While on the recent visit of the New Orleans chef delegation, I had the pleasure of chatting with Liatte Nicole Miller at the Flam Winery.  Liatte and I spoke a lot about the personal touch the winery takes care to include in every aspect of the wine-making process, and I could feel this even in our conversation as her genuine passion for the wines shined through her words.  

Tell me a bit about the Flam Winery
Flam is a family-owned boutique winery that was started in 1998; we produce about 120,000 bottles each year, and all of the bottles produced since 2010 are Kosher.  There are five vineyards throughout the country, three in the Judean hills area and two in the upper Galilee. The winery was founded by the brothers Golan and Gilad – Golan is the winemaker and Gilad is in charge of business development.  Kami, their mother is the CEO and Israel Flam, the father, has been in the wine industry for 35 years and does the tours as well as consults throughout the process

Boutique is a very trendy word these days, what does it signify for the winery?
Boutique wine-making in Israel does not just mean "small", it is about being specialized. For us it means being particular and artisanal. We have a high-class product because of the care and resources that go into making the wine. At the big wineries you will find industrial processing, which has an obvious effect on the taste of the fruit and the results.

Golan Flam, the winemaker says that good wine starts in the vineyard. Just as with delicious food, it is all about the origins.

Golan goes to check the vineyards all the time to make sure that the vines are doing well and that the farmers are playing out his vision for the vines.  He really treats the vines as his babies - making sure to give them attention and, in a way, training them. The large vineyards have automatic systems that water and treat the vines, but this does not maximize the potential of the vines. For example, if we know there is a heatwave coming, we will wait a few days to water the vines. The same mentality of personalization and care is how we treat all aspects of the process - human resources, technology (ie our high end bottling machine), tanks with cooling jackets, brand new American and French barrels that we only keep for 3 years. Even our labels are made by a wine label designer in Italy.  

We would like to be able to keep everything local, but we just don't have oak, corks, or certain grape varietals - so we have to get some things abroad in order not to compromise on quality.  Everything is based on making lots of careful choices and on trust and building foundations for this trust.

Even our blog is specialized - we focus our posts on what we believe to be relevant for our wine-appreciating audience.  For example, we recently wrote about our testing of various corks and the differences between the corks - some seal better, some helps the wine breath better.  This is information that we believe our audience can enjoy and will be of use to wine-lovers. 

Are Israelis drinking more wine these days? 
Only in recent years is the market in Israel expanding enough that people are really identifying themselves with a certain wine label or region. People are now going to restaurants and being able to say 'I want a Golan heights wine'. 

I also hope for another trend in Israel will be learning to really appreciate the wine-making process. That when people are paying for their wine they will be able to imagine the long line of events and people that went into it. So many people work hard to make something that can be appreciated in Israel and abroad. We are not yet Australia or Napa but we are on the right track! Golan was trained in Italy and Australia and was influenced by his traditional Italian training, yet brings to the wine-making process many new techniques due to the hot climate we have in Israel.

You are very passionate when you speak about the wines, where does this love of wine come from?
Wine is an art that I can continue to learn about and figure out forever.  I am an enthusiast because it used to be just a hobby and now I realize that the amount of knowledge and tastes are endless. There is something new about it yet it is also so primal.  Wine-making started thousands of years ago when people picked grapes and just left them outside by mistake.  It is a cool scientific process that we are refining.  

Also, it is amazing the amount of energy and manpower and attention that goes into making the wine at Flam – we are making a product that I enjoy and respect.  I wouldn't drive back and forth every day from Tel Aviv into the Judean Hills if I didn't feel this excitement.

Is Flam a socially responsible winery? 
I make sure to only work in places that are socially responsible - for instance my last job was at the Farmer's Market.  I believe that our society does not emphasize that we should learn more about what we are putting into our mouths and where it comes from. Although we are creatures of comfort and it is easier not to, it is our obligation to start asking where our food is coming from.  If we do this, we can have a positive impact on everything from the soil we eat from to the bees we are destroying to global warming. Flam is socially responsible in the sense that our vine-growers and farmers can make a solid living with good wages and benefits. We could easily find cheaper labor, but this company will not compromise in that sense. Besides, farming is important in itself – keeping green lands, producing good Israeli products and recycling wastewater instead of just wasting it.

