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In Search of Israeli Cuisine

2016
Distributed by Passion River Films, 154 Mt. Bethel Rd., Warren, NJ 07059; 732-321-0711
Produced by Florentine Films and Sherman Pictures
Directed by Roger Sherman
DVD, color, 94 min.
High School - General Adult
Israel, Culture, Food


Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 6/11/2018

For a tiny country—about the size of the state of New Jersey—Israel occupies a great deal of attention everywhere one looks: religiously, historically, politically, socially, and economically. Located at a global crossroads where Asia, Europe, and Africa meet, it’s no surprise that its cuisine and its culture evidence a complex combination of traditions from these areas. The viewer’s guide in this search is Michael Solomonov—born in Israel, raised in Pittsburgh, and now an award-winning chef-owner of restaurants in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, including one, Zahav, featuring an innovative Israeli menu.

In each of several different locations within Israel, Mr. Solomonov interviews chefs and journalists, seeking an answer to his basic question, “What is Israeli cuisine?” Each person answers his or her own way. The chefs speak about the origins of the dishes they cook in their restaurants. The journalists offer broader philosophical comments. They all relate explanatory anecdotes from their personal experiences. Throughout the film are discussions of whether dishes most Americans connect to Israel such as falafel and hummus can truly be called Israeli, or are, more accurately, really Palestinian or Arab.

Technically, this is a visually appealing and well-edited film. One strategy used to great advantage is keeping the interview clips brief and sharply focused on a single issue under discussion instead of allowing one speaker long spans of comment on several issues. A point raised in a conversation is explored by several of the people Mr. Solomonov interviews before he moves on to the next location, the next restaurant, or the next conversation. Most of the Israelis speak English well and translations appear on screens for Hebrew and Arabic speakers, or people with heavy accents. Complete closed captioning, however, is not an option, though it would have been helpful.

Jewish Israelis are divided between those with European origins—the Ashkenazis—or with Iberian and African origins—the Sephardis—which is a complicating factor. Arab Israelis also speak of their varied ethnicities, and most of the chefs relate how their ideas about cooking developed from the styles of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ kitchens in places as near to modern Israel as Turkey, Iran, and Morocco and as far from it as Poland, Germany, and Russia.

In Search is not a cooking lesson. Viewers see a lot of restaurant kitchens, many dishes being plated and diners enjoying them, but no one is going to learn how to prepare anything. Though it is not a travelog, it has great shots of many locales, from Haifa, Akko, and Tel Aviv on the west coast to the Golan, Tiberias, and Jerusalem in the east, and smaller towns in the north, south, and middle sections of Israel. It highlights the dynamic mixture of traditions that make up professional cooking in Israel and are becoming familiar here in the Americas.