Footpatrol Discussions | Eyal Shani, Miznon

You all should know by now of Footpatrol Paris, our second ever bricks and mortar store. Whenever we paid a visit to the team out there, we’d always use to head over to an eatery called Miznon. A favourite on our Parisian picks, we now don’t have to travel so far to fill our cravings.

Listening to our thoughts, the Miznon team have only gone and opened up within the heart of Soho, London and even more conveniently, right around the corner from Footpatrol London.

To welcome to team to the capital, we paid the team a visit and caught up with chef and founder, Eyal Shani to learn more about himself, his food and of course what makes Miznon London different, yet special to it’s Parisian spot.

Footpatrol: Hey Eyal, thanks for coming out today to celebrate with us for our 20th anniversary. I want to first start this interview by asking the simple question of how are you?

Eyal: That’s such a difficult question, it is like asking what is love? It is a very wild question, how do I feel? I feel very good because first of all the weather. I Love the fog, I love the clouds, I like the breaking lights, it is very romantic. It is giving me a feeling of change , where I come from it is like a desert, the sun is bright , the temperature is 34 degrees now. 

FP: For people who are not aware of your culinary excellence, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Eyal: I have been cooking for the last 35 years, I began without any knowledge. I had a girlfriend at the time and she told me that I was doing the best Buezabec in the world. I didn’t know how to cook, but I made the best Buezabec because I got the recipe from Julia Child French cuisine. Her recipes are amazing. I later opened a fish restaurant in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is on the mountains, no connection to fish of course. I then began to think that I wasn’t talented and I decided to quit that restaurant. 

When I first went into Italy, Venice, into the Cipriani hotel and discovered meat carpaccio. They invented the meat carpaccio and I was amazed by this. A day later I went  into another restaurant in Rome called La Rosetta. It was a one Michelin star and I saw they were making a thing called carpaccio out of thin slices that were not put together parallel but, they topped one layer with another layer, another layer and so on. I said to myself, 200km North, there is a perfect carpaccio made out of beef, why are they not following these rules? I couldn’t understand it when I got back to my restaurant in Jerusalem and tried to slice thin slices of fish. I arranged it parallel, squeezing lemon and olive oil and that was the first fish carpaccio in the world.

From that point, I didn’t stop making that food.Don’t like to say things about myself but I was the main force that invented Israealian cuisine. 30 years ago, there was no cuisine. The Italians got their own, the French, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Turkish people but not the English, Americans or Israelites. So the base of the modern is where my food stems from, my thoughts and words on the schedule that I put. I started with high cuisine at the very famous restaurant in Jerusalem that was called Ocean. It was one of the most famous restaurants in the world 30 years ago, 24 seats, that’s all. But in that restaurant i invented the Isrealian cuisine. Then I continued with high cuisine, fine food. I was working for rich people, and young people like me. Well, I was young… I am now 63 years old! There was no democracy in my food. You had to pay a lot of money because I bought the most expensive ingredients. I paid so much money for my cooks because I love them and I want to keep them beside me. It wasn’t affordable for normal people like you and me and it felt like the people around began not to like me because of it.   

FP: You are well-known for your signature Pitta dishes,what is about the use of Pitta in your dishes that are so special to you?  

Eyal: One day, one of my best clients sat in front of me and told me, you know where your generosity is? In pitta. When we are putting things in pitta it is becoming unbelievable. It hurt me so much. I said to myself that I will experiment in making original plates, and he was talking about a simple thing like a pitta! It took me a day to understand, he gave me some inspiration with his words. Then I began in my fine cuisine restaurant and told the people we are going to make some pitta. On that base, I invented the Miznon – high cuisine that is meeting very basic instruments like a pitta. But a pitta is a genius bread pocket. When you are making a sandwich it is open all around so the steam is running away, when you are putting the food inside the pitta, you have to build it, you have to make a structure, make an element and cover it with another, so the steam can not get out. You have to circulate the food inside and to polish it, to mix the taste and to balance the humidity, the pitta is also a sponge so it can absorb the flavours. In the end all the flavours, all the wetness, all the humidity that couldn’t be absorbed by the pitta, by the other ingredients is dripping down and the last bite is the evolution of all the sauces that were created inside the pitta that you cannot do on the plate. 

Then fifteen years ago, we opened our first Miznon restaurant in Paris, I went to Paris a month before we opened the restaurant and I understood that the pitta is one of the best culture integrators, meaning that I can take the whole culture, the minds of the people, their behaviour, their traditions, their dreams, the ingredients, the weather , the colour of the earth and to isolate them into a pitta. At first I made beef bourguignon in a pitta. If you want to eat the best beef bourguignon in Paris you have to come to my place because that is the best beef bourguignon.

I realised that the French people all that they are eating is chicken and potatoes, so I isolated it in the pitta. Then I brought it to the Miznon restaurant and from my intuition I wrote Sac de Coque. In English it is written in completely different words and letters than when you write it in french and it embarrassed our clients so much because I took the language from the bottom and pushed. From that point we began to open all around the world, we are in Singapore, we are in Australia, the States, Paris, Vienna and London … I think that’s all of them! 