What is Flam's biggest hit?
The Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.  The wine was aged for 1.5 years in new French oak barrels, then another year in the bottle.  This wine will be excellent until 2020. 

The Flam Classico - it is about 60% of what we make.  One of the reasons the Classico is such a hit is that it is an easy wine to drink without too much complexity. Perhaps there will be a trend in Israel for more complex wines.

What is the biggest challenge Flam faces in the future?
Our biggest challenges are in a few areas – in marketing we need to reach out to new international audiences and be recognized as a quality country for producing good wines.  To continue to develop the highest quality vineyards, which is still relatively new here, finding new vine growing areas and making sheer wilderness into vineyards, and finding and inventing a high standard for Israeli varietals. There's always place for improvement – but just to keep making elegant Israeli wines, despite the heat.

When we are trying to think ahead and plan for 2013 and beyond, we have to consider that some of our vineyards may not be ours anymore [in part because of territorial disputes] - survival comes into every aspect of our story. We don't know what story we will be telling in a few years. In Israel we are telling a story of rich land and Zionism, and we really just can't predict what will be. It is an existential issue that Napa doesn't need to address.  
In short, if you like our wine , buy it now and put it in your cellar, we don't know if the cab reserve will be available after 2010. 
"I would love to see the day when Israeli wines are not congregated in the stores under the label "Kosher", but rather under "Israel" just as the other wines are gathered by region. ~Alan Franco (pictured here, right, with Israel Flam, left)
There is nothing better on the food tours than when we find a new, interesting recipe.  This recipe was provided to a wonderful family visiting from my hometown (Washington, DC) by Ori, one of the spice sellers in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. 

Ori the Spice Guy's White Bean Soup Recipe
White beans, soaked overnight and rinsed thoroughly (both before going to sleep and before using the next day)
1 potato 
1 onion
1 cup canola oil
10 cups of water
2 tsp Moroccan Paprika
Small package of tomato paste (88%)
2 tbsp of soup seasoning (or bouillon cube)
2 level tbsp of Hawaij seasoning for soup
1 green chile, chopped to small pieces
1 tbsp salt
8 garlic cloves

1. Cube the potato and onion. 
2. Using a large pot add 1 cup of canola oil and cook the potato and onion in the oil until the onion is browned. 
3. Add 10 cups of water and the white beans to the large pot. 
4. Cook for approximately 50 minutes, checking the beans for softness after 50 minutes.  Cook longer as required. 
5. Add to the pot the Moroccan paprika, tomato paste, soup seasoning, Hawaij, salt, crushed garlic, and green chile.
6. Cook for another 15 minutes. 
7. Serve bean soup with parsley, if desired, as garnish 
All good things must end, and this one ended with a multi-course lunch at chef Chaim Tibi’s restaurant Muscat in Mitzpe Hayamim. (There are worse ways to end things, no?) After touring the organic farms on Mitzpe Hayamim’s premises, members of the delegation bid their farewells to their new friends over dishes that included freshly baked focaccia, filo dough filled with spiced veal and pine nuts, homemade sausage with mustard and duck in pomegranate caramel sauce. 

Chef Jacques Leonardi astutely noticed that I would not be finishing my leg of duck, and before I could blink, it had been swept away to a more appreciative audience. He and I both agree that it’s a pity to see excellent food go to waste. 

Chef John Besh told the group that beyond having a chance to learn more about his faith, the visit to Israel had brought him past the small talk that so often dominates conversation at home. People had opened up to him about things that mattered to them, and he felt the connections he had forged were genuine, he said. 

Moved by the impact of the visit, the group members promised each other that there would be more such collaborations in the future — and soon. 

(By Liz Steinberg)

Chef Jacques Leonardi at the Golan Heights Winery
9:30 A.M. isn’t too early for wine, especially not when you’ve been up since 4 A.M. After a sunrise artillery demonstration at the base in the Golan Heights, the group headed to the Golan Heights Winery in Katzrin for a tasting. On the table were 10 wines, including two that won the winery top awards in Europe earlier this year: the 2009 Yarden Chardonnay Odem Organic Vineyard, a rich, oaky white; and the 2009 Yarden Heights Wine, a sweet dessert Gewurtztraminer with a surprisingly large array of fruity flavors. Crowd-pleasers included the HeightsWine; the 2007 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon El Rom Vineyard, a single-vineyard wine; and the 2010 Yarden Gewurtztraminer, a dry wine with a sweet tropical fruit smell.

