Home cooks are saving their grandmothers’ recipes; chefs are spinning new takes on them. The street food is far superior to America’s and the wine and cheese is world-class. Plus, there’s a beach that runs the length of the country, beautiful mountains and deserts. Not everyone is religious and for no apparent reason the people have been regarded as some of the happiest in the world. I had no clue, a sentiment echoed by most of the people I spoke to, Jews included. They either laughed at me or just didn’t believe what I was telling them. I quickly realized I'd come upon a great topic for a film.
Making In Search of Israeli Cuisine posed challenges I had never faced in my long career. I knew I wanted to make a film about the Israeli people told through food that was neither a travelogue or polemic about failed government policies, which is all the media discusses. Yet, the conflict is ever present, even when discussing food, and could not be ignored. That every chef told me, “You cannot be my enemy when you’re sitting at my table” resonated. But I had to avoid appearing naïve; I wasn’t going to bring peace through food.
Michael Solomonov, the film’s chef/guide is a James Beard award winning star chef born in Israel, bred in Pittsburgh. His flagship restaurant, Zahav, serves arguably the best Israeli cuisine in America. He also runs three other restaurants and a donut and fried chicken chain. Mike’s knowledge of Israeli cuisine and its many cultures made him the perfect chef/guide. He’s also smart, funny, self-deprecating, and without ego. He decided to open Zahav in the aftermath of his brother David’s death during his last weekend of military service. Incorporating this story became another challenge for me. It is central to Mike’s journey exposing Americans to Israeli cuisine, but it couldn’t be overdone in the film.
Five years in the making, I am heartened by the reaction of festival viewers and journalists who’ve been as surprised as I was, making comments like, “Is this the best food film of 2016?” and “It’s not just about food. It’s about humanity. It’s about conflict and peace.”