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Top Chef: Oz Ben David

Twice a month, we shine a spotlight on our favourite chefs in Berlin. This week: Oz Ben David of the Israeli-Palestinian fusion restaurant Kanaan in Prenzlauer Berg.

Image for Top Chef: Oz Ben David

Photo by Sophie le Roux

“Food brings people together.” This is what motivates the 36-year-old Israeli Oz Ben David. After a career in PR and marketing in Tel Aviv and Amsterdam, he moved to Berlin two years ago and met Palestinian chef Jalil Dabit. The two of them co-founded Kanaan, a Middle Eastern restaurant serving up hummus, shakshouka and other hearty vegetarian and vegan dishes from both of their homelands. They’ve now got two locations in Prenzlauer Berg – a cosy restaurant with mismatched furniture and GDR lamps, and a wooden Imbiss with outdoor seating right across the street – as well as a brand-new outpost in Kreuzberg club Birgit & Bier, specialising in various regional versions of falafel. 

What type of food do you cook?

We cook Israeli food with an Arabic influence, a combination of the dishes I remember from my grandma’s house and the Palestinian dishes that Jalil brought to the table. We prepare everything from scratch, and despite fusing two cuisines, we do our best to keep it authentic and honour the stories and traditions behind the food. We also make European desserts with an Arabic twist, and our own desserts with a German touch. 

What is your most popular item?

We have our own version of the traditional German dish Kartoffelpuffer without eggs and flour. Instead, it’s bound together with tahini and baked in the oven. It’s delicious served with a plate of hummus, and freshly chopped vegetable salad topped with pomegranate vinegar and tahini. Our most popular dessert is our own take on a classic German cheesecake, which we top with salted tahini cream. 

What is the food trend you hate the most?

I don’t like fusion dishes that show no respect for their traditional roots. It’s great to combine different cuisines, but not in such a way that the food doesn’t resemble the way it used to be. There is a lot of food like that in Berlin – falafel with bao, for example. When culinary colonialism doesn’t respect the origin of the dish, then the story behind it is lost.

A cooking tip?

Don’t add garlic to your hummus! The lemon gives it some acidity, but it is supposed to have a very gentle taste. My tip for good hummus, with credit to my partner Jalil, is that it’s all about lemon, salt, good tahini and chickpeas. Soak the chickpeas for a long time, 12 hours minimum, and change the water before cooking them. Then regularly ladle off the peels that rise to the surface while cooking. Save some whole chickpeas before blending and season them with salt and cumin, those you can use to top off the hummus along with some olive oil. 

A dining tip (other than your own restaurant)?

Chef Gal Ben Moshe at Glass in Charlottenburg cooks amazing food with a concept somewhat similar to ours, yet he is taking fusion to a different level with molecular Israeli cuisine.

Best thing about owning a restaurant in Berlin?

The variety of people that you meet here. I have travelled around the world, but this city in particular has the power to bring really amazing and inspiring people together. The Berliner way of living, the power of this city that it has on people; it makes people be the best version of themselves. And these people frequent our restaurant, they share their stories with us and we share our stories with them. 

The worst?

The vegetables are so expensive here, it’s such a shame – much more expensive than meat, if you want to get good, fresh vegetables. That makes it so hard to sell good food at fair prices.