The winery, for the record, doesn’t consider 9:30 A.M. too early either — they’ve started as early as 6:30 A.M., said Michael Avery, the winemaker leading the tasting.

Chef Alon Shaya told the group that he saw Israeli wines catching a foothold — if not in the United States as a whole, then at least in his restaurant. Customers come in and ask for “a chardonnay,” they’re served an Israeli wine, and the next time they come and ask for that specific Israeli chardonnay, he explained.

There are inevitable side effects to any good wine tasting, and the bus ride away from the winery was a joyous one.

“I don’t understand why everyone’s happier than before,” guide Miri Cohen said jokingly.

(By Liz Steinberg)

It’s one of the hottest topics on the Israeli culinary scene. Nearly every panel discussion with chefs and food personalities addresses the matter — what is Israeli cuisine? Does it even exist?

And plenty of the country’s most renowned chefs say that it doesn’t. It’s too early to call it Israeli cuisine; there is no such thing; it’s beginning to form but it’s not there yet, they say.

Alon Shaya feels otherwise.

“I’ve heard a lot of chefs say since I’ve been here . . . that there’s no Israeli cuisine,” he explained. “I know why they say that,” he added. “I don’t’ know how many times [Israel] has doubled in size in the last 50 years,” but every time that happens, things are bound to change.

“I crave shwarma, falafel, labaneh, Israeli salad. That’s what I crave when I’m here. And that’s what I consider Israeli food,” he said. “The people are what make Israel Israel, and the land is what makes Israel Israel. Not the name.

“The food that exists here is Israeli cuisine – food that people eat every day. What everyone loves about food here.

“The more people discount that, the less special that becomes,” he said.

These are the things people should embrace and work with — chefs need to turn these dishes into something.   “The more they try to manipulate ingredients, technique, history, the less Israeli cuisine you’re going to have,” he said.  Shaya qualified his words — he’s speaking as an outsider, not a local. This also gives him a less jaded perspective, he said.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the forest for the trees.

(By Liz Steinberg)
Israel Food Tours
New Orleans chefs stir up food for IDF soldiers
Israel Food Tours guide Liz Steinberg joined the chef delegation on a visit to a base in the Golan Heights and wrote about the experience for Haaretz. Here is a version of the story prepared for Israel Food Tours:

The four New Orleans chefs were crammed into a commander’s office on an Israel Defense Forces base in the Golan Heights. They were decked out in kitchen whites, their names in Hebrew embroidered on the jacket.

John BeshAlon ShayaJacques Leonardi and David Slater were tasked with preparing a four-course Creole dinner for several hundred soldiers from the Namer battalion, with the help of three Israeli chefs and the base’s kitchen staff. 

But this wasn’t the food they were used to cooking at home. There would be no ham or shrimp, and certainly no alligator cheesecake – a Leonardi specialty. This meal would be strictly kosher, and made from the ingredients available on a far-flung army base. 

Chef Gilad Dolev sternly called the chefs to order. It was 3 P.M., and they were starting an hour behind schedule. Their deadline was 8 P.M. He apologized: Due to kashrut limitations, they’d be lacking some of the kitchen tools and spices they had asked for. He requested their patience. 

But the chefs were cool as cucumbers. After Hurricane Katrina, they cooked for 20,000 people at a time, said Shaya. 

“This is what we do. It’s certainly not the food we cook in our restaurants, but that’s okay. It doesn’t need to be,” Besh said. 

Evidently it wasn’t the physical task that challenged them – that was all in a day’ work. It was the significance of what they were doing, said Besh, who had served in Operation Desert Storm as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Leonardi, too, is a former military man. He graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and served in New Orleans in the 1980s.

“This is exciting. I’ve always dreamed of coming here,” Besh said as he put on his shoes and apron; visiting Israel has helped him better understand his Christian faith, he said. “I respect that all these people are protecting their home. I think it’s a very noble thing to give back to those who are giving so much.”

