We were lucky enough to sit down with Ori Shavit and Shirel Berger who opened the vegan pop-up restaurant “Miss Kaplan.” Shavit is a food journalist, blogger and culinary enthusiast who promotes veganism in Israel and Shirel Berger, is a passionate vegan chef who shows us the true art of vegetables.
Lets find out a bit more about how they bring the magic to Miss Kaplan:
Ori tell us about your culinary background and what made you turn vegan?
Ori Shavit: “I was always cooking since I can remember myself. My friends would always say that whenever I spoke about food my eyes would lighten up. I really have a deep relationship with food so turned this passion for food into a profession. I studied cooking and pastry at “Bishulim” school, did a short internship working at ‘Mul Yam’, and worked for a private catering company.”
“Pretty fast i moved to writing about food- both in Israel and all over the world. I was interviewing chefs, writing about trends and covering the israeli food industry. Then my world collapsed because I become vegan! I mean, thats what it felt like. I was eating everything, I never said no to food, I always wanted to taste it and it didn’t matter what it was. So becoming vegan was very frightening.”
“I met a vegan guy and even though I was a food writer, I didn’t know anything about the industry. When I discovered things, I decided I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. I didn’t want to fund it anymore. So i became vegan almost over night- but I was a food writer and there was nothing in israel at the time. Yes, you could eat vegan food but there was no culinary vegan scene and I was very scared because it was my profession. How would I write about restaurants when there were none?”
“I opened my food blog ‘Vegans On Top’ and started this journey. First I convinced chefs to make me delicious vegan food, then I started promoting the idea of veganism. I was convincing restaurants to host vegan nights, and encouraging them to put vegan dishes on their menus. This all started only 4 years ago, its like a revolution whats happened in Israel. Israel has become a travel destination for vegan culinary fanatics. It is now one of the best places in the world, if not the leading place for vegans. I started teaching vegan cooking, writing vegan recipes, writing a column for Ynet, and consulting restaurants. All my work, has become Miss Kaplan for now!”
Shirel: “I was cooking since i was 12. I knew i always wanted to be a chef. At like 15 I was just inventing recipes and I just got it! After the army I wanted to go to study in America, my grandfather told me to work in a kitchen first because cooking for your family and in a restaurant is two different things.”
“Someone in Jerusalem accepted me to a restaurant with no experience and after working there for 9 months, I went to The Culinary Institute in NYC. I studied their for 2 years and interned in ABC kitchen. Thats when I started to understand where food comes from, the core of it. I started studying what happens to the meat we eat, what is injected into it and more. From then I started eating only organic and local produce.”
“After school, I worked in NY for one more year and fell in love with vegetables. I was working for Michael White, an Italian chef making a lot of pasta and seafood. One day I was missing home and just said enough, I’m going back to Israel. I just knew it. When I got back I worked in a restaurant in Tel Aviv, which I hated, and reconnected with an old friend who was vegan.”
“Previously in New York I had met the chef of Ellen DeGeneres. He said “Oh I’m vegan” and I was like “WHAT?!” The concept of veganism was not something I thought was possible. When I started talking to a friend about becoming Vegan, I was surprisingly open to it- I thought of about 17 vegetable dishes, went to the shuk and was in the kitchen for about 14 hours straight. My family were my guinea pigs.”
“Whilst cooking I was falling in love because you have to be creative to make it interesting! I started learning more about what happens to the animals and what will happen if we continue to eat the way we do. I said to myself, I know food and I know how to cook so I can bring change.”
“Whilst transitioning to vegan I was in a dilemma. I was a chef, supposed to be the one always tasting the food but the more I read, looked and learned, I couldn’t do it. One day it just came to me, the art of vegetables. I didn’t care what, I had to do something- I went to Jerusalem, cooked vegetables, had my friends come take pictures of it, and did cooking workshops with people interested in being vegan.”
“Then I understood my food was too complex to teach. I knew I had to do something with what I had in my hand- it wasn’t something I could just pass on. I quit my job and started doing small events; very fine events, only vegetables, around 5-7 courses. I was in love. I was thinking “what shall i do with my life?!” because no one knew who I was. I had my FB page but thats it. I decided to just cook for a while- I would buy vegetables in the market and just cook and thats how things came to me.”
How did you both meet?
Shirel: “One day I was telling my friend that I don’t know enough people in the vegan culinary scene. He was telling me about Ori, so I emailed her. I really didn’t think anything big would come of it, I just wanted her to come taste my food. I don’t look at veganism as veganism I look at it as vegetables, its not for vegans, its for everyone. I invited her to come and eat my food but each time we were supposed to meet, we didn’t.
“Something kept coming up and it was great because I got better. Every time we didn’t meet, I improved my skills, I even made a desert, and i hate making deserts! It was just the right time.From the minute Ori arrived our connection was good, we had good vibes, and we were like friends right away. There was nothing weird or awkward I just cooked for her!”
Ori: “When Shirel wrote to me, and suggested to cook for me, of course I said yes! I am always curious to know more people in the vegan culinary scene. Finally when we met, I was consulting Little Italy helping to add vegan dishes to their menu and during our discussions we started speaking about the meat restaurant above! I was like, “When are you going to close down this awful place?!” We were laughing about it. One of the owners, Alon, said: “We are going to have a vegan restaurant their one day” and we started joking about it. The joke suddenly became serious when they started to think about changing it and discussing what to change it into.”