FP: Following on from this, the London Miznon branch, how is it different from all of your other Miznon restaurants across the world?

Eyal: First of all I came here to recognise the English cuisine, there’s not much but the things that exist are very difficult. The English breakfast, for example, I isolated it into a pitta in my own way.

FP: Sounds delicious! 

Eyal: Shepherds pie in a pitta too! My manager came from a really poor family. He said that it attracted him so much but he didn’t understand why he was drawn to it. When he was child his mum used to make a shepherd’s pie for the family to last for two days. The first day they ate 75% and the second day, it was 25% of it that was left so they ate it with a lot of bread. That association is what caught his eye when we put it in a pitta. Intuition is leading. Fish and chips, my own version inside of a pitta, it is very important to come and be inspired by the local culture and to compliment the people that are hosting me. It is very important to me because Miznon is not a fast food restaurant, it is a real restaurant because I look at instruments in the kitchen – It’s a restaurant that makes its own unique menu.  

FP: With you growing up in the Tel-Aviv residency, how is this different or similar to London’s Soho area? 

Eyal: The reception is the same, but there are completely different weather conditions. In Tel-Aviv it is full of life, full of people, freshness is the main ruler. The energy is so vibrant it is a very small city but it is on fire. However, it is a very nervous city so the food there is very strong and very light. Here, it is much more soft, so the ingredients are very different, the people that are eating out are completely different. Yesterday I was watching the people that came in and were eating and they were eating pitta with a fork and knife to keep their manners, I couldn’t stand it. It is a terrible thing to use a knife in Israel, even myself I eat with my hands, I couldn’t stand the thought of like a knife you are putting inside your mouth. The main thing in Miznon is that there are no rules, we are giving the rules and freedom of the people and the culture to create that place under our main lines of pureness, simplicity, freshness and to honestly open the hearts of the people and make them happy. It is not about our clients, we are too good for clients. Our clients that are buying the food from us, who are serving us, my biggest clients are my team. If they are not happy and passionate about the thing that they are doing, nothing will come out of it, so mostly I am working with them. From there, their energy will circulate the room. 

FP: That is really wholesome, it is really good to have a team that supports you and part of this big journey in London. Let’s talk a little bit about your other personal accomplishments such as being a judge for Masterchef Israel, how did this opportunity come about?

Eyal: I did television for the last 20 years, not on the mainstream but on real television. Then they asked me to come to the mainstream and to do Masterchef in the prime hours of the broadcasting. In the beginning I refused, then they offered me so much money my agent said to me you are foolish if you are not going to do it. In the first season, when I spoke my own language people would laugh at me, in the second season they became quiet, in the third season they began to copy me and talk like me and now all Isrealis are talking like me. But all Israelis began to cook on their own because of that language because it makes you feel that there is nothing to cook, you can understand the ingredients, you observe them, you can create something out of them. I’ve been doing it for the last 12 years, it is really boring, because I was there for 16 hours to be in the studio, wearing jackets that don’t belong to you, combing your hair in a way that does not belong to you and eating every 5 mins something else, eating like 8,000 calories a day. But there is a heaven inside of it, when somebody is bringing their dish to you and asking you what do you think about it, because it is becoming completely naked it is not protecting itself. With food I can see your inner part, I can see your soul, your thoughts and to analyse it and to eat and to reflect it is a big present. 

FP: It is priceless! 

Eyal: Priceless.

FP: What is one thing that you look for when judging a contestant’s food?

Eyal: I am looking for sparks of genuinity, that is what I am looking for. There are a lot of people that don’t appreciate themselves and are very talented but nobody is telling them. Life is pushing them down, I want to discover these people, to elevate these people. That’s the same mission with my chefs here and all across the world, I am coming to visit my restaurants not that I think there is something wrong, a lot of things can go wrong that is for sure, I am taking care of my chefs. Not just because I am taking care of them for the interest of the restaurant and serving Miznon in the best way,  because they are close to me, close to my heart. I feel responsible for them from the minute I work with them, they are like my sons and want to make sure they are looked after well.

FP: What advice would you give to young culinary enthusiasts trying to make it out in the restaurant scene or wanting to start their own restaurant?

Eyal: It is very simple. Be yourself. All the shapes in the world were not given from God, people create them, people like you and people like me. If you make a small act that you completely believe in it will make a big change. So make that act, don’t be afraid and don’t be afraid of failure, because failure is the thing that you are looking for because failure contains a lot of information so let yourself fail. If you succeed, oh it is wonderful, but you can learn nothing out of success. You have to run away from your success otherwise you’ll be stuck there and you will fail there, it is better to fail in another place and succeed there. Be honest with yourself and most importantly, be authentic to who you are. 

FP: Lastly, on behalf of the Footpatrol team we would like to say thanks so much for the interview, so this last question is just a little bit of a sign off, this could be anything from getting people excited about something, a message of positivity, whatever you like. 

Eyal: In the end, if you are blessed with something, you must share it because it belongs to you. 

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