For years, Chef Michael Solomonov, the power behind Philadelphia’s award-winning Israeli-style restaurant Zahav, has wanted to commemorate his brother David’s death with life. David was nearing the end of his three years of Israeli army service when a sniper shot him in an apple orchard on the Lebanese border. David’s death inspired Mike to re-connect with Israel, the country David died for, through its food.

So on the tenth anniversary of David’s death, Mike invited seven other chefs to join him, his business partner Stephen Cook and Zahav’s chef de cuisine Dean Hildebrand on a ten-day culinary tour of Israel capped off by a memorial meal for his brother. Some two dozen other “eaters” accompanied them.

Originally Mike wanted to have the dinner in the field where his brother fell, but considering what is going on with Syria, he thought better of it and held it in a park near where the two grew up in Kfar Saba, a suburb of Tel Aviv. I joined Mike and the other chefs on the trip to make the special meal in a large outdoor tent…an emotional and memorable memorial shared with family friends and others from David’s army service.

Joan Nathan with San Francisco chefs Mourad Lahlou of Aziza and Adam Sobel of RN74 during their trip to Israel

Joan Nathan with San Francisco chefs Mourad Lahlou of Aziza and Adam Sobel of RN74 during their trip to Israel

Before that event took place, we all traveled around Israel, seeing and sampling food highlights of the country. Chefs in the group included Israeli-American Alon Shaya of Domenica in New Orleans and Adam Sobel, the former chef of Bourbon Steak in DC, now at RN74 in San Francisco. By the way, both of them participate in Sips & Suppers, the fundraiser I chair each year for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen.

We visited cheese makers, Tzora Vineyards and some wonderful restaurants like Racha, a Georgian Restaurant in Jerusalem; Rama’s Kitchen, a favorite of Yotam Ottolenghi in the Judean Hills; and Mike’s favorite Bulgarian restaurant in Jaffa.

We took a day’s tour with Inbal Baum, who hails from Rockville and just started a tour company called Delicious Israel. She started our tour at Abu Hassan in Jaffa, thought by many to be the best hummus place in Israel. We stopped in Givatayim in central Israel at Mike’s favorite joint for sabich, an Iraqi Saturday morning breakfast sandwich with fried eggplant, hot sauce, a hard-boiled egg, tahini and salad.

One of our best meals was at the home of the assistant consul general of Israel in Philadelphia, a Druze from Isfiya near Haifa. Sitting in their garden, we ate stuffed vegetables with baharat, a Middle Eastern spice mixture, along with delicious eggplant dishes and mansaf, lamb and rice cooked with a sauce of fermented dried yogurt.

But what was most interesting were the huge ripe pomegranates in the markets…the trees laden with olives, grapefruits and oranges…and the increasing polyglot nature of the land that is coming out most profusely in the great food beginning to be available on Israel’s tables.

Top photo: Joan Nathan with her Druze hosts in Isfiya, Israel.