When Shahar Shamir traveled to New York from Tel Aviv more than 12 years ago, he wasn’t sure what he’d wanted to do, but he felt an affinity for the city. Brooklyn in particular, he says, was a “hot bed of food,” and potentially the perfect place to introduce a cool, sweet treat harkening back to his culture.
Shamir had, for as long as he could remember, always helped out in the kitchen. By age eight, he’d help his mother, whom he describes as a perfectionist in the kitchen, with the cooking. He was taught to be independent and go to the market on his own. By age 12, he was baking, and by 14, he was “baking better cakes than his mother.” (No offense, Mom!)
Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)
In Israel, he says he grew up eating healthy. “We all eat. We all can be experts in food,” Shamir says. He tried his hand at making his own version of a fairly common candy from his upbringing—halva—a treat that had been around for hundreds of years, enjoyed by people of the Mediterranean. He’d been craving it, but most recently, he’d only found highly processed versions. His influence and background led him to strive for “simple, good and nutritious” in a product of his own.
“I was trying to make mine with the basic ingredients—Tahini and honey,” he says. Tahini is a paste made from hulled sesame seeds that are ground and served on by itself, or used in other dishes (for example, baba ghanous or hummus). But as he played with the ingredients (he makes everything by hand currently), Shamir came up with a slightly different form for the outcome. Instead of creating large blocks of halva, he began
putting his smooth, “artisanal, spread” concoction into jars, which he would take to friends at dinner parties that included diners from around the world. He’d end up feeding his “halva spread” to around 50 people at a time.
Not Just Another Business
Despite his lack of business experience, Shamir decided to start a business, but says he didn’t want to be a part of “just another company.” So, with a “product that was different—unique and good,” he started Brooklyn Sesame. These days, he travels to the Ft. Greene Flea market, and Smorgasburg, a collection of unique food vendors from around the world, who sell their wares to foodies from far and wide. He’ll move to indoor locations when it gets too cold.
Pistachio is the current best-seller, but all of his spreads, whether adding raw almonds, coconut, or black caraway seeds, are “dear to him.” Recently, he sold out of his latest flavor—sea salt and cocoa. He recommends eating the spread on breads, accompanying a cheese plate, on fruit, pastries or ice cream, or straight from the jar.
If you travel to any of the food markets where he’s selling, you’ll have a chance to sample the halva spreads in person. If not, you can always let your fingers do the traveling via internet, still allowing you to serve something new and likely to get your family, kids and guests talking…with their mouths full.