The four chefs were in Israel last week as part of Partnership 2Gether, a Jewish Agency program coordinated by volunteers in Rosh Ha’ayin and New Orleans. During their one-week trip they had helped prepare Shabbat dinner at a home in Rosh Ha’ayin, visited tourist sites including Masada and Jerusalem’s Old City, met with local chefs and dined at an array of top-rated restaurants. The next morning they were scheduled to rise at 4 A.M. to see an artillery demonstration. 

Danny Shani, the Rosh Ha’ayin chairman of the partnership, arranged the visit to the army base, where his brother-in-law was the commander. 

Meanwhile, the chefs checked out the mise-en-place. There was a side room filled with large metal trays of chopped vegetables, prepared a few hours before by the soldiers. There was chicken in the fridge, and a large vat of chicken stock simmering one of the eight commercial burners in the middle of the kitchen. Spices were laid out on a table to the side. 

Soldiers bustled about. On an ordinary day, five army cooks made dinner; today there were 15, not including the soldier prep cooks and the visiting chefs. 

Charged with preparing dessert that evening, Shaya stepped into a separate room with Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the U.S.-based Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. The chefs affectionately referred to Hirschfield as “the rabbi.” 

Shaya was born in Israel but left when he was 4. He said that as a child in the United States he had rejected his Israeli identity, but was now trying to relearn Hebrew and make up for lost time. He and Besh had even discussed launching a restaurant in Israel; they simply weren’t sure they could do it well, Shaya said. 

Shaya was making individual-sized almond cakes, a dish he served at his restaurant for Passover. But it wouldn’t be exactly the same; he didn’t have half the ingredients he had requested. He would substitute flour for the almond meal, white sugar for brown, and bread crumbs for the matza meal. 

Soldiers helped him with prep work. Two were tasked with separating 210 eggs, while others had greased hundreds of baking tins earlier that afternoon. But the oil had dripped to the bottom of the wells, and the cups needed to be greased again. 

“You want me to redo them?” Hirschfield asked Shaya. 

Back in the main kitchen, several dented, cauldron-sized pots were simmering on the commercial range. Slater, who has cousins in Israel, inspected one 44-liter pot. “We might need a bigger pot,” he said. One that was nearly twice as big replaced it on the burner. 

Besh took his place over a large, rectangular metal basin he would use for his jambalaya. “It’s New Orleans paella,” he explained to a soldier chopping up chicken. 

How would this jambalaya differ from his usual? I asked him. “Well, the root of jambalaya is jambon,” he said, laughing. This would use kosher sausage instead. 

“It’s gonna taste great,” Besh said, tasting the work in progress. “It already does.”

By 4 P.M., the kitchen was buzzing. Peppers and tomatoes were frying in one large pot for couvillon, a Cajun fish stew that Slater was preparing with assistance from Israeli caterer Avigail Aharon. In another, even bigger, pot, eggplant was stewing with spices. A soldier strained stock into a large tray and handed it to Besh to add to his jambalaya. Shaya was toasting nuts in the commercial oven. The rabbi was still greasing tins. 

“What makes this is a challenge is we have to work with what we’re given today. We usually work with what we want to,” Shaya explained. “We have to improvise, which usually is very easy. Except when it comes to baking.” 

In another room Ruhama Ben-David, the mother of one of the officers, had arrived to make sfinge, Moroccan yeast doughnuts. She, too was unfazed by quantity – she occasionally caters weddings and other events, and with 10 children, 32 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren even her own family celebrations can draw more than 100 people, she said. 

The chefs raved over Ben-David’s work as she dropped rings of dough into the fryer. “That is totally cool,” one exclaimed. 

“Children who come out of culinary school need to be able to embrace that,” said Shaya, referring to traditional dishes like sfinge. “More and more they don’t, they want to invent.” 

Despite the adjustments necessary due to kashrut and availability in Israel, the chefs didn’t find the food to be exotic.

The sfinge, for instance, were very similar to the biegnets he would make at home, Besh explained.

