A review by Gaetano Kazuo Maida
“Ess, ess, eat!” Even the vaguest scent of homemade chicken soup or flanken or kasha or just sautéed onions brings to me echoes of the bubbes of the Bronx Jewish girls I dated as a teenager (sometimes simply because her grandmother lived with the family!). Despite the richness of the cuisines of my own family (Sicilian and Japanese), and an extended involvement with the restaurant profession, it’s yiddishkeit food that remains one of the comfort foods of my life. It doesn’t hurt that my wife is a Sabra who enjoys cooking and eating with me, and incidentally, grew up with one of her own bubbes at home….
Michael Solomonov is best known here as the chef-owner of a remarkable and successful Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia, Zahav (“gold”); his recent Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, was the 2016 James Beard Cookbook of the Year. IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE, directed by Roger Sherman, documents his efforts to discover and define what is Israeli cuisine today. Motivated by tragedy, Solomonov, born in Israel and raised in the States, sets out to explore Israel’s “rich abundant history, and conflict and turmoil as well… the mission is to show the complexity as well as the beauty of things here.”
He succeeds admirably. In the now-established style of the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Michael Pollan, Solomonov throws himself into the kitchens and gardens of the new generation of chefs all over Israel, tasting and sharing the diversity of food traditions from over 100 nations. What clearly is a renaissance of cooking there, parallel to if later than the foodie revolution that started here in the 70s, is producing new and vivid renditions of dishes with origins in Persia and the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea. Among many things, we learn that it was the olives of Israel that the ancient Romans brought home two thousand years ago to seed the now revered Italian olive oil industry, and that exportable wine was being produced in abundance in what is now desert (and we learn what makes for kosher wine). Farm-to-table locavore missionaries abound in Israel today, and they have amazing produce and livestock at hand to work with. If nothing else, this film will entice you to visit Zahav, if not make the journey to Israel itself.
Jonathan Borowitz of Cafe 48 shares an aioli with dashi and herring with Michael Solomonov in scenes from IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE,
(This review is adapted from a longer article covering three food films at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 2016.)
Gaetano Kazuo Maida is a media professional and strategic planner. He was a founding director of the Buddhist quarterly Tricycle, and producer/director of several films including Peace Is Every Step, a film profile of Vietnamese Zen teacher/activist Thich Nhat Hanh, narrated by Ben Kingsley. He is currently executive director of the nonprofit Buddhist Film Foundation and Tea Arts Institute.