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Is Israel becoming a culinary superpower?


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article in Ha'aretz .. in English :biggrin:

Is Israel on the verge of becoming a culinary superpower? Or do Israelis perhaps follow trends and "check out a new restaurant" once a month or year? Judging by the restaurants scheduled to open in the coming year, mainly in the center of the country, but in outlying areas as well, both answers are affirmative. The owners of popular restaurants are trying to repeat their success, experienced chefs are looking for a new arena in which to exercise their talents and foreign chains want to invest in Israel, perhaps because the reputation of the awakening industry has reached culinary centers overseas.

This trend is a very heartening one for both Israelis and tourists alike ... an interesting article ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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I think that superpower might be an overestimation, but it does sound like some nice places to eat are opening there.

I'd not say that Israel is a superpower until a couple of homegrown chefs open destination restaurants that get chatter of the el Bulli type going here on eGullet. I gather that the raw ingredients in Israel can be great... it's a matter of finding the people with the talent in the kitchen, and with the PR folks.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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I don't think that Israel needs an el bulli restaurant to bring it to the culinary forefront. We have some excellent restaurants here, such as Arcadia, Catit, Carmella ba Nachala, Uri Burri and Food Art.

Chaim Cohen's restaurant, which is now closed, was a top class restaurant.

Why does el bulli and wd40 (or whatever it is called) have to be the barometer for calling something a culinary superpower?

The restaurants listed in the Haaretz article are not wow restaurants, with maybe the exception of Jonathan Roshfeld's restaurant.

I don't think the title of the article was translated correctly. The intention of the article was to show that there are international "higher quality" chain restaurants coming to Israel.

Chris, have you ever been to Israel?

We have plenty of talented chefs here.

Edited by Swisskaese (log)
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The Ha'aretz article highlights a significant increase in investment, especially foreign investment, in restaurants in Israel. The variety of cuisines represented in this list is nothing new; Israelis and tourists have known about the diverse offerings around the country for some time....

I consider Catit a destination restaurant...even though I live about ten minutes away from it. :biggrin:

By the way, These people are talking about more than just raw ingredients...

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I don't think the title of the article was translated correctly. The intention of the article was to show that there are international "higher quality" chain restaurants coming to Israel.

Chris, have you ever been to Israel?

We have plenty of talented chefs here.

Well, my whole concern was that there is a difference between being a place with some talented chefs and being a superpower. If superpower is a mistranslation, then I would not have even commented. I am quite happy living someplace that is not a culinary superpower. With one possible exception, nobody lines up years in advance for any table in Philadelphia, and no chef in Philadelphia has inspired waves of immitation across the world or gotten any significant press non-locally. Those are indicia of superpower status...

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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One of the things I've noticed when traveling to established "culinary superpower" destinations like France is that Israelis often make up an impressive portion of the client base. Restaurants in France with Michelin stars do a substantial amount of business with Israeli customers, which means that back in Israel there is the type of knowledgeable, appreciative customer base that will support serious fine dining. When you combine that with all the upper middle class American Jews from places like New York, Los Angeles, etc., who represent so much of Israel's tourism base, it's not hard to imagine the possibilities. That said, "superpower" is an unfortunate exaggeration.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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One of the things I've noticed when traveling to established "culinary superpower" destinations like France is that Israelis often make up an impressive portion of the client base. Restaurants in France with Michelin stars do a substantial amount of business with Israeli customers, which means that back in Israel there is the type of knowledgeable, appreciative customer base that will support serious fine dining. When you combine that with all the upper middle class American Jews from places like New York, Los Angeles, etc., who represent so much of Israel's tourism base, it's not hard to imagine the possibilities. That said, "superpower" is an unfortunate exaggeration.

I absolutely agree. Yes, we are a small country and having a very large hi-tech base, there is money to spend in the Michelin star restaurants abroad.

Well-travelled Israelis expect good food here and abroad. That doesn't mean it has to include popcorn dust or pea ravioli.

There are touristy restaurants for tourists, but there is also fine dining here. Come for a visit. We will be happy to show you around.

As I said before, the article was not properly translated into English.

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You will find no person anywhere more upbeat about the potential for fine dining in Israel than this critic but the idea of our little country becoming a super-star in the culinary world is most assuredly not in the cards. No question but that the country has some extraordinarily talented chefs and some superb restaurants but there are several factors working against such an international-level happening:

1. The land area of Israel is a mere 7,992 square miles (which is five percent of the land area of California) and the number of tourists who visit annually is under two million (which is only about 4% of the number who visit Spain each year)

2. That Israel can support only a very limited number of upswing restaurants is made apparent in that fewer than 15% of the population of the country has ever spent more than NIS 80 (approximately US$ 17.00) for a meal.

3. With the exception of McDonald's, every foreign chain of restaurants (mass-market, upswing mass-market, coffee houses and fast-food eateries) has gone belly up.

4. The turnover (or, if one prefers, closing rate) of Israeli restaurants is more than three times as rapid as that in Europe and North America, the average life-span of most restaurants being from 6 – 9 months. Fine Israeli restaurants that live long enough to celebrate their 10th birthday under the same ownership and/or with the same chef are a rarity indeed.

