Food wasn’t the first option for Tomer Blechman. Before he came to America at the age of 28, the chef behind Fort Greene’s always packed Miss Ada studied alternative medicine in Israel, where he was born. His interest in shiatsu and acupuncture, he says, came from a place of wanting to heal.
“It was a natural transition,” he says of the move to working in kitchens. “If I couldn’t heal people through medicine I could heal people through what they put in their bodies. What we eat is what we are.”
After years of working in a number of Manhattan restaurants mostly cooking Italian food, Blechman opened Miss Ada, his first restaurant, in May, 2017. The dishes — from Hummus Masabacha to the Za’atar Crusted Salmon — combine Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors in simple, surprising combinations. Earlier this year, the restaurant introduced brunch service, where they serve Yemeni pastries and an Israeli breakfast of eggs, market greens, labne and stracciatella, among other dishes.
Sitting at the restaurant one morning over espresso, Blechman talked to Brownstoner about his main goals for Miss Ada and how the restaurant has found a home within the community of Fort Greene.
What were your main ideas in opening Miss Ada?
I wanted it be a cozy place. The main idea for me was to create a feeling of a market — everything is open, you can look and see the kitchen, there’s a lot of fresh vegetables, a lot of fresh ingredients. When we first opened my intention was to bring Israeli flavors with all of New York’s amazing ingredients, trying to create a new thing.
Why did you decide to open in Fort Greene?
I lived in Fort Greene when I first arrived in New York. It was always a place I liked, and a place where I knew what was happening. It’s very diverse in Fort Greene, and the people who live here are really proud to live here — community is very important to them. They feel that what opens here belongs to them. Maybe it has something to do with Fort Greene Park and the farmers market. Everything has to be good because people here know what’s good. I looked in other places, but my first choice was always to be here.
Has healing always been a major focus of your work in food?
When I started working in restaurants in New York, it didn’t always reflect an idea of healing. I ate a lot of garbage. Now, I’m trying to bring a little more of my past into the cooking. But I chose the restaurants that I worked for because they were the ones that were using the farmers markets. So I worked at Gramercy Tavern, Maialino, Lupa, Cookshop, which all use really good ingredients. Part of opening Miss Ada was carrying things from those restaurants as well.
How does the conception of the menu change from season to season?
Most of the menu will probably stay the same, especially the signature dishes. But in the winter time, we bring in more stews, hot soups. It has to be soothing, you have to feel the comfort.
Do you have a chance to go to other restaurants?
Monday is my day off and I’ll often go out. I recently went to Oxomoco in Greenpoint, which is the new place from Justin Bazdarich of Speedy Romeo. It’s a good vibe, good food. But I usually try to stay in the neighborhood, either Fort Greene or Carroll Gardens.
What kind of food do you make at home?
It’s very similar to what I do at the restaurant. Really big salads with only lemon juice, olive oil and salt; or branzino with rosemary, garlic and thyme. That’s my favorite thing to eat. I have a grill at home, and branzino is the first thing I’ll go to. There’s a patio with a grill in the apartment I’m in now, so it’s really easy. Most of my career has been cooking Italian food, so I cook pasta as well.
Do you eat while working?
When I first started I didn’t eat anything all day. I would come here and start production, then service, and go home and go to sleep. My body reacted negatively, and I started to feel tired. I couldn’t move my arms, so I went to the acupuncturist and she was like, ‘You have to eat.’ So now I force myself — all my guys, we eat breakfast downstairs in the restaurant every morning and then at four o’clock everybody eats together again. Usually, I’ll also grab a snack near the end of service.
The sense of community seems important to you in the kitchen.
Definitely. It’s a family. I have a lot of people who have been here since day one. All the servers are friends. The people I choose, it’s important they have a personality that fits Miss Ada.
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Fall/Holiday 2018 issue of Brownstoner magazine.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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