Flaky all-butter croissants, dainty macarons in pretty pastel shades and paper-thin millefeuille – you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re in Paris, but these are the creations of Israel’s rising pastry star. Although Alon Shabo may be just 27 years old, his intricately crafted confectionary bears the hallmarks of a much more experienced pastry chef. Based in Tel Aviv, he’s at the centre of the city’s thriving food scene, where tradition and modernity live side by side. Architecturally finessed would be one way to describe his desserts, building up layers to create something with real impact – like miniature meringues, forming a perfectly piped, spiky shell around a glistening chocolate mousse cake, or a celebration cake scattered with shards of coloured honeycomb, jelly cubes and spun sugar.
It’s not surprising that he finds his inspiration from disciplines outside of the culinary sphere. “I take ideas from parallel worlds of art, especially the visual and graphic arts and architecture. I travel across the world to experience different art forms and create my desserts based on those experiences.” His knack for knowing how different elements of a dish fit together in an unexpected way is what truly sets his work apart. “I aim to do things differently by using colours in an unconventional way and creating shapes and textures that are not normally used in the pastry world. I dare to take classic pastry dishes and give it my own interpretation.” His most avant-garde creation to date is a blue mirror-glazed marble cake. The sponge is a spicy chocolate flavour which he laces with a wicked layer of ‘chilli crunch’. It is then drenched in caramel and topped with black pepper taffy, a layer of popping candy and a black coffee and tonga mousse. It’s a visual feast as much as it is about the satisfying contrast of tastes and textures – and it’s exactly the sort of dish that has won him legions of fans on Instagram (currently 20.6k and counting). His joyful, chromatic styling feels Pop Art-esque and brings real meaning back to the notion of ‘eating with your eyes’. Warning: scrolling his page can induce Biblical salivation.
Having graduated from culinary school, Alon went on to become the pastry chef at Shulchan (Table) restaurant and The Dining Hall in Tel Aviv, both of which are owned by Israel’s answer to Gordon Ramsay, chef Omer Miller. On the list of foodie spots to tick off in the city, both establishments rank very highly. As an insider, where would Alon recommend adding to your must-eat list in Tel Aviv? “I love Toto, it’s an amazing Italian restaurant. For starters I always order the eggplant and black tahini and then finish with chestnut gnocchi. Then you could try Basta. I like to have one of their fantastic salads with something to drink.” As well as consulting for other restaurants, if you want to get up-close and personal, he runs a serious of pâtisserie workshops and pop-up events across Israel. Some classes focus on just macarons, while other magically transform from a lesson to a banquet, where students can invite a few friends along to eat the fruits of their labour with a drink or two.
Despite all his innovation, it’s classical French cooking that informs his style. “You can’t love pastry without being in love with French cuisine. It’s sophisticated, it’s accurate and it’s super attractive.” Just as I began to think that he might be a traditionalist deep-down after all, he insists that “the most fascinating thing about the French is that they’re constantly innovating and advancing.”
When asked who he admires, he cites the work of French chef Claire Damon, whose Parisian café Des Gâteaux et du Pain in the 15th arrondissement has gained cult status for taking the essence of iconic pastries and giving them a 21st-century overhaul. Even her pastry cases don’t escape the makeover, infused with the flavours and colours of ingredients like blackcurrant and violet. “She creates the most accurate desserts that combine great flavours and amazing aesthetics,” says Alon. You can draw a lot of parallels between their work in their bold use of colour and creative use of flavour. It was in fact Damon’s pâtisserie that inspired one of his more out-there flavour pairings: lime and green tomatoes. “I also love pineapple and basil together, which is just super refreshing.”
So, is there anything this pastry prodigy can’t do? “I’ve been trying to make a Fabergé egg sugar ball but that requires the ability to pump sugar like in glasswork.” Check back on his Instagram in a few months’ time; I imagine he will crack it somehow.
Photography supplied by Matan Katz and Alon Shabo.