We caught up with Daniel Alt, Head chef The Barbary, for the latest careers Q&A. We chatted about how he got his start in Tel Aviv, why you need 100% commitment to become a chef, and his excitement when he heard Nuno Mendes was reopening Viajante.
When I was young, my parents always cooked. We didn’t have much money, but good food was always on the table. At 23, I no longer knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was living in Spain at the time with a Spanish girlfriend. I thought about this and decided: why not try culinary school? I felt drawn to it. Since day one, I have never looked back. The environment suited me and my curiosity for the world. When you’re a chef and you have this drive to succeed, everything interests and pushes you. There is a multitude of dimensions to the food industry, an array of realms in which you can immerse and devote yourself too. And once you start, there is no reason you have to stop being a chef.
After culinary school, at the age of 26 I began my career in Tel Aviv where I worked at Erez Bread, following a stint there I worked in the acclaimed Catit under the tutorship of Meir Adoni, who was a huge influencer on my work. After a year there I learnt a vast range of skills especially in baking and using the wood fired oven. I then rose up through the ranks with Yonatan Roshfeld, a celebrity Israeli chef, after becoming Head Chef under Yonatan I accepted a week-long stage at The Ledbury. That week in London really cemented for me that I wanted to move to this city. I left for London with my wife and worked for the likes of Nobu, Pied a Terre and Fifteen, I then joined the team at The Palomar (our sister restaurant). After rising to senior sous I took a year off to travel, before returning to London to work as Head Chef at Ottolenghi in Spitalfields. I then rejoined Zoe and Layo (founder of The Palomar family of restaurants) as Head Chef of their newest venture, The Barbary, and the café next door Jacob the Angel.
Intense, insane, busy and full of heart, I thrive in a fast-paced kitchen like The Barbary, the thrill of the open kitchen and the feeling of team spirit and joy in every service.
There have been a number of chefs who have impacted on my career. Firstly, there was Meir Adoni and Yonatan Roshfeld (who I mentioned previously), both were very avant-garde when I was a young chef and super self-driven. They completely tried to do their own thing. I also worked with Erez Komarovsky, who was one of the first chefs I worked under. Erez was one of the chefs to bring sourdough to Israel, and he is particular skilled with artisan bread making. I learnt a lot from him, including how to make bread in wood fired ovens and cooking with the seasonal vegetables.
I can see myself working with Zoe and Layo for a while, especially if they do anything new. They are very innovative, which matches my style. I enjoy constantly developing The Barbary menu and trying out new things.
RUN! Haha! Go try and be an electrician or anything, then if you still want to do it – give me a call! But seriously, you need to be 100% committed to being a chef, you can’t fake it. You need the hours, the patience, accept the failure and learn from it. Until you find the variants, you won’t get the best results. There is no easy way to be a good chef, even with a recipe, it takes time.
Actually, I went to Patty&Bun recently and it was really good! Also I recently visited Palermo in Sicily, which was amazing even from the street food and markets, to the restaurants. You don’t need a big name to make beautiful food.
I love what Nuno Mendes does, and I was really excited when I heard about his reopening of Viajante.
Tel Aviv. Everyone should go, the food is incredibly good and super versatile. There are constantly new ideas and culinary trends being born out of the city, and even the most mediocre restaurants are still good.
I worked with a fantastic pastry chef Mariana Chavez at Fifteen in Cornwall. She is definitely one to watch, super talented and often makes crazy combinations using foraged ingredients.
This Q&A was first published in the weekly careers Bulletin. To subscribe, please click here