Breaking the Mould: L28 Culinary Platform
Published 06 August 2019
The Tel Aviv restaurant on a mission to innovate, inspire and change how we think about dining.
By Harry McKinley
The so-called ‘Israeli food wave’ - gentle at first but now a roaring tide - is sweeping urban centres globally. Its mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours, focus on sharing and emphasis on spirited, dynamic dining is so of the zeitgeist that it has forced other more staid movements into submission. Here’s looking at you, New Nordic.
Of course in Tel Aviv - Israel’s own food capital and the city that has inspired myriad restaurants internationally - the staples of national cuisine are already old hat. While the likes of sabich, ptitim and even falafel, maintain an air of exoticism elsewhere, in Israel they are as commonplace as fish and chips. But change is afoot, and while the rest of the world basks in Tel Aviv’s traditions, locally, inventive new restaurant models are sprouting and pioneering chefs are pushing Israeli cuisine into fresh territory.
L28 Culinary Platform is one restaurant at the forefront of change. Opened late 2018, it was founded by NGO, Start-Up Nation Central, an organisation that works to ‘build bridges to Israeli innovation’. And there’s little doubt that innovation is at the core of L28, in everything from concept to supply chain.
Billed as the country’s first ‘chef accelerator’, the restaurant sees budding and established chefs alike given six-month residencies, with the freedom to develop their own menus. A full support package is in place, including kitchen crew, restaurant manager, marketing and, crucially, close mentoring by Israel’s top restaurant industry players.
“It gives young chefs the platform they need,” explains L28’s Culinary Director, Gabriel Israel. “It’s something that has never been done this way before. We steer them in the right direction by giving them the tools they need to succeed, but the creation comes from them.”
Chef Shuli Wimer was the first to take up residency, having honed her craft at London’s renowned River Café. Galilee born-and-raised, she blended the food culture of her native region with Italian flavours. It was a unique menu that spoke to Israel, but with an international accent – in many ways a conversation about how outside inspiration can drive the country’s own gastronomy in novel and unexpected directions.
“As we are ultimately seeking to explore the evolving nature of Israeli cuisine, each chef needs to be of Israeli descent and have some defined Israeli culinary style,” Gabriel explains, “but we also look for taste, design and concept when selecting the next. L28 and the Yarzin Sella group (a collection of companies specialising in concept dining) work closely with these chefs to gauge their experience and understand their take on Israeli food and sustainability practices. These philosophies are vital to the culinary platform.”
When Shuli Wimer’s six month tenure drew to a close, Gabriel stepped in, keen to demonstrate his cooking chops – still as culinary director, but also as the new resident chef. He’s heavily influenced by North Africa, the Mediterranean and Asia, and draws from his years in New York, where he worked under the likes of Chef Daniel Boulud. As for his menu, it’s a compelling combination of refinement and originality, precise in execution but riotous in flavour.
Staying true to his sustainable ethos he makes ample use of L28’s urban farm, another key aspect of the restaurant’s innovative approach. Indeed, neat rows of growing vegetables are an unexpected sight atop a skyscraper, just a few minutes walks from the sprawling Rothschild Boulevard. This dense, highly managed garden remarkably provides 20% of L28’s produce and is a pioneering exercise in city-based agriculture.
“We’ve found an incredibly unique way to utilise the space, where we can grow vertically, which triples our growth area,” says Gabriel. “Herbs, lettuce, green onions and many other crops are suspended vertically and we use a drip irrigation system so it saves water and nutrients. We don’t use any pesticides, so all of the produce is organic and extremely sustainable. Of course, for chefs it’s still a learning process, especially when it comes to utilising the produce and integrating those ingredients into the menu, but each new chef inherits the ability to excel in a genuine farm-to-table environment.”
L28’s model is, perhaps, a testament to the changing face of restaurants. Not only does it fulfil an important remit in advancing Israel’s cuisine and bolstering talent, but the rotating nature of the residencies affords diners a perpetually fresh experience and a reason to keep coming back. In the future, Gabriel hopes to establish an alumni of sorts – a network of chefs that, together, can share experiences of what they learnt through the platform.
“It is definitely something that could be replicated in other countries,” he says. “One could say it is even necessary to have a platform in which young culinary talents showcase the cuisine of their countries in new and dynamic ways. And while Start-Up Nation Central doesn’t specifically mediate outside investment opportunities, any investors or operators who want to approach the running chefs, or explore the potential of the concept, are welcome to.”