Last week the Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF) celebrated its 15th year, and for the first time ever, it offered a kosher event. Even though there has been a vibrant Jewish community in Miami for decades, it wasn’t until recently that Miami chefs, and the foodie scene as a whole, have become more and more obsessed with Israeli cuisine. As one of the hosts of the SOBEWFF “Exploring Israel” dinner, Chef Alon Shaya of Shaya Restaurant in New Orleans, puts it, “I’m surprised it’s never happened before.”
Zak Stern, also known as Zak the Baker, pointed out, “Hummus and shakshuka have been Israel’s reliable cuisine ambassadors for much time now, but the depths of Israel’s cuisine influences are just beginning to be plunged by folks like [Michael] Solomonov and Shaya.”
Held at the Rok Family Shul, Chabad Downtown Jewish Center in Miami, the “Exploring Israel” dinner was inspired by a culinary food tour to Israel taken by James Beard award-winning chefs Ashley Christensen, Alon Shaya and, of course, Solomonov. The meal itself was glatt kosher, but you certainly didn’t need to keep kosher to enjoy. Guests kvelled over Chef Christensen’s lamb tartare with crispy quinoa-marinated vegetables and butter lettuce, Shaya’s gulf red snapper chraime with herbed basmati rice, walnuts and tahini and Solomonov’s short ribs with Yemenite spice, confit potato and legumes. The meal also included Stern’s beautiful Yemenite kubana bread, honey almond baklava for dessert and Baron Herzog wine pairings.
The chefs brought Israeli flair to other SOBEWFF events, too, with Shaya’s famous kibbeh naya making an appearance at “Meatopia” and Solomonov and Christensen taking a deep dive into our national obsession with chicken at the “Chicken Coupe.”
You don’t have to be on the beach—Tel Aviv or Miami—to enjoy Israeli cuisine. Its influence is being felt in restaurants and kitchens throughout the US. Shaya shared, “Chefs who may be unfamiliar with ingredients like date honey, rosewater and za’atar will become curious and begin experimenting. I think the food and cuisine, which is made up of [the cuisines of] many different countries, will begin to show up in new and creative ways. My hope is that chefs will respect the origins of where the food came from, such as Bulgaria, Yemen and Russia, and learn the fundamentals of why that food is so special before getting too creative.”
He also notes that local farms and produce play a large role in creating and re-creating Israeli food. It is a cuisine that requires the freshest of ingredients, which can only be procured from local growers and markets.
Shaya added, “I am happy to see the mainstream foodie world come to the realization of the beauty and magic Israeli food beholds. It also a validation that the risks I took opening an Israeli restaurant in New Orleans will be paying off for years to come.”
In the future, we can expect to encounter more events showcasing Israeli food. With the foodie community constantly growing (and hungry!), this multiethnic, multicultural, but often very simple, cuisine is breaking new ground all over the culinary landscape. It looks like the Israeli kitchen is on the map and is here to stay.
Top photo: Alon Shaya’s gulf red snapper chraime with herbed basmati rice, walnuts and tahini.
All photos courtesy of Aaron Davidson, Getty images.