Israeli-born Philadelphia chef/restauranter Michael Solomonov sets out in this documentary by director Roger Sherman to criss cross Israel in search of ‘real’ Israeli cuisine. It is a contentious search just by the mere fact that several of the foodie experts and journalists that he interviews en route, question if in a country as young as this, whether one could even acknowledge that it had really established its own cuisine yet. Certainly the one thing that everyone agrees is that what all the restaurants serve up and down the country, owe it’s origins to the 150 plus countries that Israel’s population is made up from.
Solomonov is acknowledged as one of the leading exponents Sephardic-style food in America, and only this week was named Outstanding Chef — the top award in the profession — at the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards, the culinary world’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. He acts as an enthusiastic guide as he persuades several Israeli chefs to produce their favorite dishes, most of which are adaptions of recipes their grandparents brought with them from the ‘old country’.
Solomonov details how the country’s early beginnings was marked by a lack of wealth with a nation struggling to adapt their eating habits in a climate where so many of the basic foods where no longer available. He credits the 1980’s when upwardly mobile Israelis started to travel abroad and acquire a taste for good food with different tastes and flavors, when things started to change for the better. Then when restaurants started to acknowledge and focus on local produced ingredients, chefs started to get more adventurous in making dynamic nouvelle cuisine versions of traditional dishes.
It is however nigh on impossible to discuss anything about Israel without talking about the political unrest which has dogged the Region for decades. In fact whilst Solomonov as there he also marked the 10th anniversary of the death of his younger brother who was killed whilst serving in the Israeli Army. Even the seemingly simple topic of whether Israel’s unofficial nation dish hummus was actually created by Palestinians can get the kitchen very heated indeed. More than once Solomonov suggests that maybe food could play more of a healing part in bringing the different people of different ethnicity. They certainly could take a leaf from his own book as whenever he tasted a new dish that simply blew him away he just silently gave the chef a big hug.
In the end Solomonov may not have discovered what the purists think should/will eventually be ‘Israeli cuisine’ but his search was such a sheer culinary delight that it will leave most people drooling by the time the final credits roll.