What do you get when you take some of the hottest foodie celebrities in the US and bring them to Israel on an eating trip for a little over a week?
Celebrity Chef Birthright, which took place last week, is the brainchild of businessman and entrepreneur Herb Karlitz, who decided to combine two of his passions – Israel and food – to provide people with the foodie trip of the decade. Karlitz started sending invitations to his culinary community, and the list got longer and longer. All these people wanted to experience Israel. And all these people were open to an experience where the focus was all food and no politics.
Though some of the celebrities had Jewish roots and might have visited in the past, many didn’t. It was a huge group of celebrities tweeting with #celebritychefbirthright and sharing their experiences with the world; from Ran Shmueli’s Claro restaurant to street food like Jerusalem’s Aricha Sabich, and celebrated markets like Shuk HaCarmel, Shuk Hatikvah and Mahane Yehuda Market. They went to some must-visit restaurants like Machneyuda and met Israel’s most influential culinary greats like Uri Buri from Akko, the bearded man known as "Israel's fish connoisseur".
The celebrity list was never ending, including Amanda Freitag from Chopped, Ruth Reichl of Gourmet Magazine, Gail Simmons of Top Chef, Chef Jonathan Waxman, Jenn Louis (one of Portland’s most well-known chefs), Chef Marc Murphy, TV Host, Eden Grinshpan Nivron and many more.
All this was orchestrated with the help of many local foodies, including chef Ido Zarmi, behind many worldwide events and Avihai Tsabari from Via Sabra (known for his unforgettable trips of Israel). The Israel Export Institute provided them with opportunities to taste the wine and olive oil and connect with many of the experiences in the country.
Jonathan Waxman, chef and owner of Barbuto and James Beard Award Winner explained that he has been on many food trips but this has been the best one that he has been on yet. “I have been to many Israeli restaurants in the US including Nur and Zahav, and I am familiar with Israeli cuisine. But to taste it on the farms here is unbelievable…it’s really like feeling the terroir of the place! I loved tasting the goat cheese, the eggs laid by the chickens, and mostly, the act of breaking bread together.” He explained: “Americans are spice shy, but Israelis love to use spices. Even though I have been cooking since the 1970’s, I feel like I am learning a new vocabulary here. It’s fun to see how food is coming to the forefront here.”
Chef Mark Murphy, cookbook author, restaurateur, and TV food personality talked about how spices just seem to be everywhere. “It’s a melting pot of cuisine; you walk down the aisles of the market and see piles of parsley and herbs. It wakes everything up. It’s so amazing to be around my peers who love food as much as I do. Food is our common denominator; if all our leaders and politicians were around food together more, we would all get along better.”
Chef Jenn Louis (Portland Restaurateur and 2012 Best New Chef by Food and Wine Magazine) is no stranger to Israeli cooking as she even had her own Israeli restaurant in Portland but she described the feeling this time as being at ease, at home.
“I've been to Israel a few times already, but this time, I am starting to feel more comfortable here. I am starting to remember it more and get the vibe more. Israelis are so creative. They are serious and intense, but they still love to chill, it’s such a cool balance. They are also so proud of their culture. They are so confident here.”
As Herb Kalitz asserts, "they will all come back to their restaurants and will create Israeli dishes on their menus. Every one of their menus will have at least one Israeli wine by the glass.”