Veteran filmmaker Roger Sherman didn’t know exactly what he was looking for when he accompanied Joan Nathan on a food press trip to Israel six years ago, but what he found when he got there was a country steeped in rich and exotic flavors and diverse culinary traditions, the fruitful offspring of the confluence of cultures living in Israel today. His newest documentary, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, explores the unique food traditions of a country whose identity is infused with equal amounts of antiquity and modernity in a multicultural mosaic—and far more than just falafel and hummus.
Sherman is a food photographer and a James Beard Award winner, for The Restaurateur – a portrait of Danny Meyer, and his wife, Dorothy Kalins, was the founding editor of Saveur. The trip seemed like the perfect opportunity for them to check out the food scene in Israel.
Shortly after arriving, Sherman experienced his first traditional Yemenite Shabbat lunch at the home of preeminent Israeli cookbook author and TV personality Gil Hovav. Although secular, Hovav explained the process of preparing food for Shabbat as they dined among family and friends.
Given the choice, Paris might have been first on Sherman’s list for a food tour. But as anyone who has ever visited Israel knows all too well, the small country offers a mind-blowing experience, and for Sherman this was no exception. He was “completely knocked out.” His first trip to what he calls one of the “hottest food scenes in the world—it rivals New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles or Paris” was a resounding success.
Israel’s Mediterranean climate, varied terrain (forests, coastline, mountains and desert, too) and high-tech innovations in agriculture—drip irrigation in the 1950s and many others since then—are favorable to fresh and local produce and flavors. Tomatoes are always in season, grapes grown in different regions produce diverse wine varietals and soon the country may boast seedless lemons. Everything is Israel is farm to table.
Equally influential is the melding of the old and the new and of the wealth of different cultures that call Israel home. There is both a strong desire to celebrate the diverse food traditions of those from Morocco, Iraq and Tunisia and, yes, Paris, and a fear that those distinct traditions might one day disappear. Many Israelis will say there is no single Israeli cuisine. Others say that the country is too young to have a cuisine of its own. But the one thing everyone can agree on is that nowhere on earth is food being made the way it is in Israel.
In Search of Israeli Cuisine was filmed in over 100 locations all over Israel and took over five years to complete. It came to fruition through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia serves as the knowledgeable and charming chef-cum-guide throughout the documentary. In addition to Solomonov, Israeli chefs, home cooks and journalists are featured throughout the film and provide insight and meaning to the “search.”
Here in the States, many chefs, inspired by Solomonov’s innovative Israeli cooking, are signing up to go on culinary tours of Israel in droves. Even the South Beach Food and Wine Festival later this month in Miami is jumping on the bandwagon, debuting its first-ever kosher event, the “Exploring Israel” dinner hosted by the culinary dream team of Solomonov along with chefs Alon Shaya and Ashley Christensen and baker Zak Stern. In fact, this inaugural event was inspired by a recent culinary tour that the three chefs took together to Israel last year.
In Search of Israeli Cuisine is currently playing at festivals across the country and will be in theaters this summer. See and taste Israel for yourself on the official In Search of Israeli Cuisine food tour.
Top photo: Chef Michael Solomonov buys spices in Levinsky market in Tel Aviv. All photos courtesy of Roger Sherman.