Levenfeld began his culinary career as a prep cook in Providence, Rhode Island, and worked his way up the ladder. In 2018, he joined the Boka Restaurant Group’s team at Momotaro in Chicago, and the following year, he was promoted to sous chef at Boka’s Cira.
Levenfeld left Chicago to open Laser Wolf’s Brooklyn outpost as sous chef in 2022. And just months later, he became the boss at K’Far.
Greenpointers spoke with the successful, yet humble, Chef Sam Levenfeld about his rise to the top, his philosophy in the kitchen, and his favorite food at K’Far.
Greenpointers: When did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
Chef Sam Levenfeld: I went to Indiana University for a year and a half, and then it was time to pick a major, but I was lost. I took a semester off and tried to figure out my direction. My mom brought up that I loved to cook and suggested I give culinary school a shot. But I had never worked in a kitchen.
Once I got to school, I had no idea what I was getting myself into and how cut throat kitchens can be. But I loved it! And that’s when it took off for me. Not everyone is going to fall in love with kitchen culture. For some reason, it all clicked for me. I like being on my feet all day. The days go by quickly.
Greenpointers: You’ve worked in Providence and then Chicago. How did you end up in New York?
Chef Sam Levenfeld: I started at Momotaro, which is a Japanese concept in the West Loop across the street from a Hoxton Hotel. My mentor opened Cira at the Hoxton, and I followed him there. I eventually worked my way up to sous chef at Cira.
At Cira, I connected with Michael Solomonov. I told him my idea to move to Israel for a few months. I thought maybe I could find a spot on the beach and just enjoy cooking. But then the pandemic happened, and Israel shut its borders. Michael asked if I would be interested in Brooklyn instead.
So, I went to Laser Wolf with him and was promoted to executive sous chef. It’s cool to work for a company that likes to promote from within.
Greenpointers: You burst onto the Brooklyn restaurant scene with the highly anticipated arrival of Laser Wolf. How has New York’s restaurant scene differed from the one in Chicago?
Chef Sam Levenfeld: It became apparent how much more high profile everything is in New York. The New York Times and Eater came in right after we opened so, we had no choice but to perform from the beginning.
I didn’t feel that pressure in Chicago, at least not on the same level. But, I do miss Chicago sometimes. Chicago is just not at the same competitive level. Here in New York, you need to be on top of your game all the time.
There was a lot of support at the beginning of Laser Wolf. People from Philly and Chicago came to help. Laser Wolf was a great learning experience. I got so much out of it and gained the confidence to open K’Far.
Greenpointers: You’ve said you are passionate about your Israeli heritage and Israeli food. How has your background influenced your cooking? Do you think you are bringing something special to K’Far?
Chef Sam Levenfeld: Working for Michael is like working with an encyclopedia in Israeli food, but I do feel like I bring something to the table.
It’s about nostalgia. There is an Israeli ingredient called osem, which like a chicken broth and is a staple in Israeli households. It reminds me of home.
When you work for a guy like Chef Mike, it takes listening and taking in information. Israeli cuisine includes a lot of different influences like North African and Yemeni. You need to first understand that. Eastern European is what I knew, but that is just a small piece of what Israeli cuisine is. Now that I have spent more time with Mike, I understand more and can bring more to the table.
I want to make K’Far’s menu tell a story and have it all make sense. Israeli food is not just chickpeas on a plate.
Greenpointers: Now there are two Israeli restaurants in the same hotel. How is K’Far different than Laser Wolf?
Chef Sam Levenfeld: They are two very different restaurants. There is a pre-set nature at Laser Wolf. You don’t have to choose too much and can enjoy an overabundance of amazing food.
K’Far has breakfast through dinner, which is its own animal. But the real difference is that at K’Far you get to choose your own path. You can come for just an appetizer or you can share everything. You can slow down. There is a whole different vibe and feel.
I don’t like making comparisons. They are two very different places. We are not trying to copy and paste the success that happened upstairs.
Greenpointers: What is your favorite thing on the menu at K’Far?
Chef Sam Levenfeld: On K’Far’s breakfast menu, the Jerusalem bagel sandwich is the tried and true. It’s perfection in a bite.
On the dinner menu, I love the Kibbe Naya. It’s a raw lamb preparation with bulgar and peppers. Harissa and tomato are in there, too. It comes with a sidecar of lettuce, pickled onions and mint. It’s an interactive dish. Plus, it gives a kick, but doesn’t overwhelm you.
Greenpointers: What other restaurants have you tried in North Brooklyn?
Chef Sam Levenfeld: I love Nura. I’m always blown away when I go there. Plus, they have a strong brunch program, which I appreciate.
Greenpointers: Eric really is a nice guy! I love seeing him succeed.
Chef Sam Levenfeld: Exactly! I really believe there is a different way to do this whole thing. I grew up in kitchens where chefs yelled. I don’t believe in any of that. What drives me is the belief that there is a better way. I want to treat people with respect. If no one wants to work with you, then you won’t have a restaurant.
I have the ability to build a new culture from the ground up. As a sous chef, I was one of many, but as the boss, I let it be known that people should be treated with respect. I want to make them want to come to work every day.
I really think that the food tastes better if the people who make it are happy.