A Wild & Wonderful Israeli Dinner

Erez Komarovksy has it all: He revolutionized the food of Israel with his catering company "The Futurist Kitchen" (based on the avant-garde cookbook of the Italian writer F. T. Marinetti) and emboldened Israel's "bread culture" with the country's first sour dough bakery.  He studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, learned at the knee of a Kaiseki master in Japan, and lived in San Francisco for five years during the heyday of the California cuisine "movement."  Although influenced by the world's tapestry of cooking, including that of his Polish mother (whose chicken soup was the basis of an extraordinary potage he served at the Beard House -- more about that later), Erez redefined the meaning of Israeli food at the restaurant he opened adjacent to his first bread shop "Lehem Erez."  It was at about this time that I wrote an article for the New York Times about the beginning of this "new cuisine" or Israel's own burgeoning culinary movement.  I affectionately called it Med-Rim cooking and later wrote about Cuisine Baladi -- the cooking of the land (the culinary equivalent, as I see it, of "terroir."  A word the wine industry uses to describe the air, soil, typography and micro-environment which influences the qualities of a wine.)

Today, Erez lives and breathes this notion.  After 10 years at his bakery, he moved to the upper Galilee, to a village overlooking olive groves near the Lebanese border.  There he established the Galilee Cooking School where his improvisational classes are based on foraging in the hills, plucking vegetables from his organic garden, using olive oil from the surrounding villages and cooking in the personal, intimate setting of his home.  (As I'm writing this I am already dreaming of going!)  His food is inspired by indigenous ingredients and local traditions -- Muslim, Druze and Christian, as well as the Jewish traditions that inform Israel's melting pot.  Erez's pot is filled with the wild and wonderful -- wild asparagus, wild mushrooms, and Biblical hyssop which also grows in the wild.

At his sold-out dinner at the James Beard House last Saturday, guests were able to experience Erez's personal cuisine and taste the deeply satisfying flavors of Israel -- both ancient and modern.  "A Very Israeli Soup" as the menu stated was filled with artichokes, lima beans, and Jerusalem artichokes floating in a pool of rich chicken broth (yes, that of his Polish mother -- "you take a chicken," Erez said, "take five carrots, onions....) was simply divine.  As was the stuffed spelt challah that was eaten within moments, an exuberant local lamb dish, charred to perfection, and served with Biblical wheat (freekeh).  A lovely Iraqi onion with lamb and tamarind stuffing, baby peppers brought from Israel, a wonderful garnet fish tartare inked by beet juice, fresh goat ricotta served with apricots and air-dried-then-marinated olives.

Dessert shone with radical simplicity-- with "Red Fruits &  Almond Milk"  and a horn of plenty -- his "Grandmother's Yeast Cake."  All of this washed down with intelligently-paired wines from the award-winning Yarden vineyards of Israel -- from an off-dry Gewruztraminer to a sweet Gerwurz to accompany the cake -- in between? Sauvignon blanc, merlot, and syrah.

It's not easy to orchestrate such a meal in the small kitchen at the Beard House.  I know.  I have cooked three dinners there in my day.  So Erez and his staff did their prep at the wonderful Israeli-inspired restaurant, Taboon, located on 10th avenue and 51st Street.  At Taboon one can also sample the depth's of Israel's culinary awakening.

I will see you there.  At Matat, Chef Erez's cooking school in the Galilee, or one Monday night at Taboon, for food, music and a taste of Israel.