Having learned the craft from his father, Chef Yona Shemtov, Avi left the real estate business to open a commissary and food truck in 2010. With a curated menu that features traditional Israeli fare and creative takes thereupon and that makes use of much of Boston’s bounty (including Sam Adams beer!), Avi’s Chubby Chickpea is perennially one of the most popular purveyors in town. When not running the truck or running back to Canton to fill a banquet order, the author of The Single Guy Cookbook (which is a welcomed gift for married men and women too, as it offers recipes that pretty much anyone can do with little fuss or fear of failure) can often be found at charity events or spending time with his family.
What a mensch!
Matt’s Meals: How did you get into cooking?
Avi Shemtov: My father came to the States from Israel when he was 22 and stumbled into a job in a hospital kitchen. Somehow he ended up opening his first restaurant just a few short years later and he never looked back. I grew up in the basements and kitchens of his restaurants, and somehow I knew I’d end up in the industry eventually.
MM: Where was your first professional kitchen experience?
AS: When I was in high school I worked in the kitchen at the Wonderland Conference Center in Sharon, where I grew up. Other than that, my dad’s restaurants were my only experience until I opened my first place, the original Chubby Chickpea.
MM: What is your favorite dish to prepare?
AS: My favorite dish to prepare is halvah- an artisan sesame candy. Sugar work is something I’ve kind of taught myself and I really enjoy messing with the textures and flavors.
MM: What is the best part of your job?
AS: The best parts of my job are the passionate customers. My passion for food is based mostly in seeing other people pleased and enjoying what I’ve created and when that happens, it’s magic.
MM: Who is your favorite chef in Boston?
AS: I can’t say I have one favorite Chef in Boston. The first name that comes to mind is Dave Becker, whose first restaurant Sweet Basil is my favorite and whom I find personally inspiring. Andy Husbands isn’t only a BBQ champion, but he’s also a champion of some great causes and the industry in Boston. Josh Smith is the most talented and passionate Chef I’ve ever met. David Harnik of the Dining Car is so smart and knows everything there is to know about food- He’s like an encyclopedia of innovative food. I think there’s just so many great chefs in Boston who inspire me.
MM: What do you usually make for yourself at home?
AS: My go-to on a weekend is Shakshuka. I like to believe my Shakshuka is the very best in the world. It’s a dish my grandmother passed down to my dad and I kind of revisited after a trip to Israel a few years ago. Fresh tomatoes, soft cheese, roasted lamb and fresh pita- it’s always a hit with my two year old.
MM: If you could dine with any three people, who would they be?
AS: Haha, I love this question. I’d have to say Jay-Z, my grandmother on my Dad’s side and my wife Adrien. Jay because he’s been an idol of mine for a really long time, and I like to believe we’d have similar tastes and hopefully he’d pick up the tab. My grandmother because I never really knew her but I am conscious of her spirit and cuisine in everything I cook, so the opportunity to have her eat something I made would make for an unbelievable experience. My wife because she has great taste, in food at least, and her (and our two kids) are who I look most forward to eating with whenever I’m around for a meal.