5. With specific regard to the hi-tech people, do keep in mind that many of these good folks dine out on "tlushim" (coupons) given to them by their companies and these coupons allow them to dine in nearby restaurants for the magnificent sum of 35 shekels (about US$ 7.60). Several good restaurants have gone broke trying to feed these people a decent meal at that price, and more than a few chefs have burst into tears because a goodly number of hi-techies in Israel are far more partial to diet Sprite than wine with their meals.

A perhaps good example of the problem – when Adam Tihani and Francesco Antonucci opened their Tel Aviv branch of "Remi" it was indeed one of the most sumptuous and elegant restaurants in the country and, under the reign of chef Ruby Portnoy, the food bordered on magnificence. Truth be told, prices were high but the experience (culinary and social) was well worth the investment. Despite all of this, Remi could not survive, for as in the New York branch, merely breaking even at the restaurant required a turnover of 1.5 couverts at every table for lunch and 1.5 couverts every evening at dinner. Such a turnover is possible in a city such as New York, a city in which 20,000,000 people either reside or enter and leave every day and where more than 1.5 million people work within a 10 block radius of the restaurant and reside within an hour of it. It is not possible in a country the population of which is under 7 million, and at which the outlay for a dinner would be the equivalent of one to two week's salary. One hates to be a curmudgeon all of the time, but let me remind us all that the per capita average income in Israel is less than half of that in the United States and that Israeli taxes are approximately 30% higher than in the USA. Let me also remind us that a fair percentage of the population will not eat in the truly best and most unswing restaurants because of the requirements of kashrut or hallal.

Indeed when traveling abroad, a certain segment of the Israeli population seeks out true high-end dining. Some of those people truly enjoy the foods on which they are dining and the culture that surrounds such dining but many hunt these places out because they perceive them as a kind of "status". On returning to Israel they may dine just as well but first of all they do it only periodically and second often complain vociferously even if the local prices are only half what they spent while in Europe or the Americas.

None of which should be taken to imply that fine dining is not possible within Israel. It is indeed, and that at many levels –including a range from super-simple, unpretentious and inexpensive eateries to highly stylized, socially "in" and often quite dear restaurants at which the food is superb. Also not to misunderstand – I too look forward enormously to the opening of Jonathan Roshfeld's new establishment and to that of Chaim Cohen (Cohen, by the way, will be the consulting chef, in residence only long enough to train the staff and then to step into full-time consultancy).

And on that note, to borrow a line from Samuel Pepys: "And so to bed"

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5. With specific regard to the hi-tech people, do keep in mind that many of these good folks dine out on "tlushim" (coupons) given to them by their companies and these coupons allow them to dine in nearby restaurants for the magnificent sum of 35 shekels (about US$ 7.60). Several good restaurants have gone broke trying to feed these people a decent meal at that price, and more than a few chefs have burst into tears because a goodly number of hi-techies in Israel are far more partial to diet Sprite than wine with their meals.

Daniel, my reference to hi-tech was not referring to lunch coupons. I work in hi-tech and some of us make a decent enough salary to eat at Michelin starred restaurants abroad. I do not search for a Michelin starred restaurant myself, I choose to eat at a restaurant because I heard the food was good, not that it looks like el bulli stuff, which I am not interested in at all. Not all of us are that shallow.

All of the hi-tech people that I work, travel and eat dinner with here in Israel drink wine with their meals. Lunch is a different story. My company has a cafeteria, so the point about lunch is moot.

I agree, Israel will probably never become a culinary superpower, but so what. We have a lot of restaurant choices here, there good choices and that is what is important.

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Michelle-

I do not think Daniel is implying that anyone who seeks a Michelin dining experience is shallow! Why would you say that? Is there anything wrong with flying halfway across the world for a meal?

His post was very informative and makes a lot of sense. I can say the same thing about restaurants in Beirut. These countries are just not “built” the same way as other European or American ones. People simply do not go out to eat as much as New Yorkers or Houstonians do in the US. Add to that the economic and population factor and Daniel makes a lot of sense.

Now, all this of course does not mean that Israel does not have a lot of excellent dining choices but that is not the point

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Ducasse has a restaurant in Beirut -- one of his most interesting ventures, no less: Tamaris, a dessert restaurant. This to me is a telling demonstration of that city's culinary promise.

I'm mindful of Mr. Rogov's points, but you can analyze any country and explain why it shouldn't have good restaurants. To me it's amazing that any business can even open in Europe given all the red tape, yet plenty do -- including so many of the world's best restaurants. I'm sure Israel is nowhere near being able to support a large number of great restaurants, but surely Tel Aviv could support two or three restaurants at the Michelin two-star level. Unfortunately, we just had to cancel a March trip to Israel on account of family stuff so it will be awhile before I get to check up on the scene (haven't been since 1990).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steven, that is true. I hope I can give Tamaris a try next time I am there. My point was that fine dining is there and can be found, but for the region to be a culinary superpower is just too unrealistic. Tel Aviv should be able to support a few fine dining establishments, but again that is not my point. I was just saying why Daniel's comments make a lot of sense to me.

