Chef of Chef Works: Hodaya Cohen 2023
Chef: Hodaya Cohen.
Restaurant/Kitchen: Reubens Restaurant.
Location: Marylebone, London, UK.
Social Media: @reubens_restaurant - Instagram
This month we had the absolute joy to sit down with Chef Works wearer, Hodaya Cohen – Executive Chef at Reuben’s Restaurant, on Baker Street in London.
Rueben’s is the longest established kosher restaurant in England with over 49 years of service. Hailing from Israel, Hodaya brings a smile and the utmost excellence to every dish she prepares, from salt-beef to schnitzel. Read more about her artistry at this kosher institution below…
1. Describe your restaurant / role:
I'm the Executive Chef here at Reuben's.
2. Describe your kitchen and team:
The kitchen is very busy. We are the oldest kosher restaurant in England. The kitchen serves the restaurant's guests, internal and external events, and deliveries. Thank God, there is never a dull moment.
3. Favourite Chef Works item and why?
It's difficult, but I think one of my two favourites is the Calgary Chef Coat. On one hand, it's very comfortable and at the same time, it's very representative. The second one, the Hartford Chef Coat, I really like that the fabric is breathable and light with a zip closing.
4. First job, any highlights?
I washed dishes at Ritz Carlton at the age of 17.
5. Favourite cookbook and why?
There are so many! I love to read and learn, and yet there are two that I always go back to. The Professional Chef and Up-to-date Confectionery. It's like reading a book that explains processes and how to cook modern dishes, with examples from decades ago, and before each use of raw material, it explains why specifically that material and why that temperature. On the other hand, The Professional Chef provides many classic recipes or basic recipes for today's kitchen and explains the ingredients in detail. Both have a strong foundation for every recipe, with the revelation of all these 'secrets.' They are study books for everything.
6. Career highlights and awards:
A project to integrate at-risk youth into the kitchen, while understanding creative processes, self-discipline, teamwork, and seeing them grow into great chefs in the world or opening their own restaurants. There is nothing more rewarding than that. This project had a significant impact on the team and myself, and it made us better individuals and chefs.
The ultimate in comfort food - a Salt Beef sandwich with pickles and mustard.
7. Your cooking inspiration:
My food is greatly influenced by Israeli flavours and the environment I grew up in. Both my grandmothers were phenomenal cooks, and I learned a lot from their understanding of how to combine flavours and present dishes. It's fascinating to watch people eat and see how they compose their bites and how enjoyable it is for them to eat, especially street food. There is something very satisfying and joyful in seeing people enjoy food, and it unlocks my creativity.
8. Your speciality dish and what makes it so special?
There are several dishes that make me very happy, but the one that gives me the most satisfaction and came after many failures is the pistachio cake with caramelised figs, spices, and vegan ricotta cheese. It immediately felt like combining the Tunisian pistachio desserts with the warm spices of Persian cuisine, and the ricotta just brought everything together in a soft and fluffy cake.
9. Favourite dish to eat and why?
Sandwiches! Definitely everything in a sandwich. I love how the sauce soaks into the bread and the combination of textures. In general, I'm addicted to bread. A sandwich I could eat every day and truly enjoy is a Druze pita hummus, an omelette with coriander, and Shifka pepper. It's really divine.
Chef Hodaya in her Hartford Chef Coat.
10. Weirdest thing you ever ate?
Peanut ice cream with cherry sauce in a green hot pepper cup. It was one of the most dreadful culinary moments I've experienced!
11. Favourite ice cream flavour and what do you pair it with?
Pistachio ball, caramel ball, milk chocolate sauce, and eating it with a salty and crispy bagel.
12. Favourite family recipe?
If it's a family recipe of mine, then my mother used to make fried potatoes with pickles and fried onions, and towards the end, when everything was crispy and golden, she would break an egg on top, it was the highlight of my childhood. If it's a family recipe I ate and fell in love with, then it's the Sultana kebab in Ra'anana, Israel, prepared with the same recipe for fifty years since 1973 until today.
13. Favourite wine – any specific ones in particular?
The wine I've loved for years, a wine that always suits my mood or meal, is the Rose Blue C from Covenant winery.
Freshly fried Cod in batter with homemade Tartar sauce.
14. Who would you most like to cook for and why?
I'm always happy to cook for my family and my team. I can't explain why, but it always brings me joy. And most of all, I would always love to cook for the chef who taught me so much about food, the kitchen, and humanity. It's Mor Cohen.
15. And who would you least like to cook for?
There's no one I wouldn't cook for. It goes against my principles. However, there are certain things I wouldn't cook due to kosher dietary restrictions.
16. Favourite things to do when not cooking:
Reading! I really love to read and spend time with family and friends.
17. Your latest project:
I’m currently working on opening a new Reubens Cafe & Bakery, which will be located opposite Reubens Deli & Restaurant on Baker Street. This is an exciting project for both me and the team, as it will mark the first time a kosher dairy restaurant has opened in the West End.
18. Favourite city, any particular highlights?
A great competition between Tel Aviv and London, two cities that I love dearly for their beauty, culinary scene, and culture!
Food for the soul, Lockshen Soup.
19. Your greatest food indulgence?
Spending time with my loved ones and eating food that I didn't cook myself.
20. And finally, your all-time best culinary tip?
Putting ego aside and learning from anyone and everyone possible, remembering that with all the knowledge we've acquired, there is still so much we don't know - flavours, combinations, and new techniques can be discovered from anywhere.
Photography: Jason Russell, food courtesy of @assafkarela.