Nearly 70 years old, Avigdor Brueh, the executive chef at the Hilton Tel Aviv, orchestrates a gigantic kitchen, which serves hundreds, flawlessly, year-round. During Rosh Hashanah the Hilton, with its many regulars—some who have come for the last 30 years—and new guests alike, serves approximately 500 guests at table service. Brueh says that during Sukkot and Passover the numbers double, with 500 guests in the grand ballroom and hundreds of smaller Seders to cater to throughout the hotel facility and grounds.
During our breakfast sit down with sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea, Brueh takes some phone calls about meat and chives (of all things), deliveries and invoices. He resolves the issues calmly and wisely. There’s an old-fashioned elegance and peacefulness to Brueh. He has served many heads of state, dignitaries and pop culture celebrities, but nothing about his demeanor has a shred of arrogance—he is no trendy, hyper-young celebrity chef.
The Hilton’s Rosh Hashanah menu changes annually, but the keepers every year are chicken soup with noodles or matzah balls, chopped chicken liver and gefilte fish.
At my request, Brueh kindly shared his recipe for spicy Moroccan fish. The dish is served for Rosh Hashanah in Moroccan Jewish homes, but not at the Hilton on the holiday. It is very popular, Brueh explains, at hotel events such as bar mitzvahs.
Brueh was born in 1944 and raised on Tel Aviv’s Ruppin Street to one of the “Yekke” (German) families populating that neighborhood. As in many Jewish families, his parents yearned for him to become a doctor or a lawyer, or, if he wasn’t too bright, an engineer.
Only his grandfather, who had escaped Germany before World War II with one of his twelve sisters, leaving behind the rest of the family and his lighting factory in Leipzig, was supportive of his decision to become a chef. He would say, “One thing is for sure, Avigdor will never go hungry.”
Shortly after serving as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces, Brueh moved on to culinary studies in a culinary institution pre-dating today’s culinary school, Tadmor. According to the Hilton restaurant’s website, “When he was only 21 he was a star shining in the Hilton world. He started in junior positions in [renowned] Hilton restaurants in Rotterdam, Vienna, London as well as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In the 1980s he was appointed Executive Chef of the Jerusalem Hilton and gained fame by working with famous French leading chefs like Trugaro, Nandro, Orsi, Le Divellec and others.” He became the executive chef of the Hilton Tel Aviv in the 1990s, overseeing more than 80 chefs and cooks.
Married to an Indian Baghdadi woman and the father of three children, Brueh is closing in on 50 years with the Hilton company. He was the first Israeli to be named executive chef for the company where most were classically trained French and other Europeans chefs.
A half-century anniversary is a recurring theme, with the Hilton Tel Aviv celebrating its own 50 years in 2015. Hilton was the first international hotel company to come to Israel, and the Tel Aviv hotel was built on a stretch of sand on the beach that was, at the time, a no-man’s land, notes Motti Verses, head of public relations. Its opening in 1965, during the Arab boycott of Israel, was a gutsy move, he adds. Today, in a global atmosphere that is scarcely different, it stands watch over and in support of the flourishing Tel Aviv and Israel.