New faces, new food chal­lenges for 2016

Will the non-Jewish team at the award-win­ning Zest be able to main­tain its high rank­ing?

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY VIC­TO­RIA PREVER

WITH THE re­cent demise of Be­vis Marks the Restau­rant, Zest at J W3 has be­come al­most the last high-end kosher restau­rant stand­ing. Zest's menu has won crit­i­cal ac­claim and been nom­i­nated for two Tatler restau­rant awards since it opened in 2013, but the Sephardi­in­flu­enced eatery is also in a state of flux. Last month, Eran Tibi, the only re­main­ing mem­ber of the open­ing team, de­parted. He and for­mer co-head chef, Josh Katz — both free­lance chefs — were con­tracted to work on this project, so this was al­ways a pos­si­bil­ity.

With him, Tibi took charis­matic front-of-house man­ager, Tomer Amar. Also gone is Dav­ina Sasha — Zest’s hos­pi­tal­ity man­ager.

In their place are two new faces: head chef, Dan Bur­rell, and gen­eral man­ager, J o s h u a Owen­sBaigler, both not Jewish. So is the golden era set to end and how did two non-Jewish Dan Bur­rell (

and Joshua Owens- Baigler ( plan to take Zest’s re­laxed ser­vice style (

up a notch boys end up head­ing up the best kosher restau­rant in Lon­don?

Bur­rell was no rookie in the Zest kitchen: “I went in last Jan­uary as an agency chef. Work­ing within strict kosher rules was of course daunt­ing as I had no direct ex­pe­ri­ence with it but I learned quickly with train­ing and with my own re­search, and soon started to really enjoy the style of cook­ing.”

When Tibi left, Bur­rell, from Devon, who had quickly moved up the kitchen ranks, was thought to be the best man for the job. His ex­pe­ri­ence is var­ied, from the gas­tro pubs to ho­tel kitchens, but pre­dom­i­nately in fine din­ing.

Tibi had set up all the nec­es­sary kosher sup­pli­ers and trained Bur­rell in the di­etary rules.

Bur­rell says he has en­joyed the chal­lenge pre­sented by kosher cook­ing: “I’ve been ex­per­i­ment­ing with fish gela­tine, sea­weed gela­tine and even one made from chick­peas. “We do have to be very or­gan­ised — if we forget to or­der some­thing we can’t just run out to Sains­bury’s to pick it up,” laughs Owens-Baigler. What was a shock was the price of kosher dairy in­gre­di­ents. “Crème fraîche is about £6 a tub — we’ve had to take cheese­cake off the menu in the café as it costs us so much to make. We would need to re­tail them at £9 a slice which was crazy; and we have to be more care­ful with things like cap­puc­ci­nos which are more ex­pen­sive to pro­duce.”

Bur­rell’s plans in­clude up­grad­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of the Mediter­ranean in­flu­enced food. “As I’m more clas­si­cally trained, I'm hop­ing to use that and cre­ate a Sephardi/clas­sic mod­ern fu­sion. There’s no rea­son for the food to be plain sim­ple kosher food. I’d like to in­tro­duce plated starters as well as a mezze op­tion.”

Owens-Baigler, who took over the front-of-house role five months ago, is quick to add that the for­mal plat­ing style will not af­fect the ser­vice: “We’ll keep the re­laxed Zest ser­vice so that it still feels ac­ces­si­ble.” For him, work­ing at Zest has been nos­tal­gic. “My grand­par­ents on my fa­ther’s side were Jewish and kept kosher, but my fa­ther was not ob­ser­vant. Once his par­ents died he re­laxed even fur­ther. I sadly lost all the her­itage as he died when I was 18. I have found work­ing here a re­vis­it­ing and quite a com­fort­ing thing.”

His sur­name dou­ble bar­rels his Scouse mother and Jewish fa­ther’s sur­names: “I have had peo­ple see my sur­name and come up to talk to me — it’s a re­turn to a com­mu­nity I thought I’d lost.” He has worked in some of Lon­don’s most fash­ion­able eater­ies, in­clud­ing the River Café, Boca di Lupo and Hix and has found the din­ers at Zest keen to share their views.

“There is far more cus­tomer en­gage­ment here. I re­ceive 25 to 40 let­ters a month from guests — in pre­vi­ous restau­rants I may have re­ceived one a week. I think it’s be­cause our guests really want Zest to do well so they pro­vide plenty of feed­back.”

Both young men — nei­ther have left their twen­ties — feel they have plenty to bring to this niche eaterie. Recog­nis­ing the kosher eat­ing-out crowd is lim­ited in num­bers, Owens-Baigler knows his chal­lenge is twofold — to meet the needs of their cur­rent reg­u­lars and also at­tract in a more main­stream crowd.

He says: “Our back­grounds mean we have a wide net­work, so we can cre­ate col­lab­o­ra­tions like De­cem­ber’s one with south Lon­don Ital­ian restau­rant, Ar­tusi, which Boca di Lupo pro­moted for us — al­low­ing us to in­tro­duce a new clien­tele. The ma­jor­ity of our cus­tomers are mod­er­ately re­li­gious, keep kosher and have only about 10 restau­rants to go to. If the menu changes only once a quar­ter, they will never visit us reg­u­larly — why come back weekly if the menu is small and doesn’t change of­ten? So now we change the lunch menu reg­u­larly and keep it very sea­sonal.”

They are still get­ting to know and understand their au­di­ence, which means some ini­tia­tives may need tweak­ing. The “bot­tom­less brunch” — a con­cept fash­ion­able in sev­eral Lon­don eater­ies — of­fers din­ers lim­it­less drinks with their Sun­day brunch. At Zest, guests can opt for one of three menu choices, giv­ing them un­lim­ited drinks at three price points — ei­ther cof­fee and juices or cock­tails or Pom­mery Cham­pagne — with their food.

“We tried it for the first few weeks with just free drinks but many of the din­ers said they didn’t want this and were ask­ing to pay less,” Owens-Baigler says. “So we in­tro­duced free food as well, but within a 90-minute win­dow for each ta­ble and that has been suc­cess­ful.” The kosher obli­ga­tions will al­ways make­work­ingdif­fer­ent.“It­can­feelex­clu­sive.I spend­hourse­d­u­cat­ingmy­self inan­den­sur­ingkashrut com­pli­ance but then can­not serve non-me­vushal wine to an Ortho­dox cus­tomer. I understand that, but it is a chal­lenge. Hav­ing said that, ev­ery­one has been wel­com­ing and sup­port­ive of us as non-Jews.”

Bur­rell adds: “Ev­ery­thing about the restau­rant is dif­fer­ent but I ad­mire the great sense of com­mu­nity and fam­ily here. I’ve gained a much broader un­der­stand­ing of Ju­daism — any re­li­gion that cel­e­brates food so widely will al­ways im­press me!”

www.zes­tatjw3.co.uk

PHOTO: AMANDA STOCK­LEY

EZRA PHOTO: BLAKE

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