In Search of Israeli Cuisine is a documentary film that follows Chef Michael Solomonov (yes, the same chef responsible for Zahav) as he guides viewers through the multi-dimensional world of Israeli food. Solomonov travels the breadth of the country, offering historical and social context for the development of “Israeli cuisine”. The film rambles through the debate as to what exactly this means and whether or not it actually exists, and everyone tries extremely hard to defend food as the ultimate solution to the every political and cultural divide in Israeli society.
With a running length of approximately two hours, the film is at its best when Solomonov talks about his personal relationship to the country, and why he cares so deeply about its food. The highlight is the description of how immigration and poverty during the State’s early years affected the public diet and perception of food. It would have been thrilling if it followed through to the impact of more recent waves of immigrants, including Ethiopian and Russian Jews. But ignoring these groups, as well as the film’s total disregard for the obvious presence of guest workers in Israel’s agriculture and food service industries, was a missed opportunity in understanding the connection between Israelis and their kitchens. It is also unfortunate that no one addresses the clear gender divide between the mothers and grandmothers who, according to the film, cook(ed) at home, and the sons and grandsons who work as chefs. The film shows only 1 man cooking at home. Only 1 woman is highlighted as cooking professionally. There are stories here that the filmmakers chose not to explore, preferring instead to focus on more specialized gastronomical excitements.
Unfortunately, the continuous distraction of the restaurant world prevents it from exploring whether or not the Israeli home kitchens have experienced any of the epicurean miracles that appear to be available in the fine dining category. Similarly, the film hints at the place of non-kosher food, especially pork and shellfish, in the Israeli markets, but doesn’t make the effort to fully connect the dots between the markets, home cooking, and fine dining. Without falling down the rabbit hole of religious power in the State of Israel, it would still be worth examining the social and economic divides that the emergence of an “Israeli cuisine” manifestly represents.
Above all, this film will leave you hungry. To eat your way across the landscape of Israel, to explore your local fresh food and spice markets (if you are lucky enough to live in a place where this is possible), to sit outdoors sharing a meal with people you love. It is impossible to watch this film and not get lost in the daydream of the power of food to tell the story of a people. Incomplete and conflicted, but definitely creative and alive.
Want to learn more about this film? Watch the trailer here: http://www.israelicuisinefilm.com/trailer/