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Pro Tips and Advice from the Heart, from Bristol chef Tomer Darzi

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Falafel Mama got to chat with Tomer of Tavlin Kitchen as he danced between the kitchen stove and the garden where he was cooking vegetables over the fire, ready to serve his lucky a la carte customers that night…

Falafel Mama: Something smells really good! What is that?!

Tomer: This is challah bread for Shabbat. I sometimes use it for bread pudding too - it’s really nice with cream and fruit on top. And here’s some beautiful sweet potato steak for tonight. I'm going to serve it on flatbread with some tahini, harissa and hummus on the side, some smoky tomatoes and onions with a little olive oil…

Falael Mama: That sounds so delicious!

Tomer: Tavlin means spice in Hebrew, and I chose the name because I bring lots of spice and different flavours to my food. I cook lots of dishes from the Arabic kitchen and the Israeli kitchen, and it's all together, like a big family with lots of cultures and different flavours, lots of spices, lots of elements and techniques.

It’s about more than just the food, of course. It's about sharing my culture, the flavours from where I grew up.

My dad is Iraqi, and my mom is half Yemeni, half Turkish, and my dad has seven brothers and six sisters, each of them married to a Moroccan or an Iranian, so it's all mixed.

Falafel Mama: What are your strongest food memories?

Tomer: Every Friday, we used to go to visit my nana Tova, who was from Iraq, and she used to make the table for 20, 30 people, and everything was on that table. There were vegetables, but it was a time before vegetarian and vegan was a thing, so there was Kubba, stuffed bulgur wheat, usually with either lamb or beef mince and cooked with beetroot so it was all colourful…It was absolutely delightful. And sambusak, a pastry stuffed with spicy chickpeas and cumin. Very tasty. When I was a kid I wanted it all the time!

Aubergine, boiled egg, amba (hot mango salsa), they were always on the table. And all my dishes today come from those flavours. I didn't look to Google for recipes, it all comes from those flavours and what I experienced with all my senses - my eyes, ears, the taste - and I just want to share it.

I want to make people happy, because food that's cooked with passion and heart can be missing sometimes.

This is what I want to bring to my crowd, to my people, to my customers - I want people to know the flavours. It’s emotional for me when I talk about it, and when I share my food with my customers there are tears of happiness in my eyes, you know?

Falafel Mama: You’re so passionate about it. When did you start working in the food industry?

Tomer: I was in my early twenties when I got an opportunity to do a security job on a ferry. It was in Italy, and I was spending all my time in the ferry kitchen helping the chef. The chef used to talk to me in Italian, and I didn't understand him, but I just read the food, the tastes. I learned the flavours.

After a year, I came back to Tel Aviv and lived in an apartment with two girls who worked in a French bistro. They saw my passion for cooking and were bringing friends round, inviting people round first every week, then twice a week, and I would make sushi and desserts and the kind of food I’d learned in Italy. One day they asked me if I wanted an interview with their head chef, and I said, yes, let's do it! So I started working in a bakery with a chef doing pastry and I learned a lot.

After a few years I flew to Australia, then New Zealand. I loved New Zealand. I stayed there for two years, and met my wife in a restaurant where she was a waitress and I was a dessert chef at the time.

In New Zealand there was lots of wild cooking, from rabbits to wild ducks, venison, lots of seafood, lots of fish. My wife and I got married and then flew back to Israel where I worked in some top restaurants with some top chefs, and it was really good.

In Israel, the food brings together so many cultures - Turkish, Yemen, Moroccan…There are lots of great restaurants in Israel cooking that simple comfort food, and they make a fusion with it. It's beautiful.

And working there, you have this open kitchen, people come, you talk with them, you tell them what you're doing…People can see you.

Falafel Mama: I bet you were in your element!

Tomer: Yeah, I felt like I was on a TV show! It was brilliant. Then after seven years my wife said let's move to England, let's check out Bristol, and I found Falafel King. I love falafel, it’s simple food and the best comfort food ever. People love it, you know? I created lots of specials, new dishes and desserts there. And then the coronavirus came, and it all stopped. I wondered what I was going to do.

Falafel Mama: How did you adapt?

Tomer: Well, our neighbours said, ‘Maybe you could cook for us every Friday, and we’ll pay for the ingredients?’ I started with this, and after a couple of months, boom! It was one street, then another street and then almost the whole block. So we registered as a business, and now Tavlin Kitchen is growing, from doing condiments, lunches and dinners, to desserts and weddings. It's fun. I love it.

I love what I do. You have to do something that you really, really love. Otherwise, you’re not making the most of your life, you know?

Falafel Mama: That's beautiful advice. What would you say to a young person who's wanting to get into the food industry?

Tomer: My advice is to love it. And be patient. There are steps to follow, and it takes time to be a chef. You learn. You ask questions. You want to know. Look at me today, with tears in my eyes talking about it!

Falafel Mama: Because you're so passionate about it!

Tomer: It’s also the onions. Yeah, it’s the onions! But for me, it really is personal. It’s home cooking, and I meet all my customers. I know their names, I know what they like and what they don’t like. I’m happy because I know I'm going to make people happy.

Many times people have come to me and said ‘Listen, I ate one bite and it took me back to Tel Aviv…’ or ‘I taste Morocco…’ or ‘I taste the flavours of Yemen…’ This is what lifts me up, that feedback.

Falafel Mama: So now other lucky people can taste some of that Tomer magic. People are loving the range of sauces and pickles you’ve created. Tell us about them.

Tomer: I’ve been practising for a while, getting the flavours and textures right. I make every batch with the best ingredients available, so if there are lots of nice peppers or mangoes on the shelf in the local shop, that’s what I use. Right now, in the Amba I'm cooking green mangoes with lots of turmeric, mustard seeds, fenugreek and cumin.

I know the right tastes because I grew up on it from when I was five years old at my nana’s table.

There’s a great Harissa, and I'm also doing a Chilli Salsa with scotch bonnet chilli, and a Preserved Lemon Pickle which has more of a tangy flavour, not so spicy - this time I had some extra limes available so I added some lime too for more flavour. The Zaalouk is also really delicious and comes from the Arabic kitchen - we call it a salad in the Middle East though it's more like a salsa, with lots of aubergine, peppers, garlic and tomatoes.

All my ingredients are fresh, including fresh tomatoes for my sauces. No tomato paste, no sugar.

It’s all about the taste. It's not going into the jar if it's not got the right taste!

Falafel Mama: It's love, it's passion in a jar! How can we use your sauces in our own cooking at home?

Tomer: You can mix them with everything. Try them on vegetables, or mixed with yogurt to use as a dip. Do something different with aioli, and mix it with some Amba. You can mix the Harissa with your pasta sauce, and if you want spicy baked beans? Here you go with the Chilli Salsa! Add it to your cheese toasty, or to a casserole. Use them as a marinade on fish, your chicken, your veggies. Try them on roasted aubergine. Take them all with you on picnics!

You can do everything with these sauces. Trust me, just think outside the box. Be brave!

Falafel Mama: More good advice from you, Tomer. We trust you. We can't wait to try!

Taste Tomer's new range of sauces and pickles from for yourself at Falafel Mama, and find Tomer on FB, Instagram and at Tavlin Kitchen.


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