Balagan – Pleasant Chaos

A portrait of Haya Molcho.

When Haya Molcho cooks, the earth seems to move. The chef has been infusing Vienna with the culinary traditions of her native Israel for years, now she has opened her first restaurant in Berlin. To mark the occasion, we organized a big communal dinner – together with DJ duo Tiefschwarz and their mother.

There are few people that can talk about meatballs for ten minutes while keeping an entire table under their spell. Haya Molcho counts among the few.

The chef and restaurateur is what one would call present. Laughing in Ali Schwarz’s open kitchen in a newly renovated house in Kreuzberg, stirring, chopping and seasoning, pushing small bites into the mouths of bystanders, and all looking so relaxed, so happy, that you just cannot look away. Haya has a maternal quality without being old fashioned. She leads without dominating.

It is these qualities among others that have enabled Haya Molcho to build her business into what it is today. She’s lived in Vienna for 35 years: hailing from Tel Aviv, she was partly raised in Germany, where she met her husband, Samy Molcho, a mime. In Vienna she runs restaurants Neni and Tel Aviv Beach, as well as a catering branch, and she sells some of her best-known Mezze in the grocery store chain Spar. Last year she opened her first restaurant outside of Austria in Zurich’s 25hours Hotel and this year, Neni will join the 25hours Hotel in Berlin.

This is all explained over chopping and pouring by Nuriel Molcho, Haya’s oldest son, who is responsible for the marketing and concept development of the Neni Group. Gradually, the sons have returned to the family business, with Nuriel’s two younger brothers taking care of bookkeeping and management. The youngest son is an exception to this rule: he’s an actor.

The hosts are also a family. In addition to the two DJs, Ali and Basti Schwarz, also known as Tiefschwarz - who once played for Neni at the Vienna Naschmarkt and have since become friends with Molcho - is their mother, Siglinde, tinkering in the kitchen.

Despite the numerous Mediterranean influences, Haya doesn’t refer to her cuisine as Israeli. She prefers the word “eclectic.” Many vegetarian dishes are available, numerous exotic spices are used, and cultures and traditions play off of each other.

Just as important as the food is the approach to eating. “It must be a real mess” calls out Haya, as she places the individual components for Sabich, Israeli wraps filled with friend eggplant, boiled eggs, hummus and tahini, on the table. It is a kitchen of sharing, exchange and of being together.

“My most recent cookbook is called Balagan – pleasant chaos. That’s me, I create chaos.” It’s as though the word was made just for Haya.

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