Aged 17, Tomás Kalika found himself sitting on a kerb outside a restaurant in downtown Jerusalem. He sat there every night for a week, trying to pluck up the courage to ask a chef he had read about to give him a job. On the eighth day, the chef, Eyal Shani, asked him what he was doing. In broken English, Kalika begged for a job in his kitchen. The rest, as they say, is history.
Israel was tough for the Argentine teen who only found himself in the country as his mother had sent him to a kibbutz after he was kicked out of school. Arriving without a word of English or Hebrew, he would draw pictures of ingredients and write the name next to them in both languages to learn the tools of his fledgling trade. It took time, but as he progressed, his colleagues in the kitchen realised that he had a mercurial talent that was just beginning to blossom. He left Argentina as a dropout, but returned eight years later as a cook.
From Israel, he spent two years working as a chef on board a Princess Cruises ship. Soon after, he opened his first restaurant, The Food Factory, in Buenos Aires. It didn’t last long. Kalika cites inexperience and hubris for its failings and its closure was followed by a chastening period working in a bakery. However, baking the bread offered up a slice of good fortune. He met Javier Ickowicz, owner of celebrated Buenos Aires restaurant Nucha, who suggested they launch a project together.
The pair opened Mishiguene, meaning 'crazy' in Yiddish, in October 2014. In 2018, it received the Highest Climber Award at Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and it continues to go from strength to strength, serving a modernised brand of traditional Jewish cuisine that porteños just can’t get enough of. Its raucous atmosphere, open parrilla grill and live music set the backdrop for a restaurant that is serious about its food, but less serious about itself.
Determination, self-realisation and a career peppered with vicissitudes have all contributed to Tomás Kalika receiving the only peer-voted prize at Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants: the Chefs’ Choice Award 2019, sponsored by Estrella Damm.
Palermo, Buenos Aires
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