The passion in his eyes, a devouring love for middle-east cuisine, Moshe Ittah has always known that he will open his own restaurant one day. And he was right because, for the last year and a half, Moshe has been the owner and head chef of New Jaffa, an amazing Middle Eastern diner in the backstreets of Collingwood. Impressed by his cuisine, it was no doubt I wanted to meet him to hear more about his cooking! Get ready for an explosion of flavours at New Jaffa!
À la carte d’Élé: Hello Moshe, I am so delighted to meet you. Your cuisine is a tasty blend of Middle Eastern, North African and Southern European culinary traditions with a contemporary twist, a wink to your culture, can you tell me more about it?
Moshe Ittah: When I came to Australia, I studied cooking and right from the beginning, I really wanted to learn about French cuisine, because you know, French cuisine represents quality. At school, I had the opportunity to discover many different types of cuisine (French, Italian…) and all the techniques used by successful chefs. Since arriving in Melbourne in 2004, I’ve worked across Melbourne’s culinary spectrum from cafes to fine dining, but always with the dream of opening a restaurant of my own. After several years working as a chef, I decided to connect to my route and open my own restaurant. My cuisine, as you said, is mainly from the middle-east, I’m from Israel and I love mixing the flavours. I celebrate the food I grew up with from my grandmother’s fricassee sandwich to the famous knaffeh of Yaffo as well as the diverse and vibrant food culture of my new home.
À la carte d’Élé: What made you want to become a Chef? Have you always had a love of cooking?
Moshe Ittah: Food is a huge part of Israeli culture, Jewish in particular. Dinners with my parents at home always come with a lot of food on the table. Actually, my mum is a really good cook, she’s a pastry chef. I was always involved in cooking food in Israel. I love Australia but the culture here is different, but at the same time, it’s also a good country to launch your own business, particularly in food. This is a reason I came with here and started to learn about it!
À la carte d’Élé: You love mixing flavours that come from different countries in your cooking, in this regard, are you also inspired by other types of cuisines such as Japanese, French, South American or other cuisines?
Moshe Ittah: It is something I definitely love. Before Covid-19, I was starting thinking about my next target, the next venture I would like to do and I actually wanted to propose a place really similar to New Jaffa but with an Indian style. I would say a perfect mix between Indian and Israeli cuisine, a fusion, which doesn’t exist yet in Melbourne. I was thinking about it because Indian food is amazing but in Melbourne, you can only find classic Indian restaurants. And my idea would be to open a fusion Indian/Middle-Eastern restaurant but really cool with music, young people – something really special with a warm and festive atmosphere!
Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine has a lot in common because we use similar spices. Something I find distasteful is when some people take cuisine and adapt it to the palate of the country where they live. For example, with Israeli cuisine, you sometimes see chefs who adapt the cuisine to the Australian palate. And I think it’s a pity because it means that Australian people don’t have a real taste experience, don’t measure the real flavours of another type of cuisine, which is pretty sad. Personally, I’ve never done it in my shop, I’ve never tried to change it.
I get lots of comments from people who’ve been to my restaurant that they’ve never eaten so many flavours in one bite, which is really rewarding for me. Their palate is not used to tasting so many flavours. It’s not because they’re not going to like it, but more because they’re scared of it, because it is something new for them and because most of the restaurants here adjust their menus to the Australian palate. I don’t know if people know it, but something special happens in your brain when you eat spices. It’s a fine line between hating it, liking it and wanting more of it. When we eat chilli, our defence mechanisms are triggered. Because when faced with a perceived danger, the body responds with a burst of adrenaline. The heartbeat accelerates. Pupils dilate. Breathing becomes deeper and the arteries widen. But that’s not all. In response to pain, the brain also releases endorphins. These are powerful natural painkillers that are supposed to reduce the pain of the burn but also induce a general sense of well-being. It’s a euphoria that can be addictive and may explain why we like to eat spicy food despite the pain.
Since arriving in Melbourne in 2004, I’ve worked across Melbourne’s culinary spectrum from cafes to fine dining, but always with the dream of opening a restaurant of my own.
À la carte d’Élé: If I were to come to your restaurant, what would you recommend? What are your specialties?
Moshe Ittah: The traditional fish is a dish people really love and one of my favourites too. The hummus is also made in a really traditional way and I have had beautiful feedback on it.
À la carte d’Élé: I’m in love with your hummus, which you make fresh daily with traditional ingredients using a secret technique. The result is a silky texture, a rich, nutty flavour and the perfect balance of salty and acidic. What is your secret Moshe? Can you give a tip for readers to make their hummus better?
Moshe Ittah: There is no way I’ll tell you…(À la carte d’Élé: He didn’t want to get me some tips, but after negotiations, I could get one. Let’s go back to his words…)
OK, let’s go for one tip! I would say not to be scared to use spices; people don’t dare add spices but it’s the most important – don’t be stingy with the spices!
À la carte d’Élé: As with most of the restaurants in Melbourne, you had to close the doors of New Jaffa because of the resurgence of the virus, did you find a solution to counteract the problem? Takeaway or any other ideas?
Moshe Ittah: Yes, clients can order and pick up the food. I also have a special lockdown menu with precooked delicious cooking any day of the week. All prices are for two except the sweets.
Honest prices, hearty soul food where sharing is a part of the journey, New Jaffa will also make your taste buds go wild for sure! I’m personally melting for his traditional Hummus, which is absolutely amazing and probably one of the best I’ve ever eaten! For lunch, get it capped with mushrooms, or minced lamb and beef fried in a powerful spice blend, with pine nuts adding sweetness. Scrape the plate clean with pita bread, its cloud-soft insides will soak up the remnants of your food in the best way possible.
More than ever, we need to support Melbourne’s local business owners, so feel free to order at Moshe’s restaurant, you won’t be disappointed, it’s a safe bet!