Israeli sous chef relishes life in Pittsburgh
ProfileFrom the IDF to the Pittsburgh food scene

Israeli sous chef relishes life in Pittsburgh

Months after making Pittsburgh home, Nati Press is ready for the next course

Nati Press plates a private dinner in Israel. Photo courtesy of Nati Press
Nati Press plates a private dinner in Israel. Photo courtesy of Nati Press

Israeli sous chef Nati Press is cooking up something new — his career.

After completing two years and eight months in the Israel Defense Forces, the sous chef moved to Pittsburgh last spring. Press lives with family in Mt. Lebanon — his grandmother is Judy Press, a Jewish author whose children’s books are touted by PJ Library — but said he’s moving to Lawrenceville in the coming weeks.

For now, the new Pittsburgher is focused on “settling in.” From there, he said, he’ll “see what happens.”

Press works at the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group, which operates several eateries in the city, including Meat and Potatoes, Fish nor Fowl and Sally Ann’s.

The long days, which often span “12-13 hours on your feet,” are challenging, he said, but “the reward is big.”

Whether it’s observing beautifully plated dishes, hearing compliments from servers or seeing the faces of satisfied diners, Press is eager to continue a culinary path that began alongside his mother when he was 9.

“She had a catering business. I used to work with her very early and I liked that,” he said.

Press later attended a specialized high school in Tel Aviv. Three days a week were dedicated to culinary education; the remainder focused on science, history and other traditional subjects, he said.

The Paris-born Israeli always thought he’d be a chef in the army, but when an opportunity in intelligence arose, he took it and quickly discovered how much he enjoyed his peers and a familiar setting.

“The group of people that I worked with, and the group of people that I had, it’s like they’re my brothers,” he said. “I mean, it was tough, but I had a good time.”

Nati Press cooks pasta. Photo courtesy of Nati Press

There are obvious differences between working in a restaurant and military service, but the similarities are worth noting, Press explained.

“In the kitchen, there’s a lot of action,” he said. “Something can always happen, which is why I enjoyed the army. I’m big on adrenaline.”

Pressure requires innovation: What happens when a cook calls off or an item is missing? Both involve “creating alternatives” and relying on others to reach an optimal outcome, he said.

“There’s a very big sense of camaraderie in a kitchen — obviously that has to be — because you’re working so hard together. This is why I love the parallel  between the army and the kitchen; it’s very similar to me.”

Mere months removed from completing compulsory service, Press is adjusting to a new life and learning an industry. Whether it’s regional foods, seasonal menu changes or even bookkeeping, countless ingredients are required for running a successful restaurant.

Press wants to have his own within five years. Getting there, he said, will require significant investments of time, learning and resources.

It’s not an easy business.

According to the National Restaurant Association, about a third of restaurants fail in their first year. Recent data points to staffing shortages and rising costs but also offers promise.

Between April 2022 and March, there was a 10% increase in new restaurants opening versus the same period one year earlier. Additionally, customers this year have eschewed “affordable options for higher-end dining experiences,” according to a June Yelp report.

Food expenses are “significant issues” for 92% of operators, according to the National Restaurant Association; still, 500,000 new jobs are expected to help the industry surpass pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023.

Press understands that moving forward in the field requires a full plate of learning, patience and hustle. He said that while he’s trying to succeed in the restaurant business, he’s also branching out in Pittsburgh.

“I would love to do more in the Jewish community,” he said.

Press — who grew up in a kosher home but no longer observes the religious dietary practice — said he’s happy to cook and share what he’s learned in the army and in countless kitchens.

There are definite goals for the future, but for now “I’m just doing my thing,” he said. “Keep on grinding, just working.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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