Chef Avner Samuel left the land of Aurora, Nosh Euro Bistro and truffles for his homeland of Jerusalem. After two and a half years, he’s returned and ready to open his new restaurant, Nosh Bistro at 8611 Hillcrest, in late summer. He promises a 12-seat chef’s table, an outdoor patio and cooking classes for adults and children. Samuel was born in Jerusalem and lived in London, Paris, Hong Kong and the U.S. He moved to Dallas in 1981 and starred at restaurants, including the Mansion, the Crescent, Yellow, Avner’s, Okeanos, Bistro A and Aurora, which closed in 2010 and earned a five-star review from The Dallas Morning News. His last stint was at Mariposa at Neiman Marcus in Plano. He lives near NorthPark Center and has four children, ages 42 through 23. The youngest graduated from the Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. “I always tell my children, ‘Just imagine if I was really educated how much further I could be in life.’ They say, ‘What are you talking about? You speak five languages. We speak one.’ All the education I have is culinary.”
How would you describe your new restaurant?
It’s a bit larger than my previous restaurant. We have a beautiful patio that I can use all year. It has a marble chef’s table where we serve our tasting menu and a cooking counter where I’ll cook. A walk-in wine room will feature about 150 types of wine — from America, South America, Europe, Spain, France and Israel. After lunch, I want some of the ladies to be able to sit and have champagne. If somebody does not have time for lunch, they can come later, sit on the patio and enjoy small plates. I’m excited about that patio, but I’m very excited about my cooking classes. Saturday lunch will feature cooking classes.
How will the food compare to your past restaurants?
The main staples have followed me since 1998 with Bistro A. A lot of people come by the restaurant and ask, “Will your mother’s salad be on the menu?” Yes, but with a twist. I spent the last two and a half years in Jerusalem and saw a mélange of techniques with spices from all over the world. My mother’s salad is made of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and green bell pepper with fresh squeezed lemon juice and a good extra virgin olive oil. I use salt, pepper and parsley.
What misconceptions do people have about your industry?
They think chefs are wild men. I think we are compassionate people. My generation is a little bit different than the new generation, and we are protective of what we do. I’m trying to find new ways to pass the torch. One way I’ve done that in the last 30 years is by holding my cooking classes. I want to inspire children to become chefs.
“I had my reputation of being a wild guy, but I think I was misunderstood over the years because I was classically trained and I had so much to protect.”
What advice would you give your younger self?
To be more humble. I had my reputation of being a wild guy, but I think I was misunderstood over the years because I was classically trained, and I had so much to protect. At my first culinary school in Paris, I was maybe 23 and this master chef was 72. I looked at this old man, waking up in the morning and going to the food market, and I said, “I’m going to stay cooking until your age.” He simply smiled. When I got my diploma, he said, “Don’t ever forget that promise.”
Where do you like to dine in Dallas?
To dine or just to go eat? To dine is different for me. I dine in Paris. To eat, there are plenty of places here. I like Indian, Japanese and Asian food. But to dine, most of those restaurants disappeared from Dallas nine or 10 years ago.
Who is your greatest influence?
Over the last two years, I’ve been inspired by the people of Spain — especially in the San Sebastian region. The food! They live life. We live here on the run. We eat too fast, we eat too much, we have iced tea on the table. There they have a three-and-a-half-hour lunch and have bottles of wine on the table. I’m also influenced by chefs around my age that came from classic cuisine and were able to adapt to the new food technology happening today. In my opinion, they surpass the French by at least 15 to 20 years when it comes to food technology.
How many restaurants have you helmed?
This will be number 17. I always knew what it meant to stay on top. I always had a positive cash flow because I created excitement, but some said I’m alternating, I’m closing, I’m changing. There are chefs in this city and in this world who close and change more restaurants than that in 40 years. So who’s the real peripatetic?
What? They called you a peripatetic?
In English it means “roams around.” I don’t pay much attention to that anymore. I’m at the age when I just do what I do best: cook, tell stories and entertain people. And I’m damn good at it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.