CHEF EFI NAHON'S BIO
Israeli native Efraim (Efi) Naon grew up in a household whose culinary character was defined by his father’s Moroccan origins, which meant cooking was strictly consigned to the women in the family. Despite the kitchen being considered off limits to males, as a child, Naon spent a lot of time in it, fascinated by watching his mother’s and grandmother’s gastronomic endeavors. Of course, given his father’s position on the subject, cooking as a career never occurred to him, until he took a part-time restaurant dishwasher job as a teenager.
Naon discovered he loved the professional kitchen environment and, when he was recruited to fill-in with prep or to work on the line, he realized his affinity for cooking. Consequently, he enrolled in Tel-Aviv’s Tadmor Culinary Institute.
After graduating in 1995, Naon began his career as a line cook at Hataboon, a seaside Mediterranean tavern in the ancient Israeli port of Jaffa. At what he describes as a “sea to table” restaurant, which sourced its main ingredients from the fishing boats docked just across the street, Naon developed his passion for cooking fish, which has been reflected in his menus ever since.
Having worked his way up to sous chef at Hataboon, he set off for France in 1998 for a hands-on education in French cuisine at L’Esperance, Marc Maneau’s three Michelin-starred restaurant. A year later, Naon returned to Israel to work at the country’s top-rated restaurant, Keren, under Haim Cohen, Israel’s first celebrity chef, who became his mentor.
When Haim closed Keren, Naon went with him to Greece to open Oceana at Club Hotel Lutraki, then Europe’s largest casino, where he embraced Greek cuisine as part of his cookery repertoire. And then, when Haim and his partners decided to test New York City’s culinary waters, Naon became the founding executive chef of Taboon Restaurant, which opened in Hell’s Kitchen in 2004.
There he began his study of what he calls “the delicate art of cooking” in the restaurant’s namesake oven, the traditional wood-fired, dome-shaped oven of the Middle East, the design of which dates back more than two millennia. Two stars from the New York Times along withNew York Magazine’s naming the restaurant one New York City’s Best 101 and a score of 25 for food from Zagat were testimony to Naon’s mastery of Taboon’s taboon, the first in a New York City restaurant. The accolades and loyal following also speak to the appreciation of his original multi-cultural approach to his food, which seamlessly blends culinary influences from throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. A gastronomic style Nahon and his partners dubbed “Middleterranean”.
In 2008 Naon took over the kitchen at Barbounia, another highly acclaimed Mediterranean restaurant where taboon cooking figures prominently. During his tenure, he further raised the restaurant’s profile as one of New York City’s best seafood centric restaurants, while gaining a national reputation for his hummus and the imaginative toppings he concocted for it, which were hailed by the likes of The Wall Street Journal.
Five years later, Naon left Barbounia to open Bustan as a contemporary pan-Mediterranean restaurant, which quickly attracted sell-out crowds nightly, as well as critical acclaim: two-and-half stars from the New York Post; the first five star review from The New York Observer and the “Best Restaurant on the Upper West Side” designation from the ViIlage Voice.
Through the years, Naon remained friendly with the owners of Taboon and, when they approached him in early 2015 about returning to the restaurant where he had introduced New Yorkers to the taboon oven and his unique brand of cuisine, the Journey that began in 2004 came full circle.
In February of 2015, Nahon returned as Executive Chef and Partner for both Taboon Restaurant and its 2012 Union Square offshoot Taboonette, placing the storied kitchens once again in the hands of Chef Nahon who’s cooking today is more inspired and confident than ever.
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