When chef Shai Dublero first thought of the idea of including tahini eggplant on his restaurant menu, he found it ridiculous. Indeed, in Tel Aviv, this dish has long been the personification of gastronomic ingenuity, the object of ridicule by Israeli gourmets. But it was this common recipe that became the most popular at the Dublero’s Lal restaurant in a small town near Barcelona.
“I still can’t believe it,” Shai admits. “I cook an incredible amount of eggplant with tahini every day. “In Tel Aviv, I would not dare to include them in the menu, but here this dish has become the most sought after dish from day one.”
Some people may remember Shai Dublero from Chef Barak Yekhizkeli’s “Records on a Napkin” gastronomic program on Channel 11. However, most Israelis do not know his name well, having lived far from home for the past six years. Dublero was once considered one of the most promising Israeli chefs. In the early 2000s, he returned to Israel after studying in France and began working at the expensive Tel Aviv Mul Hayam restaurant. In 2009, Shai fell in love with a Spaniard and moved to the small town of Esparreguera, half an hour from Barcelona. There he bought a three-story house built in 1890. His family lives on the top two floors, and a restaurant operates on the first. At first the visitors were few, but gradually the institution became more and more popular.
Despite the success, the situation recently does not look so rosy. After two difficult years of coronavirus, war broke out in Ukraine. And although Spain is on the other side of Europe, the war has had a negative impact on the Israeli chef’s operations. “First of all, fuel prices have skyrocketed,” says Shai. “Because of this, many fishermen stopped going to sea, which increased the price of already expensive fish. The price of vegetable oil, a significant part of which is produced in Ukraine, rose. the frying cost 50 euros and in just a few days its cost increased to 130 euros. Due to the war, the price of meat has risen, as feed is produced in Ukraine. The price of electricity has increased by 30%, from Russia supplies energy to Europe. Last month my electricity bill was 1600 euros. This month I paid 2600 euros. “
– Did the cost of dishes in the restaurant increase as well?
– Some restaurants have already raised their prices. I decided not to do it. It seems to me that because of the war the market was in a panic. In time, as soon as Europe starts importing raw materials from other places, prices will fall.
– Now you are the owner of a restaurant and you are worried about the numbers. When you were an employee, you were not very interested in spending.
– Correctly. You can be a modern chef and not worry about expenses. But once you own even a small business, the situation changes dramatically. I now own a restaurant and a chef at the same time – these are completely different rules.
– What can you say about Israeli prices?
– In Spain, everything is much cheaper than in Israel. A meal with wine in my restaurant costs about 50 euros, quite expensive for Spain. When Israelis visiting my restaurant receive the bill, they think it ‘s funny. Not long ago, I ate at a great restaurant in Tel Aviv and paid 4 times more for a similar meal.
– What is the reason for this?
– Spanish wines are cheaper than Israeli ones, food is also cheaper. In Israeli restaurants, the cost of wine triples, in Spain – 2 times. Here wine is considered an everyday drink. In our restaurant we offer 35 varieties of wine.
– Do you have Israeli wines?
– Sometimes there are. The problem is the same – Israeli wine is more expensive. Meanwhile, there are many cheap but excellent Spanish wines.
Today, the Dublero restaurant employs 10 people. However, in the beginning the whole kitchen relied solely on it. “I came here from Tel Aviv after many years of intensive work. I wanted to start something radically new. There is a completely different atmosphere here, more relaxed. Summer is coming and I will start picking mushrooms and wild asparagus in the area.” says Shai.
– What, in your opinion, has changed in the Israeli gastronomic world?
– Everything. When I started working at the Mul Hayam restaurant, the chef wanted to bring European cuisine to Israel. Since then, a new generation has grown up using local recipes and products to create lively and original cuisine. My peers did not pay attention to the mushrooms that grow in our country, they treated the Arabic cuisine with contempt. Now everything is different. Our gastronomic creativity in those years was not very inventive. Sometimes I remember dishes that we considered exemplary and I realize how authentic they were.
– What do you feed your customers in Spain?
– I cook Mediterranean food with an Italian touch. I have almost no Israeli dishes, except eggplant in tahini. I usually serve spicy vegetables with them. My guests love that. I use high quality products, which are very expensive in Israel and not always available. My restaurant uses only fresh seafood, only organic vegetables. Twice a week I go to the market and buy vegetables grown in southern Spain, as well as fresh fish caught by local fishermen.
– How did the pandemic affect the restaurant business in Barcelona?
– Everything was torn down. Suddenly the customers disappeared. In Europe, people spend a lot of time in restaurants and bars. This industry has been hit hard. It was difficult when we had to close the restaurant for a lock. But now everything is back to normal. Expensive Michelin-starred restaurants and cheap shops have been hit hardest. The winners were good, but not very expensive restaurants, which attracted customers. Our restaurant belongs to this category.
– Are you satisfied with your life in Spain?
– I am satisfied with both life and career. I just had to start from the beginning in a new place, to gain a new experience. For the first 2 years, not only did I cook on my own, I also had to wash the dishes myself. Step by step I climbed up, gaining confidence in myself. At first, I did not even speak Spanish or Catalan – it was difficult, but in the end it all worked out. At the same time, of course, I miss my relatives and friends. Now there have been terrorist attacks in Israel, I was watching the news and my heart was pounding with pain. My employees and clients know that I am Israeli, they constantly ask what is happening to us.