I wonder how successful Tamaris is? just thinking out loud....

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Michelle-

I do not think Daniel is implying that anyone who seeks a Michelin dining experience is shallow! Why would you say that? Is there anything wrong with flying halfway across the world for a meal?

His post was very informative and makes a lot of sense. I can say the same thing about restaurants in Beirut. These countries are just not “built” the same way as other European or American ones. People simply do not go out to eat as much as New Yorkers or Houstonians do in the US. Add to that the economic and population factor and Daniel makes a lot of sense.

Now, all this of course does not mean that Israel does not have a lot of excellent dining choices but that is not the point

You misunderstood what I was saying. He commented that Israelis go to Michelin starred restaurants because "some of those people truly enjoy the foods on which they are dining and the culture that surrounds such dining but many hunt these places out because they perceive them as a kind of "status" ". The shallowness was referring to go to a Michelin restaurant because it is a kind of status, something they can brag about.

I just felt that he was giving an impression that Israelis like to brag alot and only want to go to a restaurant for the status symbol. I don't agree with that. People do that everywhere.

Edited by Swisskaese (log)
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The only reason I go to nice restaurants is so I can brag about it. What, you people go for the food?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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... I just felt that he was giving an impression that Israelis like to brag alot and only want to go to a restaurant for the status symbol. ...

Oh, Israelis would never do such a thing. :wink:

I'll be there in March. What I'm really looking forward to, Yerushalmit that I am, is Sima's and HaShipudia. And the beit cafe at the cinemateque, because I love the view and miss it terribly. But I'll let my Tel Avivi cousins call the shots in that great city.

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Three points and one anecdote:

The first point: Indeed I would claim that Israel does boast several restaurants that would comfortably earn their Michelin stars if situated in Europe. Among two stars I would rate Moul Yam and Raphael, those in Tel Aviv and Arcadia in Jerusalem. For somewhere between one and two stars would add Carmella ba Nachala, Chloelys, Orca, Pronto, Toto, FoodArt (yup, they spell it with the two words unseparated) and and Yo'ezer in Tel Aviv as well as Aluma in Kfar Vradim.

The second point: I receive a great many requests from my readers for restaurants in which they can dine when out of Israel. Many of those requests are for me to list 2 and 3 star restaurants. I always respond to my letters and e-mails but those people generally get a polite recommendation to the effect that they don't need me for that. What they need is a copy of the Michelin guide. And then there are the requests that are a delight to respond to - asking for "not necessarily prestigious" but really good restaurants regardless of price. Those people often get rather long responses from me. People who love food love sharing that love.

The third point: Some of the restaurants I most adore in the world have "stars". Some don't even know what the Michelin guide looks like. I never go to a restaurant because it has stars. I go for the dining experience. Oddly enough perhaps, I believe that is what gastronomy and the gastronomic arts should be all about.

The anecdote: About five years ago I dined with a very well known European chef who commented to me about many of the Israelis that came to his restaurant. His words, summed up - I'm the last stop on their route before they fly home. They can tell me exactly where they ate and precisely how much the bill came to but the don't remember what they ate. Of course I am not implying that all Israelis are snobs or status seekers. We do, however, have our generous share and lawsy, lawsy, they can be amusing.

Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)
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The anecdote:  About five years ago I dined with a very well known European chef who commented to me about many of the Israelis that came to his restaurant.  His words, summed up - I'm the last stop on their route before they fly home. They can tell me exactly where they ate and precisely how much the bill came to but the don't remember what they ate. Of course I am not implying that all Israelis are snobs or status seekers.  We do, however, have our generous share and lawsy, lawsy, they can be amusing.

Sounds like some people I know in Beirut. :rolleyes:

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I guess I hear enough Israeli bashing on a daily basis.

Michelle, Hi...

I'm not sure how you took my comments as Israeli bashing. I was "bashing" neither Israelis nor high-tech people as a group but only that segment of those populations that have well earned being bashed from time to time. The day that we Israelis or any other individual or group of people lose our perspective and stop laughing with and at ourselves will be a sad day indeed.

Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)
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I must note that during my stay in Israel, I noticed it wasn't a drinking culture overall.

Ditsydine, Hi....

Actually, wine consumption is on the way up in Israel. For many years wine consumption was limited to 3.9 liters per person annually and was thought of by many as related primarily to sacramental purposes (Kiddush, special Holidays, etc). Today, Israelis are consuming between 7.5-8 liters annually and, like the rest of the world moving from semi-dry to dry, from white to red and from less to more sophisticated and complex wines.

That figure may not put us in the league of France, Italy, Luxemburg, etc (at about 60 liters per person annually) but it does put us near the league of England, the USA, etc (at about 10-11 liters annually).

Also on a positive side, wine and alcoholism are only very rarely co-related in Israel most people drinking their wine in moderation, with company and to accompany meals. Estimates are that we will reach the 10 liter mark within another 2 - 3 years. Even more important - the quality of Israeli wines has taken a quantum leap forward in recent years, and the best wines of the country comfortably compete with those of many other wine-growing regions of the world these days.

Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)
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