Newest Conclusion: New Orleans Chefs John Besh, David Slater, Jacques Leonardi and Alon Shaya are simply mensches.  

Through the chef exchange between Partnership 2Gether (formerly Partnership 2000 of the Jewish Agency), the New Orleans and Rosh Ha'ayin communities have had their bonds strengthened, thanks to the hard work of the chef delegation from New Orleans.  On Monday June 27th, Rosh Ha'ayin celebrated the Grand Opening of its promenade and the success was even beyond expectations. The cornerstone of the opening was the 2,000 food tastings and cooking demonstrations created by the New Orleans chefs, Israelis chefs, and volunteers including Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Alan Franco, and countless others that made the event happen. 

Spending the afternoon together, Israeli chef volunteers alongside the New Orleans chefs, created 4 personalized Kosher Creole dishes, that were sold that evening with the proceeds going to a charitable cause chosen by the Rosh Ha'ayin community. 

As if spending the entire afternoon cooking for 2,000 people was not enough, during the event, each chef could be found dishing out their tastings and doing live demonstrations for the crowds.  The chefs also had the chance to hear (and see!) reactions to their cuisine - and the reaction was clear as the tastings sold out in less than 2 hours.  This leads me to believe that the Creole flavor and the Israeli palette have a lot in common - which is something that can also be seen in the relaxed way of handling the intensity of their task. 

Without a doubt the most special part of this event was the true bond created in the Partner communities.  Seeing the New Orleans and Rosh Ha'ayin families come together, all because of the bond of food and enjoyment, made it clear that the chefs are doing more than just whipping up delicious jumbalayas - they are to be thanked for a much broader unifying experience. 
Barak Daon, a soldier serving in the Israel Defense Forces, shares with us his culinary and personal experience with the New Orleans - Rosh Ha'ayin chef delegation. 
IDF Soldier Barak Daon
I had the opportunity to join the New Orleans chefs at the highly acclaimed Darna restaurant in downtown Jerusalem last Sunday. This opportunity would be special for anyone, but was even more unique for me as I am currently serving as a lone soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Let's just say over the past couple years I am more accustomed to eating a lot of canned tuna and hard boiled eggs. I was chosen along with three other lone soldiers to join the chefs for dinner at Darna.

The atmosphere at Darna is something that could only be accomplished in Jerusalem.  Its Moroccan designs are beautiful; the colors, lighting, furniture and even the distinct dress of the waiters were all spectacular.

I sat with chefs David Slater and Jacques Leonardi. It was great to hear from the chefs how much they are enjoying their trip. Myself being a huge fan of spices, it was interesting to talk to the chefs about the different spices they had just found in the Jerusalem shuk. The chefs have been doing a lot of eating during their visit, and have been very impressed with Israel's cuisine. Our meal at Darna was impeccable, my personal favorite was the couscous; it was light and fluffy and served with perfectly cooked vegetables. The dessert was also incredible. We were served a platter of fresh fruit, a mixed appetizer plate, and the famous Sahlab; a fragrant dessert made with soy milk and rosewater.

The evening was delicious and being amongst the chefs and their family and friends provided me with a nice taste of America. 

Delicacies created by New Orleans and Israelis chefs as part of the Jewish Agency sister city partnership between Rosh Ha'Ayin and New Orleans
New Orleans Chefs John Besh, Alon Shaya, Jacques Leonardi and David Slater prepare a meal for thousands of visitors to the opening of the Rosh Ha'ayin promenade - come tonight to taste the results of hours of work! 

Details from Facebook invite here:
On Friday afternoon, the New Orleans chef delegation had the opportunity to tour the Tel Aviv Farmer's Market with co-founder Shir Halpern.  The chefs got a taste of the market, including a special conversation with Israel's beloved Sherry Ansky. 
Israel Food Tours - Gilad Dolev
While honoring the New Orleans chef delegation in Israel, I want to recognize that the delegation would not have been possible without the initiative, passion and expertise of Chef Gilad Dolev, R&D Chef, and owner of Dolev Culinary Strategy.  As a proud resident of Rosh Ha'ayin, Chef Gilad, along with Danny Shani and the Rosh Ha'ayin Partnership 2Gether staff (formerly Partnership 2000), initiated the Rosh Ha'ayin - New Orleans chef exchange out of the genuine desire to bring professionals together for a meaningful people-to-people experience.  

I had the opportunity to learn more about Chef Gilad just after completing his first "order of business" - teaching the chefs the lay of the Kosher cooking land. 

Where did your motivation for this project come from?
I studied and worked abroad for many years and found that people outside of Israel tend to view our country as a war zone; they would have no concept of the reality, that we are a country with incredible assets including quality of wine, culture of food and warm people (we may be crazy, but we are very nice).  The Israeli Foreign Ministry has not yet been able to change this perception, so as one of my goals I want to alter this view by connecting people with a great culinary experience in Israel.  

I have no doubt that after this week the chefs will return to New Orleans with a positive perspective and energy from Israel.  In a few months when the memory dies down they will look at the pictures and remember for months to come what a good experience they had with Rosh Ha'ayin residents, soldiers and their hosts.  When they meet someone from Rosh Ha'ayin (or from Israel) they will hug and embrace them because that is the type of partnership that is developing.  Also, with Facebook we can stay connected easily and have real friends across the globe, all because our connection and mutual love for food. 

