“If you don’t have any fish, don’t talk to me,” Yehi Zino says good-naturedly on the phone. Zino, chef and co-owner of the Pescado fish restaurant in Ashdod, has a gentle way of talking that exudes a Zen-like calm. But when the subject is the daily catch, it’s a serious business.

Even a chef whose partners are some of the biggest fish merchants in all Israel — the Zion brothers — has to go out every morning to “hunt” for the best local fish. For someone who’s made his reputation with a fish restaurant that’s become known as a place where both imported and locally caught fish can be enjoyed, he has had to get up early and nurture an extensive network of ties with local fishermen and traders at the daily fish auction. “He’s the first to choose, but he has competition,” laughs his partner, Eran Zano.

The two men opened their kosher Ashdod restaurant in 2009 (“Everyone thinks we’re brothers, but we’re not related,” says Yehi. “We were good friends when we were kids, then we went our separate ways in school. But then we connected again on a trip to South America”).

Yehi Zino is an unassuming fellow, with none of the pomposity so often associated with chefs. And his easygoing nature carries over to the kitchen staff and into the restaurant itself.

He was born in Ashdod in 1982. “The appreciation for good taste is something I got from home,” he says, when asked what led him to kitchen work, “though I never dreamed of becoming a chef.” What was supposed to be a temporary shift at Café Puzzle, a local beach restaurant, led to a six-year stint in the restaurant’s kitchen (“And on Wednesdays, my only day off, I would go to work with Yossi Suissa, who had the Terrine restaurant in Yavneh, and he started to teach me about fish and seafood”).

He then catered for private events, learned how to prepare sushi and worked for six months at the Zepra restaurant in Tel Aviv. Then, just after he’d sent a letter applying for a job at the famed Arzak Restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain, he received a phone call asking if he was interested in taking over Pescado, a local fish restaurant and bar where he’d also previously worked for a few months.