A homecoming to the kitchens of Mamilla
Just in time for the summer tourist influx, Zach Melul has returned to Israel and taken over as the Mamilla Hotel's new head chef, and he's invigorated to be working in the context of Jerusalem's many flavors and vibrant dining scene. "I always look at the restaurants around me for inspiration," he tells GoJerusalem.com, "but Machane Yehuda is my real inspiration - the Iraqi shuk and the Old City's souk in eastern Jerusalem. Those are my real inspirations." His new job sees Melul not only managing the hotel's main kitchen, but also those of Mirror Bar, Mamilla Cafe and Rooftop.
Following a stint as a young man at landmark eatery Edwardo in Tel Aviv, Melul soon traveled overseas. He studied hospitality at the Art Institute of New York City and put in time working in the London kitchens of Michael Nadra and Gordon Ramsay before taking over as chef of that city's Sanctuary Hotel, where he served up everything from pub classics to specialty pies.
"There was a time in my career that I preferred to work with world-renowned chefs," says Melul, 35. "But now I'm looking forward to being on my own. You learn a lot by working for a top chef, but there comes a time in your life, in your career, when you need to step it up."
Restaurant patrons have different expectations in different parts of the world, and Melul acknowledges the challenges he faces at one of Jerusalem's most ambitious hospitality institutions. "We welcome many guests from all over the world," he says, "and they want to taste the local food. They tour the city and they want its colors to show up on their plates, so we try to use local ingredients, things that define Jerusalem. In London and New York the food is usually more classic, more French, whereas in Jerusalem the food is more seasoned."
Returning to Jerusalem after many years overseas, Melul is enthusiastic about the high level of quality in the city's restaurants. "Jerusalem's dining scene has definitely changed [since I last lived in Israel] - it's now a culinary scene, and there are a lot really top-rate kosher restaurants," he notes. "It used to be that the kosher restaurants were nothing special, but now the plethora of quality kosher restaurants makes Jerusalem almost a pilgrimage spot for kosher diners."
At the center of Jerusalem's hospitality renaissance is the Mamilla Hotel, which opened for business in the summer of 2009. Since then, each of the hotel's various kitchens has carved out its own niche and concept, and Melul is cautious about fixing something that isn't necessarily broken. "I just started here, so I am trying to keep what already exists," he says of his plans. "We will keep on bringing the best ingredients and making sure that everything lives up to the Mamilla standards."
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