Is this the best food documentary of 2016?
‘In Search of Israeli Cuisine’ takes a culinary tour of the country and delivers a mouthwatering thrill ride.
One visit to our Israeli Kitchen here at From The Grapevine, and it's quite clear that we're licking our chops anytime we're in close proximity to Mediterranean food. Turns out, we have a kindred spirit in filmmaker Roger Sherman. The New York-based filmmaker visited Israel for the first time six years ago and instantly fell in love.
“I was just knocked out by the food. I couldn’t believe how delicious it was. The fresh vegetables were remarkable. They have fresh tomatoes year round,” Sherman tells From The Grapevine. He raved to friends, but that wasn't enough. He wanted to tell more people about it. So he turned his affection for Mediterranean food into a luscious new documentary called “In Search of Israeli Cuisine."
As fate would have it, Sherman met chef Michael Solomonov at his Philadelphia restaurant Zahav, noted for being one of the best Israeli restaurants in America. Sherman knew immediately that the Israeli-born Solomonov would be the perfect star of the movie and guide to his country’s diverse cuisine. Solomonov accepted the gig, and a crew spent three weeks traveling by bus, following him to more than 100 locations in Israel. They visited restaurants, markets, farms, orchards and wineries.
As it goes with producing a film, nothing happens easily. It took two years of planning before they could embark on their journey, cameras in tow. And even after the movie was filmed, Sherman needed assistance with editing and getting it across the finish line. Help came from a Kickstarter campaign, which raised more funds than he expected.
Shakshouka – a traditional Mediterranean breakfast of eggs poached in tomato sauce and other vegetables – is best served with bread on the side for dipping. (Photo: NADKI/Shutterstock)
The film explains why Israeli cuisine is so difficult to define: it’s a melting pot of influences, like Israel itself. “People from many different countries have come to the area for thousands of years and they all bring their traditions, including food,” says Sherman.
As a result, the North African egg dish shakshouka, the Mediterranean chickpea spread hummus, and boureka pastries from Turkey are now considered Israeli. “It happens everywhere,” says Sherman. “Food is adapted and changes."
He adds that Israeli cuisine is rising in popularity in the U.S. Just one example: New Orleans-based Shaya was recently named the best new restaurant in America by Esquire Magazine. Journalist Tom Junod, who helped with the coverage of Esquire's best restaurants, is a big fan of Shaya's success. "It’s one thing to have pita; it’s another to have the best pita you’ve ever had in your life," Junod told From The Grapevine. "How does a restaurant even do that?"
Not surprisingly, Shaya's chef was the winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for best chef in the South last year. And crowd favorite at this joint in the Big Easy? Louisiana shrimp shakshouka.
“Israeli cuisine has really come into its own,” explains Sherman.
But more than highlighting delicious dishes, the documentary takes a step back to explore broader topics as well. “The agriculture of Israel has completely changed the way the world is fed,” Sherman says. “Drip irrigation was invented in the 1950s in Israel, and that has changed the way crops are grown. Israel invented the cherry tomato and the seedless watermelon and coming soon to a grocery store near you, the seedless lemon.”
Now playing on the film festival circuit, “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” will have a theatrical release this summer. That will be followed by community group screenings, airings on television and streaming services, taking it into 2017 and beyond.
Sherman hopes it will inspire people to visit Israel for all it has to offer. “It has more than history. It has hiking in the hills, bird watching, a spectacular beach,” he says, “and fantastic food.”
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