Many might know Einat Admony as the “Queen of Falafel,” but the “ultimate balaboosta” (Yiddish for “perfect housewife”) is her title of choice—at least when she’s in the kitchen. Born in Bnei Brak, an Isreali city just east of Tel Aviv on the central Mediterranean coastal plain, Admony grew up cooking spicy Persian dishes under the direction of her mother, an Iranian immigrant, and enjoying a traditional Yemini breakfast every shabbat morning as insisted upon by her father. A Moroccan neighbor—in many ways a second mom—taught her how to hand-roll couscous, and by the time Admony had left to serve in the Israel Defense Forces as a driver and an ad-hoc cook, she had captured all of the seasonings and flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine. “I’ve been everywhere,” she muses, rolladexing through her brief enrollment in higher learning, time spent roaming around Germany, taking food-discovery trips across the globe, and finally, her move to New York, where she now lives. “I toured the world in my 20s. Even now with kids, I still travel so much, but never did I think I’d ever go to Albania.”
One of the first to popularize Israeli cuisine among Americans, the chef has opened an impressive 13 restaurants that draw upon her multicultural upbringing, including the ever-popular Taïm franchise, where perfectly-crispy falafel balls are served atop fast-casual grain bowls; Kish-Kash, a now-shuttered couscous-focused cafe in Manhattan’s West Village; and, her crown jewel: Balaboosta, a fine-dining reimagination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare. “I’ve made a career out of being a housewife,” she says playfully, hinting at her ability to render dishes that might be considered “comfort food” contemporary. “Cooking is a way to express my love and compassion for those around me. It is also a way to connect the past with the present and future.” Along the way, the James Beard Award semifinalist has established herself as a TV personality on the likes of Chopped and Guy Fieri’s Tournament of Champions thanks to her deadpan humor that combines the authority of the head of a kitchen with the cheeky subversion of a countercultural critic. “I like the camera,” she jokes, “and the camera likes me.”
It’s the camera, in fact, that is driving Admony to Albania as she begins her next venture: her own television show. Self-produced, the travel series will follow the chef as she meets various groups of women making significant changes around the world. Food, of course, will be a large part of the developing project, but so will sustainability as well as—perhaps unexpectedly—comedy. The chef has long been a distant admirer of the genre, but a chance offer from New York’s historic Comedy Cellar a couple years ago to collaborate on the venue’s restaurant, Olive Tree Cafe, brought Admony closer to the stage. “I didn’t think I had enough restaurants,” she jokes.
After taking several stand-up classes, she was fascinated by the challenge. “I’ve led kitchens, appeared on TV shows, and been on-stage at events,” she says. “That is easy for me. But to stand there in a dark room alone and try to make people laugh is something else.” She relates this fear to the nerves she faced when she first set out to launch Taïm in 2005, but with different stakes. Still, the chef insists she must go forward with it, and while her upcoming series will not contain any formal monologues, the organic nature of Admony’s conversations will offer as much hope as they will humor. “It’s important to be able to laugh,” she says. “As women especially, we need to be able to have that relief.”