did your passion for cooking come from?
I am a man with a lot of passions. With each thing that I’m interested in, I feel the need to dive into the deepest part of its existence. With food, it’s very easy because you can take a cucumber and take two or three years trying to understand it. When you are cutting, all of the outside noise goes away and you concentrate on that one thing. It’s taking you to its own depth, and there it’s like Alice in Wonderland. You see things that nobody else can see—standing there, breathing there, living there inside this depth, and then you’re climbing out and telling others.
What’s your favourite food of all time?
Cooking at home is a completely different story [than cooking at my restaurants]. The only food that I’m cooking at home is a tomato pasta. It’s like a monk painting circles on the wall. The movement of the circle is a part of his blood. In this way, I’m making tomato pasta. I’ve done this for the last maybe 30 years for the meals I cook at home, which isn’t often. It’s sounds very repetitive, but no—each time I’m cooking from a different position and point of view. I like pure food. I like when three ingredients are meeting one another and creating something beautiful. I try to purify my food, where I try to get as close to one ingredient as possible.
What’s your favourite vegetable of all time?
I have a big heart, so I’m constantly falling in love with new vegetables. It’s hard to pick one. In the end, I find the tomato and the eggplant the most interesting, versatile and multifaceted.
What’s the next cauliflower?
I’m looking at cucumbers. They’re the strangest creatures on the planet because you cannot recognize what they are. If you peel them and look at their pale green colour, you feel that the colour sits between existence and non-existence. If you should try to touch it, it would disappear. It’s a colour of the universe. There’s no colour in the world like it. And something very strange is happening when a cucumber is growing. It takes only 24 hours to go from nothing to the size of an average cucumber. How can that be? So many cells in such a short time. And I try to think what it is. I have no idea, but I’m thinking that maybe it’s a kind of mirror to the soul that reflects the system of water and system of minerals.
And when you take a small piece of cucumber and put it inside a stew or a very heavy dish that has a strong taste, suddenly the dish’s texture and taste changes. It begins to vibrate, and it becomes the dominant flavour of the dish. All strong tastes surrender to the cucumber.
I’m looking at seaweeds as well. Seaweeds were the first plants on earth. They have power. They are like magicians. In the last two years I’ve been studying them, but it takes a long time to understand what they are.
What’s your favourite word?
I’m not sure about a word, but maybe if it were a sentence it would be what is it all about? Because that question leads you to find the truth.
What’s your favourite song?
When I started to cook 30 years ago, I left everything. I left my friends. I left my family. I stopped reading. I stopped listening to music. I was like a monk for 12 years. It was just me and the cutting board trying to see something. Most of the time, I didn’t see anything. [Laughs.] But then there was an old woman that I knew and she gave me a CD with Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto Number 4”. I never listened to classical music until then. That was my return to the music. Then for seven years, I only listened to that. I felt that he was my twin. And then I moved onto Bach, and then to Mozart and then to Vivaldi. Today I only listen to orchestral music. They’re not songs, they’re creations.
What’s your life philosophy?
You have to believe in something, and then you have to know how to make a story out of it and to get people to listen to you. People will then take these stories and create a reality out of them. In this way, you can change the world.
What makes you laugh?
A joke. [Laughs.] Something very wise that observes something from a different angle.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
I love Vienna, I don’t know why. She fits me. She brings light to my soul. I like to see beauty around me. I feel so comfortable here. It’s a nice kind of quiet. But my favourite place, I think: I bought a small home in Italy on a river in the middle of the forest. It’s almost impossible to reach the place. My house is 450 years old and stands above the river. Half of the floor is made out of transparent glass, and in the same room, there’s a big fireplace in the corner, so I look at the fire above the water.
What are the ingredients of a successful restaurant?
Olive oil. [Laughs.]
How would you describe Seven North?
In each new place, the energy of the place determines the taste. It’s not just the design. The energy is the history of the place, what has happened there, the people that made it. Seven North’s history translates into a frequency that creates a very warm, dense, sweet, milky taste.
What’s your favourite thing on Seven North’s menu?
Vienna is a schnitzel city. I said to myself, I don’t want to make schnitzel, but it should reflect the place, this schnitzel environment. So, I created a patty of kebab that instead is flattened to be paper thin like a schnitzel, then I’m working it on one side, then putting it on a big focaccia. It’s a new kebab in the world, it’s a new schnitzel made out of lamb and it’s in conversation with the place. I love that.
What do you want Seven North guests to take away from their experience?
That in the beginning and the end, it’s about people. Also, that it’s a space of happiness for all the people that are involved, both the team and our guests.