Aliya Fastman's culinary influences come from her home in Israel as well as her travels around the world. Aliya Fastman's culinary influences come from her home in Israel as well as her travels around the world. Aliya Fastman's culinary influences come from her home in Israel as well as her travels around the world. (Photo: Courtesy Citrus & Salt)

Learn how to cook authentic Israeli food while stuck at home

You and your friends can sign up for a live 2-hour lesson taught by a real pro in Tel Aviv.

Aliya Fastman never went to culinary school. She's self-taught and much of what she knows about cooking comes from on-the-job training.

In her 20s, she spent time as a waitress at the opulent King David Hotel in Jerusalem, serving dignitaries like Israeli President Shimon Peres and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. She enjoyed working in the front of the restaurant interacting with patrons like Wolf Blitzer and Natalie Portman. "I learned how to serve people and how to pour wine and how to talk to people at the table, which was a brilliant service training," she said. But she didn't stop there. In her downtime, she would hang out in the kitchen, learning whatever she could from the chefs.

That streak of self-motivation eventually led her to launch her own company, Citrus & Salt, where she teaches cooking classes in people's homes or for large organizations. She was teaching 4-5 classes a week to thousands of tourists who were visiting Israel from all over the world – from places like Uruguay, Australia, Germany and Hong Kong. "It felt nice to be able to share this gorgeous part of Israeli society," she said.

Aliya Fastman (standing) leading a cooking class at her Tel Aviv home. Aliya Fastman (standing) leading a falafel cooking class at her Tel Aviv home. (Photo: Courtesy Citrus & Salt)

But then came the coronavirus, and social distancing and ... well, it's hard to teach a cooking class to tourists when all travel has been shut down. So Fastman found a way to pivot.

She now offers her classes virtually. Anyone from across the globe can sign up for a two-hour session. She'll send you a list of ingredients beforehand and, at the given time, log into her Zoom room and Fastman will teach you and your friends how to cook the perfect Israeli meal. Sure, she'll teach you how to make the ideal shakshouka, but she'll also stretch your imagination with a dish like sweet potato-chickpea salad with sesame crusted feta. "Truthfully, corona or no corona, it's a great way to learn authentic food from people if you're not in the country," she told From the Grapevine over video chat.

This dish is a Mediterranean take on the chicken pot pie. This dish is a Mediterranean take on the chicken pot pie. (Photo: Aliya Fastman)

For Fastman, pivoting came natural. She grew up in Berkley, Calif. and attended UC Santa Cruz where she wanted to study to become an archaeologist. She instead got a masters degree in conflict resolution and mediation – which eventually came in handy as a cooking instructor to tourists. "Around my table, it's about the food. Don't get me wrong," she explained. "But if you have people from all corners of the world with different mother tongues, you need to find a way to help them come together with this experience. As a teacher, I'm the person that's leading them through this experience making jokes, driving the conversation. A lot of my education really comes through with that."

One of her favorite dishes is pastilla (and you can see the recipe here). "It's a Moroccan chicken pie, which is cooked in phyllo dough with cinnamon and a powdered sugar and caramelized onions and almonds. It actually blows people's minds because you don't expect the meeting of these two very distinct tastes. It's great." Take a video class with Fastman and you may learn how to make this dish, You may also see her husband and 18-month-old son puttering around their Tel Aviv kitchen in the background.

Fastman's husband Itay and son Lavi often help her in the kitchen. Fastman's husband Itay and son Lavi often help her in the kitchen. (Photo: Courtesy Citrus & Salt)

"I don't think tourists are going to be able to come back within the next few months, so I think it's really important that I continue to offer virtual platforms," she explained. "It's funny: I nearly rented a cooking studio two months ago right before this happened and then I didn't. I would have been bankrupt now."

Even so, we're sure she would've found a way to pivot.

MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:

Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants, Food News

Learn how to cook authentic Israeli food while stuck at home
Aliya Fastman had a growing business offering cooking lessons to tourists in Tel Aviv, but even a global pandemic hasn't stopped her.