Israel Food Tours - Gilad Dolev
Gilad Dolev on Kashrut
Where is your favorite place in Israel to bring chefs visiting from abroad?
There are too many for me to list.  Israel can be broken down into food regions, for example "the country of Tel Aviv", Jerusalem area, and the North.  Each area has such unique and intricate tastes and flavors that it would not be fair to compare or choose one.  The chefs in each region bring with them their own magic and influence from the different style of the region. 

Okay, how about choosing one restaurant in "the country" of Tel Aviv to take them? 
[blogger note: calling it "the country of Tel Aviv" is a play on the sense that Tel Aviv is in many ways its own country apart from the rest of Israel in its metropolitan character]
There are millions of great chefs established and sprouting in Tel Aviv, but for this I would choose Raphael.  Rafi establishes a character in his food that is completely different and admirable.  He has taken his Moroccan roots and family recipes and successfully connected the flavors to a local and fresh style that respects these roots without feeling old-fashioned.  It is special to experience his food - he sticks to his goals and succeeds. 

I am so impressed with these chefs this week that I am thinking about becoming one - what advice do you have for me?
Take an entire year to work in a restaurant and discover whether you really love it.  If you decide that you love it after one year, then go study abroad and bring back to Israel your knowledge that you learned wherever you study. 

What is one kitchen item that you could not live without?
A dishwasher
Israel Food Tours - Chef Gilad Dolev
"At the end of the day, regardless of whether the kitchen is Kosher or not, there are 3 types of kitchens - there is a good kitchen, there is a bad kitchen, and there is your mom's kitchen."
Chefs John Besh and Jacques Leonardi cooking in the magnificent home of Eran and Michal Katzir
Friday afternoon turned into an absolute food and fun festival. The task: seven chef from Israel and New Orleans (NOLA) should prepare a Kosher Shabbat Dinner for 60 guests using New Orleans-flavoring.  Yes, it definitely feels like a good start to a reality cooking show. 

The character of the group came out in full force as a few ingredients for the meal were missing, and as stores were already closing for Shabbat, the chefs were required to improvise.  Their response was to "zorem" (losely translated as go with the flow, in Hebrew) and the similarities in the relaxed nature of the NOLA chefs and Israeli chefs was apparent.  With music, a bit of wine, and a great vibe, the chefs set to work on their cajun-laden menu.  The hosts, Eran and Michal Katzir of Rosh Ha'Ayin, brought in a team of young helpers (their kids and friends) to add even more genuine hospitality than was oozing out of every corner of the house. 

As Chef Gilad Dolev, head chef from Rosh Ha'ayin, made clear, the most important aspect of the day was that everyone would have FUN and that the heat in the kitchen would be the only sparks flying. 

Sneak peak of the Shabbat Dinner menu tonight (recipes to come later!):

Hors D'oeuvres 
Fried Tomatoes with Whitefish Ravigote

First Course 
Corn Maque Choux with Pepper Jelly BBQ Chicken
Cane Syrup Glazed Salmon Salad

Stewed Chicken Creole
Okra and Tomatoes
Seabass Etoufee with Creole Boiled Potatoes

Olive Oil Almond Cake with Dates and Figs
New Orleans Chefs - Briefing Room
Despite entering the country with suitcases adorned with special knives, the four New Orleans chefs arrived safely this evening through Israel airport security for their week-long visit to sister city Rosh Ha'Ayin.  As part of a delegation through the Jewish Agency's newly re-named Partnership 2gether (formly Partnership 2000), the special knives - to be handled by the talented top chefs - will be put to great use in a week filled with dynamic food and wine events throughout the country. 

The energy was soaring as the chefs John Besh, Alon Shaya, David Slater and Jacques Leonardi arrived through customs and were immediately swept to an evening hosted by members of the Rosh Ha'Ayin community, including the Mayor, and distinguished community guests, host families, and Shlomo Barak/Avinoam Leshem of the Leshem-Barak winery (product of Rosh Ha'ayin!). The speakers highlighted the close ties between the residents of Rosh Ha'Ayin and the Jewish community of New Orleans. The values behind this mission matches those of Israel Food Tours - focusing on food as a lens to establish ties through genuine People to People interactions. 

Some highlights to look forward to in the coming week:
  • Alon Shaya's Passover-friendly almond cake (served at his restaurant Domenica during Passover)
  • Chef Gilad Dolev's master class on Kosher cooking and laws
  • The opening of the Rosh Ha'ayin promenade (the chef's creations will be sold and the proceeds donated to charity)
  • The chefs cooking at an army base for 400 soldiers alongside Israeli military cooks and other special guests
  • Historical and cultural stories and learning about Israel from Alan Franco, the upcoming President of the New Orleans Jewish Federation.  
  • Getting to learn about (and share with you!) stories and perspectives from each of the chefs, and simply having FUN showing them around Israel!

Israel Food Tours - John Besh
Chef John and Jennifer Besh arriving at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport
Israel Food Tours - Chef Delegation
Mayor of Rosh Ha'Ayin and Alan Franco
A very excited Chef Gilad Dolev
Israel Food Tours is going to touring with and live blogging with the chef delegation coming from New Orleans today!

Throughout the next week, you will get a taste of the diverse cooking from the Louisiana region as it meets the tastes of Rosh Ha'Ayin's Moroccan and Yemenite influences