The Expat: Ohad Weiner

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From: Tel Aviv, Israel
Lives: Belgrano
Profession: Cook and co-owner
at Pain & Vin
Education: French Culinary
Institute in New York
Book: A Brief History of Mankind
Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gadget: Oven and iPad

The inevitable, a love interest kept Israeli cook Ohad Weiner coming back to Argentina. The couple are now married and own a wine store and café in Palermo.

He says: “The first time I came to Argentina was in October 2006 and I was 21. As I am Israeli I had just finished my obligatory military service and a lot of people go travelling after that. Some go to Australia and New Zealand and some come to South America. It’s all about budget and it was cheaper to fly to this part of the world.

“I wanted to travel to South America so I was working in a pizza place in Israel to save up money for the trip, then I worked for three months in New York helping my family open up a business, then I came here. The plan was to stay three months in Argentina, but between zigzagging with Chile I ended up staying for six months.”

Love is in the air
So what kept the young Israeli in the country for longer than expected? The inevitable, of course. Ohad says: “There was a lot to see, but I also met a girl. I started in Buenos Aires and was there for two weeks then I travelled all the way down the Atlantic coast to Ushuaia then up to Bariloche and Mendoza. And Eleonora and I met in San Rafael. She was from Buenos Aires and I had to return there for a vaccine as she says, that was an excuse and we hooked up for a while. And then I moved on. I went to Iguazú, came back to see her then we separated but we always stayed in touch. And I went up to Colombia.

“We kept on talking, even though we were doing our own thing. I was in Israel again, saving up to go to New York, then I went to culinary school there.

“At one point I had a little crisis in Israel with a boss I didn’t like and as I had saved some money and had some free time, I came back to Argentina. That was in December 2010. And by then it was obvious that we were in a relationship, that we weren’t just keeping in touch although we didn’t know exactly what was going on, whether she’d be moving to Israel or me in Argentina. Israel is a little racist, religionwise, and if she doesn’t want to convert and I didn’t want her to convert, there would have been a problem. So we decided that I should move to Argentina. I was very optimistic about my future here about finding a job. She was also very optimistic and I believed everything she said!

“Israel is going through some weird times right now and that’s hard for me and so I thought it would also be easier to be in a place where you don’t care so much about the politics.”

Learning the lingo
Ohad didn’t have many Spanish language skills and he thought he would soon pick it up as soon as he started working. “It was very basic Spanish; it’s better now as I understand! which I had from travelling.
“My priority when I got here was to get a job and I knew my Spanish would get better while working. It was very easy to get work and I started at Paraje Arévalo. It was different from what I expected. I was very excited to start but although I didn’t have very good Spanish, they didn’t treat me like someone who doesn’t have very good Spanish. I felt that they thought ’if he doesn’t speak Spanish, he’s not so smart.’ So I left after three months.

“Then I worked for (chef) Hernán Gipponi at his restaurant in Martínez and that was a really good experience, the people were fun to work with. But then it closed and he didn’t need any more people at his new place.

“Then I went to work somewhere else but everyone started to leave, and it was just me, so I ended up leaving as well. Then, with Eleonora, we decided to open up our own place.”

The gastronomy scene has improved in the past year, Ohad says, but he still misses spicy cuisine. “All the food was quite similar to me. Even if it was gourmet, it was all the same, all the sushi places were the same.

But last year Astor opened, and I really like it, as well as simple places like Burger Joint and Fukuro. It’s not like one fashion that everyone follows but people are doing things little by little. And I’m trying to do the same with bread. It’s not fashionable but slowly people are becoming exposed to different things.

“I really miss spicy food, and products from the Middle East here are really expensive. The other day we found a Lebanese place that makes good things. I can find the ingredients to replicate dishes but it costs more. Tahini is the expensive stuff.”

Bread and wine
The couple married in June 2012 and now reside in Belgrano, a neighbourhood Ohad enjoys living in. “It’s quiet and residential and I’ve got everything I need five minutes away — everything apart from good restaurants, that is. The good ones in Belgrano are in Barrio Chino. I like going to the market on Juramento. But I don’t really live there now, I just sleep there.”

Add on 12 more months and Ohad and Eleonora opened Pain & Vin, a wine store and café that specialises in its breads. ‘It’s been quite cheap to set up a business I’d never have been able to do the same in Israel. I can’t say it was easy but it was easier; we had some sleepless nights but I’m glad we found the place we are located in and we have managed to make it more or less like we wanted it. We had to give up some stuff and the kitchen is still missing some things, but I have my wood fire so that is good.

“I built my oven myself. I’d never done it before but I read a book. The guys doing the renovation helped a lot but I made the plans.

“It was hard as it’s not so easy to find refractory cement in Argentina so it’s a miracle that I found it! People don’t publish it on the Internet, and even if I went to a cement place they didn’t know what I was talking about. I was lucky to find it.”

Since the business opened nearly a year ago, Ohad has dedicated a lot of time to making it a success, some nights even resting there to ensure his dough goes into the wood oven at the right time.

He says: “I don’t get days off! We close on Monday but I am at work anyway making dough for Tuesday. When we started I was sleeping here. I’d make the dough at around noon and it would go into the oven at two in the morning. So I’d sleep at three or four, then wake up at eight to make the croissants.

“On Sunday we close at seven and I don’t have to make dough for Monday. That’s my time off and we usually go to the Shanghai Dragon pub or the Bangalore and drink.”

One cultural surprise for Ohad, from a professional point of view, is the lack of socializing that goes on, and he thinks it’s one of the reasons he hasn’t made many friends in Buenos Aires. “I worked in New York for a bit and it’s a high-pressure environment. So at the end of the day, you’d all go out for a drink. I thought the same thing would happen here but when the restaurant closed for the night, everyone just went home. That was weird for me, so it was hard to make friends. Now, most of my friends are Eleonora’s friends and there are a few people from my industry but the truth is I don’t have much time to socialize. However, in other places, I’ve made friends faster.”

Other cultural differences that Ohad has noticed is that Argentines often don’t understand his cynicism, and that they don’t appreciate criticism. “I don’t think people understand me a lot of the time,” he says. But last week, there was one particular day when the situation was reversed.

“Last week I closed the store for the Malvinas day as I thought it is a sad day and families would be remembering their loved ones. But the Lolapallooza music festival was on, as was the Boca game and everyone was in the street getting drunk, enjoying the day off. That’s what I don’t understand about this place. If I close my business for the day to respect the people who died for this country, why did they have to put the concert on the same day? I don’t care about it more than them, but if they don’t care, why should I? And especially when everyone says the Malvinas son argentinas but on the date no one remembers them. It bothered me. I come from a small country but we’ve had some wars and there’s no way there’d be a concert or a football match on a memorial day.”

Ph: Mariano Fuchila
Buenos Aires Herald, April 12, 2014

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