Kobi Ohayon knew from an early age that he wanted to be a chef. His mother was always in the kitchen and it seemed natural for her son to delve into culinary arts.
“I was a young kid cooking with my mom, she’s a really good cook,” he said. “And I started to learn from her how to cook and then she said, ‘OK, so you have it. So go to school and learn how to do it.’ So I did it.”
Ohayon, 33, spent last week in Cleveland – his first time in the United States – to help The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, inside Tower City in downtown Cleveland, open its new kosher kitchen. His talents were showcased to the community through a bevy of events, including a private reception for about 100 people on April 20, presented by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
He and fellow chef, Adir Cohen, were brought from Israel to Cleveland by Yael Ron, an Israeli who was named general manager of the hotel in July 2016. The pair trained her staff and introduced them to the latest ingredients and techniques of kosher cooking.
Ohayon and Ron worked together at The Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya, where he helped open the first kosher restaurant in the chain.
“I was the head chef of The Ritz-Carlton in Herzliya and she was in the sales department,” he said. “She asked me if I would come to the Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland for ‘Israeli week’ to celebrate 70 years of Israel’s independence. I (told) her, ‘For you, of course, and for the community, I will do it.’”
While in Cleveland, he created dishes highlighting his culinary skills. At the Federation lunch event, a buffet included assorted breads, desserts, salads, side dishes and main courses.
After high school, Ohayon served three years in the elite Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. He then studied at the Tadmor Hotelier School in Tel Aviv and worked in restaurants early in his career. He then became a chef at a Ritz Carlton sister property in Israel before working at The Ritz Carlton, Herzliya.
He left The Ritz Carlton chain about a year ago to create a catering company, Milo, which he said means, “Who don’t want this?”
Ohayon, who lives in Netanya, works 12 to 16 hours daily, so his wife handles cooking at home for them and their three children.
Cooking in Israel is different than in the United States, he said.
“In Israel, kosher is really different and (harder) because they are looking for a lot of kinds of stuff – do this and don’t do that,” Ohayon said. “In my home, we eat kosher, so it was easier for me to understand what I’m going to do and how I’m going to cook. We don’t use something that looks like a cream or non-kosher in the meat section. And it’s really natural, you just cook with a lot of olive oil, lemon juice. Everything is fresh, so it’s easy to cook this.”
His favorite dish is couscous and when he goes out to eat, he enjoys Mediterranean dishes, he said. And he said he never judges other chefs.
“I’m the same as them,” Ohayon said. “I don’t want someone to start to judge me, look at every detail, what is on the plate, to say something. I just go to enjoy, drink and have fun.”
Even though it snowed or rained most days during the week Ohayon was in Cleveland – he had seen snow only in Switzerland before – he hopes to return.
He said the city, “looks amazing, (like) a nice city. The people here are so friendly, (it’s) really nice to see. ... I really enjoy (being) here and donating something to the community of the Jewish people in Cleveland. They are (such) nice people.”