From Uzbekistan to the Mayanot Kitchen

By: Avraham Goldstein

Although a Mayanot student is focused mainly on learning Torah, a tasty, nutritious meal can make the experience all the more pleasant and productive. Since the arrival of Chef David Avraham Kolton, the food has improved greatly. With menu items such as Buffalo wings, Chinese stir-fry, and home-made burekahs, it feels more like a restaurant than the dining room of a learning program in Jerusalem. As a professional caterer, Chef David has a real understanding of food and flavors and has some ambitious plans for Mayanot’s lunchroom.  

Mayanot faculty and students are delighted with Chef David. Jitschak Rosenbloom, Operations and Technology Director, is especially excited about our new chef, "Coming with a catering background, Chef David is a true epicurean artist, caring about the flavor and presentation of each dish.  And he shares the values and passion of our student body." As Mayanot student Gershon Tepper put it “This can't be Yeshiva food.” Mayanot student David Burns commented, “The new food is creative, there is good variety, and the chef manages to make it with mainly the same ingredients that Mayanot used before.” 

Busy on a Thursday afternoon preparing food for the Mayanot Men’s Shabbaton, Chef David was happy to take a few minutes to take part in an interview so we could learn a little bit about the man behind our new delicious food.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and where you are from originally?

I’m from Israel and I’ve been here my whole life, aside from a year of learning in Crown Heights and my time as a shliach in Uzbekistan. I spent nine years as a shliach in Uzbekistan. We had a whole community: Chabad House, mikveh, preschool, everything! We had to leave when the Ministry of Justice/Government kicked all the Chabad Shluchim out of Uzbekistan. There's currently one Chabad rabbi there today, although he works at a non-Chabad shul.

How did you get into cooking, and how long have you been working as a chef?

I have always enjoyed cooking. It was always something that I found exciting. When I returned to Israel from Uzbekistan, I was looking for work. I worked for my friend for a few months, and then started my catering company. We do weddings, functions, you name it.

How are you adjusting to working at Mayanot? Are there any challenges?

The first two days were completely insane, because I didn't know the layout of the kitchen. After that it's been fine. The truth is, I have to work under pressure. I need to make breakfast for about 45 people, and lunch and dinner for about 130 people and it all has to be done and ready to be sent to the Women’s and Spanish Programs by 12:00.  I start at 8:00 in the morning. This is challenging for me since I'm used to catering weddings and functions where the food doesn't need to be ready until much later in the day. As I get more used to things, I hope to be able to find ways to make fancier things in less time.

Any new menu items in the works for Mayanot?

I hope to be getting a new dairy oven. I'll be able to make things like lasagna, egg-plant Parmesan, potatoes with cream. I'd also like to make some Arabic and Moroccan dishes. 

Last week, Chef David stood in front of the dining room and announced during lunch to “please not hesitate to come to me with complaints and comments about the food.”

When told by a Mayanot student that we're able to learn Torah in his merit, Chef David replied, “We're in this together. I help you and you help me.”