American cooking teacher, author, and television personality Julia Child once said: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
Well, one local Philadelphian has proven that point ten-fold… and then some.
Sharon Shvarzman has always had food in his blood. His parents once owned a Mediterranean spot and his grandparents were both respectively a baker and a chef. But Shvarzman actually got his start in the culinary world on Food Network’s ‘Worst Cooks in America’ before moving on to win another one of the Network’s show (‘The Great Food Truck Race’) and then ventured to prepare to open four eating concepts here in the city.
“Going into ‘Worst Cooks,’ I had one goal set in mind: It was to learn as much as I could about food so that when the show was over, I would have something valuable to take home,” he explains. “The reason I went on the show was because my grandfather had passed away from pancreatic cancer several years prior. He was a master chef and his food was the glue that kept my family together. Shortly after his passing, the restaurant was sold. The restaurant business stopped and so did the family dinners. At the time, I was probably not the best cook in world, but I didn’t think I was the worst cook in America.”
Shvarzman says he took it upon himself to master his grandfather’s recipes so he could bring his family back together with his food once again. When ‘Worst Cooks’ ended, he took the tips and tricks he learned on the show to garner more experience and eventually, he got another call that changed the course of his career.
“The more I made a dish, the better it got,” he says. “I realized that practice really makes perfect. One day during dinner, I got a call back from casting that I [had] made it onto ‘The Great Food Truck Race.’ It just so happens, that my team members were also [on] ‘Worst Cooks.’ Now, my experience with the ‘Great Food Truck Race’ is a completely different story.”
That experience equaled out to 14 to 16 hour days traveling south on the west coast selling chicken wings in a mobile convection oven, which Shvarzman says sums it up. “I think the Great Food Truck Race taught me a lot about running your own food business,” he explains. “The hard work, the hours, the determination, the need to be strategic and every day needs a different plan… I’m pretty sure I utilized every lesson I learned [there] in opening Keshet Kitchen.”
It was that experience that drove the opening of Keshet, which is Hebrew for rainbow. That’s fitting seeing the abundant amount of colors and flavors that Philadelphians will get to indulge in when checking out the new spot.
“For Keshet Kitchen these are all my grandfather’s recipes that I’ve added little twists and most importantly, a little of myself in every dish. These are the recipes that brought my family back together,” continues Shvarzman. “Moving to Philly, it has been very hard to meet friends and see family… So we decided to open Keshet Kitchen so we can create our own new little family out here. If it worked for my family, why not Philly?”
Shvarzman’s other concepts—Wingbow, House of Elbows and MiPi—will all also be up and running soon, but instead as ghost kitchens versus a brick and mortar. But for now, Philadelphians can head to the newly opened Israeli concept from Shvarzman in Queens Village on Passyunk.
“People have this notion that middle eastern food is only Hummus, Falafel and Shawarma,” explains Shvarzman. “Well it’s not. Growing up in an Israeli family, my entire family being in a restaurant business, [we] rarely made shawarma, hummus, or falafel at home. What we did grow up eating was beef stew, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, ribs, meatballs [and] meatloaf, but all these dishes were seasoned with Middle Eastern spices. I guess you can take my family out of Israel but you can’t take the Israel out of my family.”
Shvarzman has his own set of obstacles as well: Since the age of 21, he’s suffered from Crohn’s Disease. The autoimmune disease lives in the digestive system, but, he still doesn’t allow that obstacle to overtake the goal of honoring his family’s food legacy through his own spin on their classics, which will be very visible in Keshet’s cookbook, which will be out next year.
“I realized that I didn’t have to enjoy my food necessarily, but I could get enjoyment through it,” he says. “The smiles it brings to peoples faces, the compliments, the fact that I was once a “Worst Cook in America” and I’m now an executive chef of my own restaurant and soon opening up four more kitchens… If that’s not a Cinderella story, I don’t know what is.”
Lastly, on top of everything else, Keshet Kitchen will be working with The Niche Clinic mentoring underprivileged youth in the culinary industry. As Shvarzman says, “We feel so honored to give back to Philly because Philly has been so good to us.”
To learn more about Keshet’s Kitchen (705 E Passyunk Ave) and Shvarzman’s other new eateries, visit keshetkitchen.com