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Revital Melech: An Interview with an Israeli Pastry Chef

Revital Melech is an Israeli pastry-chef that has a flair for breaking with tradition. Her desserts are not only sweet- they are complex and provocative. At Abboccato, an upscale Italian restaurant that she works for in Mid-town Manhattan, Revital reinvents classic Italian desserts and gives them a twist. I wanted to get to know the woman behind the sophisticated desserts, and on the road we discovered how her Jewish heritage influenced her baking. Why did you become a pastry chef? It's tedious. It's annoying. It’s a struggle. It tests my own limits and what I can do. You have to be very precise, because you can't go back once your done. It's pretty- don't quote me on that. How would you describe your baking style? What spices and flavors are you attracted to? It has to be classy in a way, and have its roots in Italy— whether it’s the ingredients or the actual desserts. I like making Italian desserts but with a twist, so that they are up-to-date and not old-fashioned. Most of my desserts have some sort of spice or tweak to them. I like to use salt, it brings out the flavor of caramel or certain nuts. Pepper is also a really great thing. If you don't tell people it's pepper, they later find out that it's nice. How has your Jewish heritage informed your cooking? It's mostly being Israeli- I bring things that work with Southern Italian flavors. Like, I made a sesame mouse. I also made an orchid flower custard with rose petal semi-freddo. It was really good. I got the rose powder when I went back to Israel and once I ran out I had to take it off the menu at Abboccato. I had a honey cake for a while. It was to show that I could make a good honey cake because they have such a bad reputation. People were asking for the recipe afterwards because they couldn't believe it was a honey cake.
Who are some of the major players in Israeli cuisine? I don't know. The last few times I went back to Israel, I went to high profile places and was really disappointed. My friends blamed New York. I know that Brassiere is doing very well. There's also Nitzan Raz who used to work at Sushi Samba in Israel. I don't know, it's hard to keep up. My culinary experience in Israel was very limited, because I left after I served in the military and came straight to the US to go to the Culinary Institute of America. Is it hard to be a woman in a professional kitchen? Yes and no. It’s a hard job to be on your feet all day long. But to say kitchens are chauvinistic? I came from the Israeli military— not to brag about it, but it was a hardcore experience, so now, I'm fine. You do find less women in (professional) kitchens overall, but its really different in every kitchen, and I have had a really nice experience working in most kitchens. What do you think is the essence of good cooking? To like it. You need to have passion and enjoy it. You need the right technique and skills, but without passion, you don't have anything.

If you had one last meal, what would it be?

A brownie. A really excellent brownie.

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