Israeli chef Yaron Shalev and El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) are parting company just before the collaboration they announced a year ago was due to get underway. In May 2017, El Al triumphantly announced the appointment of a new chef who would take charge of the menus served on its flights. The airline chose Yaron Shalev of the Toto restaurant in Tel Aviv. Until then, the post was filled by Segev Moshe, who took it up in 2010. The idea was for Shalev to put together new menus for the meals served on all El Al flights, with the aim of improving this aspect of the flight experience. El Al VP Customer and Service Amir Rogovski said at the time that Shalev was chosen as part of a strategic move to improve the service and products on El Al's aircraft. "Yaron is one of the leading chefs in Israel and we are very happy that he is joining El Al's service operation. We are sure that his rich experience and his talent will upgrade the culinary experience offered to our passengers."
"There were high hopes at the outset - talk of a great revolution," says an industry source. "Segev Moshe was there a long time and retired a while ago. El Al looked for a wining move, and hoped it would happen through Yaron Shalev, who is known as a great chef and a general in his kitchen. Shalev is used to feeding the wealthiest, and to apply even a fraction of that within the limitations of the budget and bureaucracy of El Al's catering company was a tough challenge. Just as they were getting to the finishing line, it was realized that it wouldn't work."
Shalev did try to meet the challenge. He started to compose menus and checked out the food on other airlines. Together with Shalev, pastry chef Tully Yekutiel was meant to devise desserts for El Al passengers, which will not now happen.
Industry sources were not surprised that things had not worked out. "El Al looked for someone who would bring something different, some interesting twist with a whiff of prestige, and they took a gamble that in the end did not succeed," one source said.
Shalev, who began his career in the kitchen at a young age and was marked as having great promise, is a highly respected chef who also holds the title of "the wonder boy" of the culinary world in Israel (and some would say "bad boy" is a better description). He is not a mainstream chef with a chain of restaurants but one identified with luxury dishes in a Tel Aviv restaurant frequented by the kind of people who travel business class on El Al.
Another source said, "In Shalev's favor it should be said that when he takes on a mission, he gives it full commitment. Even before the official announcement last year he started researching the matter in depth. But the people who produce food for El Al passengers are workers in a factory, and, without disrespect, they are not people who know how to work in service in a restaurant. It's a catering factory, not a chef restaurant. Shalev is a control freak who can't let the dishes that bear his name go out unless they're perfect. Here, he was tilting against windmills, with no weapons. He can't fire a worker who doesn't produce a dish as it should be. He's not in control, and for any chef that's a challenge, and all the more so for a chef known for his short fuse."
A well-known Israeli chef told "Globes", "It all starts and finishes with the fact that you have no control over the food preparation and how it reaches the diner. For any chef, that's a difficult formula. Add to that the fact that in the end we're talking about a meal that costs NIS 9-10 to produce. Even I wouldn't succeed in cracking that one."
Yaron Shalev stated to "Globes": "We worked for many months to try out the possibility of collaboration. In the end, it was decided that we should part friends. I'll continue to fly with the airline, and El Al passengers who want my food can continue to dine at Toto. I thank El Al's management for their confidence."
El Al stated, "The company highly esteems chef Yaron Shalev, who is one of Israel's leading chefs. But the company decided together with Yaron to carry on as it has done in the culinary field."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 6, 2018
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