It all started with a search for the most original birthday party for my 10-year-old granddaughter who didn’t want any party at all. That is how I discovered one of the best-kept secrets in Jerusalem – chef Ronen Avichail.
Avichail’s grandfather founded the legendary bakery Avichail 90 years ago in Jerusalem. Avichail, though, works independently as a chef and culinary consultant. He teaches cooking classes all over the country and has a catering business. Thanks to him, Meirav’s birthday party, at which he taught 25 girls how to make pizzas and pies, was a smashing success.
However, I got much more than a birthday party in return. We discovered amazing products that he invented which would make our everyday cooking ever so easy.
Avichail started cooking at age six, and his mother would light the stove for him. At 16, he became Israel’s champion for athletics in high jump. A serious cycling accident at 21 changed his life and career aspirations. As a result, he would no longer pursue a career in athletics.
Shortly after that, Avichail received a gift certificate for a pre-test for the most prestigious cooking school in Israel at the time – Tadmor in Herzliya. Thousands applied. By the time it was his turn, he was so daunted by the vast number of applicants that he told the committee that he had no experience at all, only talent. The answer stunned him. Avichail was exactly what they were looking for. It was 1999, and for an entire year he was immersed in the art of cooking. In his own words, “breathing and dreaming of food.” He passed the course with flying colors.
Avichail’s cooking career started at the Mahaneh Yehuda market with a small catering business. Then he joined chef Rafi Cohen at the King David Hotel. His next stop was catering for 40.000 people at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.
However, the most fulfilling job for him was catering for soldiers. To this day, he treasures the thousands of thank-you letters he received from soldiers for the delicious gourmet foods he prepared for them.
One-of-a-kind oil invention revolutionizing Israeli culinary scene
Interestingly, it is Avichail’s oil inventions that are rapidly becoming a big hit on the Israeli culinary scene. Who has the patience, he says, to start cooking after a hard day’s work? So he invented a product that makes life in the kitchen much easier and much tastier.
The onion-flavored oil he developed is the only product of its kind in the world. It is a canola oil with a strong taste of fried onions. It is produced in a slow process whereby the oil does not develop toxins and maintains all its nutritional values. Boiling oil oxidizes and develops toxins, so no one had been able to produce such an oil. Avichail explains that his oil is the perfect solution for any home in which people don’t like the smell of onions.
After years of extensive research, he discovered that most people who don’t eat onions love the oil blended in such dishes as mashed potatoes, omelettes, couscous, rice, and pastas.
After many failed experiments, when he was finally told that he would qualify for a patent, Avichail learned that it was conditional on his disclosing the formula. He decided to follow in Coca-Cola’s footsteps and not disclose his formula for fear of copycats.
I ordered his Shabbat menu and purchased both the onion and the garlic and chili pepper oils, which he markets directly. The result was truly spectacular. My family loved them. So now whenever I am invited for Shabbat, I replace my usual gift of a bottle of wine for my hosts with a bottle of oil! ■
Shoshana Tita is a writer and director of TLC of Potomac, Maryland, who now resides in Jerusalem.