Israeli pastry chef conquers Manhattan

Zohar Zohar’s family-style café in East Village, where she bakes her grandma’s recipes, has won over New Yorkers’ hearts, stomachs

Israeli chef Zohar Zohar has conquered Manhattan in recent months with her successful Zucker Bakery. Zohar, 40, arrived in New York over 17 years ago. Her only plan was to save up some money and travel with her high school sweetheart Yaniv.

In her wildest dreams she never imagined that years later she would be opening up a bakery in the Big Apple, reminiscent of her grandmother’s kibbutz home, selling homemade cakes and cookies based on her family recipes.

“I left Israel in my twenties and went out to see the world,” she tells Ynet. “When Yaniv and I arrived in New York my plan was to work for six months and then continue to travel. We’ve been here ever since.”

Zohar says she has been passionate about cooking and baking since she was a child. “When we got to New York I decided to go to culinary school. I went to a very prestigious school and afterwards worked for many esteemed restaurants in New York.”

After deciding to start a family Zohar left the demanding culinary world, but continued to bake at home. “I never studied to become a pastry chef, but it turned out I really loved it,” she explains.

“A close friend, who is one of the leading pastry chefs in the United States, tasted my pastry and was very impressed,” Zohar recalls. “At one point it became very clear to me and Yaniv that we wanted to open a café with a bakery.”

Up for an award

Their dreams came true. Four months ago the couple opened their business in the big city and named it Zucker Bakery, after Zohar’s maiden name.

“I knew I wanted it to feel very homey, like you’re sitting in someone’s living room with a kitchen behind you,” she says. “I wanted it to be very Israeli and look like my grandmother’s home.”

Zohar collected her family’s old recipes for the East Village shop. “When Israelis come here they recognize about 90% of the recipes. The Americans, however, don’t recognize anything, but despite that they tell me it makes them feel like I just took them to visit their grandma’s home.”

The Israeli-style bakery is filled with alfajores, rugelach, halvah-and-date breakfast pastry, dried fruit, chocolate balls and more.

“I was very surprised by people’s reactions and the success of the place,” Zohar admits. “People come in, smell the baking aroma, taste, and tell me how their grandmother would make the same things. After they get up, they fix the napkin on the sofa, put back the dishes. It’s part of the experience here. It’s a living-room feel, very different from the New York trend. Everything is more personal here.”

When it first opened, Zohar’s parents arrived from Israel to celebrate. They were excited to see the bakery was named after their family.

Meanwhile, just this week Zohar learned that the Zucker Bakery is a finalist on Time Out Magazine’s annual food awards.