Meny Vaknin

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In the heart of Chef Meny Vaknin’s tastebuds lies a true devotion for the stuff of his childhood. Jewish-Moroccan flavors are Vaknin’s specialty, using them to win the coveted $10,000 prize on Chopped, and twice on Chopped Champions. After honing his craft under the legendary Daniel Boulud, Vaknin opened up MishMish Cafe in late 2014, which is a perfect match of the French techniques he picked up at the French Culinary Institute coupled with the food and flavors from his childhood in Israel. Here, Vaknin waxes about those same childhood food memories and an old french dude who still inspires him.

Vaknin
Chef Meny Vaknin. Courtesy Food Network.

What is your idea of a perfect meal?
Potatoes and fresh fish with friends and family.

What recipe still gives you goosebumps?
My mom’s kubeh in red sauce.

What cooking personality, living or dead do you most admire?
Jacques Pepin – he’s a master of technique, and an old school kitchen personality who was a true artist and a master of technique. After years of cooking you still see the joy he feels in the kitchen.

What’s a style of cooking foreign to you that you wish you had down pat?
Asian! Asian spice is similar to North African but used in different ways, I’d love to know it better.

Which ingredients do you find yourself using the most?
Onions, garlic, and of course, cumin.

What was your biggest culinary disaster?
I messed up an order at Bar Boulud on a busy Saturday night and got yelled by the chef in front of everyone. The lesson? Don’t mess up on a Saturday night!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi. What food do you dream of?
My Imma’s (Mom’s) and Savta’s (Grandma’s) home cooking. And Esters Pita, she made it for the entire town of Yerucham, Israel.

What’s your most treasured kitchen tool?
Knife – a bad knife can ruin my day.

If you weren’t a chef, what other occupation could you see yourself excelling in?
Car Mechanic. I love the craft – to put things together and take them apart. I love car shops – the smell and the sounds.

Mario Batali has clogs. What’s your most marked characteristic?
My MishMish t-shirt. Everyone on my team wears one and it makes me happy to see us all working together and in uniform.

What food do you hold in the lowest of regards?
I really hate unseasoned food – pass the salt, ha!

What is the quality you most like in a chef?
When they’re down to earth. That they understand being a chef is craft first and everything else is secondary.

What is the quality you most like in a diner?
Someone who loves and appreciates food and where it comes from.

Chef Boyardee or Colonel Sanders?
I’ve never had either – I don’t think they had these when I was growing up in Israel.

Who or what inspires you?
Traveling and seeing different techniques and going back to my Grandma’s in Israel to watch her and remember the food from my childhood.

How do you take your coffee?
Double macchiato – strong, no sugar.

What food trend drives you batty?
Dehydrating everything. It’s most often a waste of time. And avocado toast.

In-N-Out or Five Guys?
I’ve never been to In-N-Out so Five Guys!

Could you “beat” Bobby Flay?
Yes.

Do you prescribe to any kitchen superstitions?
No whistling.

What’s a childhood dish you loved that still sticks with you?
My Dad’s soft-boiled egg mixed with bread.

Biggest cooking fear?
If I overcook a protein.

What do you cook on your off days?
Pasta for my kids.

Go-to guilty pleasure food?
Chinese takeout and Kinder.

If you ate some poorly prepared blowfish sashimi and passed, what person or thing would you like to come back as?
I’d like to come back as a bird – I’d love to look at everything from above.

What is your catchphrase?
What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.

Marcel Roost is a hyper-intelligent rooster who could out-write and out-cook the best of them. His love for haute cuisine is only matched by his hatred of Kentucky Colonels. When he's not heckling fusion chefs, he can usually be found at some high-end bar "singing the body Martini." He's anything but corn fed, despite being—well—corn fed.

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