“When I went to Shirel to eat, I had at the back of my mind that I was going to open a place and needed to find a culinary partner to do that with. I said to myself, ‘if it is what I think it is from the photos, I am going to take her with me.’ And thats what I did.”
Shirel: “And the rest is history!”
Wow! How long did it take to open Miss Kaplan?
Ori: “We met at the end of september, so only a few months. When we decided it was going to happen and everyone agreed, I went to the US for lectures and ccame back for a month before Miss Kaplan opened. We worked for a month on this place- it’s nothing. I mean usually you work on a restaurant for at least 6 months, if not a year. Because it’s a pop-up restaurant it was clear the process had to be short, tight and fast. And it’s pretty amazing that in a month we tasted the menu, taught the chefs and waiters, and had everything ready.”
Is there a possibility of it staying open longer than the 3 months?
Ori: “At the moment we are meant to close it down at the end of march. But, something great is going on here. Many non-vegan people come and they enjoy the food so much. This is really an opportunity for us to show off the vegan way of living, this way of looking at food differently, and to let people know how creative it can be. Miss Kaplan is not a place you feel miserable, it doesn’t lack anything- it was important for us to deliver the whole experience from the atmosphere to the cocktails.”
Shirel: “It’s not a coffee place, like a lot of the vegan places in Tel Aviv. It also isn’t just a casual fast lunch spot.”
Ori: “Miss Kaplan is the kind of place I went to before I was vegan, or when I travelled to New York where you have high-end vegan restaurants. This is the thing that we miss in Israel. There are a few very good vegan restaurants, but not this kind. We wanted to do something that doesn’t exist. What’s the point in duplicating something that you already have? It really answers a need of vegan and non vegan people. We don’t know yet if we can stay longer here, maybe we will do something else. What I can assure you is that the both of us are going to continue to do what we are doing, either as Miss Kaplan or something else.”
How would you best describe the food at Miss Kaplan?
Shirel: “The best way to describe it is ‘art’. The way I think of vegetables is art. All of my cooks are my ‘kitchen artists’. Everything is about the presentation, the plating, the textures and techniques. The beauty of vegetables is that you can take techniques from all the cuisines in the world, and it’s all about the vegetables.
“My idea when people come to eat, is that everyone shares the food. First of all because food connects people, and secondly I have told people who have seen documentaries of vegans talking to non vegans that it’s like chaos. The only moments of peace, is when they are sitting together and they are tasting the food. When you share your food with people, you are talking about the dishes and you are sharing an experience.
“We are not into the whole like starters, main courses, it’s so old fashioned, I would say share plates, share everything, taste everything. There are heavier dishes but its basically Vegetables, art, a lot of technique, a lot of thought and a lot of components. It’s important to show how much you can do with vegetables and the variety so I try never to put the same components in the same dishes. Like never.”
Ori: “It was an amazing process working on the menu. We were really brainstorming, and each bringing our own ideas.”
What is your favourite dish on the menu?
Ori: “That’s the hardest question. I love the food here so much, it depends on my mood, on the time, and what I feel like that day. I really feel like each dish has its own story, how it turned out to be that dish. So really, I can’t choose.”
Shirel: “I have a few. I am almost in love with everything on the menu- its like a process, even the cooks, we fall in love with the food. I really love the Squash the red potato, me and the scallops. I think those three… Wait! The avocado-hello! It’s the flavours and the plating of that dish.”
Shirel, what is your favourite vegetable?
Shirel: “Jerusalem Artichoke. By far.”
Does the menu at Miss Kaplan change daily?
Ori: “We always have something extra on the menu, we really try hard to use local ingredients, always fresh, always seasonal. It is clear, even in the month left of the pop-up that the menu will change because of seasonal vegetables. We both brought the influence of what we saw in the world, whilst travelling outside of Israel, and combined it with our knowledge, techniques and point of view about food to bring it to the Israeli plates.”
What is the one cooking ingredient you couldn’t live without?
Shirel: “Lemon zest! Listen, there are two things, two secrets I am going to reveal to you girls. One is the zest of any citrus, and two is garlic oil. We smash garlic, put it in olive oil with the peel, and the aroma and flavour is amazing. I tell my cooks if there is anything that doesn’t taste right, just put garlic oil and lemon zest and you are there.”
On a night off from being in the restaurant, where would be your favourite spot to go in Tel Aviv?
Ori: “Miss Kaplan! As a culinary person and a vegan, my life divides between going to vegan places and having a lot of choices or going to a non vegan restaurant, and seeing how their kitchen deals with the challenge of vegans. Because they are not used to it. Last week we went to La Otra, a really nice place, and they don’t have a vegan menu but they have a few vegan dishes and can make adjustments.
“If you eat only in vegan restaurants its very difficult and you keep veganism closed to other people. My mission is to bring veganism everywhere so other people know about it, taste it and try it out.
“Tel Aviv was chosen as the most vegan friendly city in the world by the Daily Mail magazine! It is becoming mainstream, compared to four years ago. Its truly a revolution what is happening in Israel. I am going to the US to lecture, because they want to know what’s going on here. Israel have something to be proud of. It’s really endless, I don’t have enough time to even taste all the vegan food we have- its a good problem to have!”
Thank you Ori and Shirel for sitting with us- it was a pleasure!
Go check out this awesome pop up restaurant and let us know what you think. For table reservations call, +972 3 697 9015.