Shlomi, Ruhama’s son, told her to stop letting people eat sfinge. “There won’t be any for the soldiers,” he said, laughing.

By 5 P.M., the chefs were looking relaxed. Besh’s jambalaya was done, and had been moved into the oven to keep warm. Besh had taken out his camera, a digital SLR, and was wandering around the kitchen taking photos. “Just like our kitchens in New Orleans,” he said jokingly, pointing at a rack of rifles chained in the corner. The room was filling up with curious soldiers. 

Yet for all their professional calm, there was still some stress over the results. “We’re just so trained not to let anybody down,” Shaya commented. 

In the pastry room, the rabbi had finished oiling the cups. “Are you having fun?” Shaya asked me. 

“Are you having fun?” I responded. 

“It depends,” he said. “I’m going to have to see what they look like when they come out of the oven,” he said, later adding, “Thank God we have donuts as a backup.” 

An hour later, the 210 egg whites had been beaten into stiff peaks in a commercial mixer, while the 210 yolks had been beaten with the dry ingredients. It took three men to lift the mixer bowl. A dozen people crammed into the little room to watch French-Israeli chef Didier Lehmann fold the whites into the batter by hand, squatting on the floor and sticking his arm up to his elbow into the mixture. 

The cakes are lighter than they were when he made them earlier that week in Rosh Ha’ayin, Shaya said. “We didn’t have any measuring utensils here. We didn’t have half the things we asked for. … It’ll be different. It might even be better.”

He and Hirschfield used plastic pitchers to pour the batter into the hundreds of greased cups. Half the batter was left over, so they poured it into metal pans to make large cakes.

“These cakes are gonna work out,” Shaya said as the first two trays of cups came out of the oven.

By 6:30, the sun was getting lower. Soldiers were cleaning up and snacking on the chicken from Leonardi’s stew. The kashrut supervisor had been responsible for pouring several bottles of wine into the pot. The chefs gave the simmering pots an occasional stir with a shovel-sized spatula. 

“You look very calm,” Dolev said to Besh. “We’ve got hours and hours,” Besh replied.

This hadn’t been a hard day for the chefs, who were used to working 10- to 12-hour days. Not so for Yehuda, the kashrut supervisor. He’d been on his toes all afternoon, chasing after people who were unfamiliar with Jewish dietary laws and making sure the dairy pots didn’t wind up getting used for meat-based dishes. But he’d had a great time, he said, as he stirred nine kilograms of sizzling rice.

“It was a different atmosphere. New people. Top-class people. This doesn’t happen every day in the army,” Yehuda said. 

Food began leaving the kitchen at 8 P.M. sharp. All hands were on deck: Hundreds of plates were laid out on a table, and the New Orleans chefs and their Israeli partners bent over them, wheeling carts of food down the line and quickly and quietly arranging individual servings on each one. A line of soldiers waited to carry the plates out the door, two at a time. 

I sat down with a table of soldiers, to see what they thought. They were happy to be there – happy to have left the training field, and happy to be eating. 

“If someone wants to buy me, then do it with food,” one said. Asked what she thought about the New Orleans dishes, she responded, “It seemed special but there were familiar flavors.”

“It was very good,” another soldier added, after a few moments of further concentration.

Shaya surveyed the dining tables outside. “This is beautiful,” he said.

“And you made it,” I said. 

“I just made some cakes,” said Shaya.

Israel Food Tours
Knafeh being served at Al-Mukhtar Sweets
The delegation was heading to Nazareth, and the chefs wanted to taste knafeh, a pastry made of soft cheese topped with syrupy kadaif noodles. So after a lunch of traditional salads, falafel and shwarma near the Church of the Annunciation, we found some to taste.

(By Liz Steinberg)
I just met somebody at my friend's wedding here in California who told me he liked Falafel so much on his trip to Israel that he named his dog Falafel. Anybody have a cat named Sabich?
Alon Shaya, at 32 years young, was one of two chefs that proposed to his girlfriend while in Israel (David Slater also proposed.  Both women said yes!).  Alon was born in Israel and moved to the United States when he was 4 years old.  Over the years he has returned a few times to Israel.  

Why did you want to become a chef?
I thought it would take me all over the world to meet interesting people and see new places. 

How did that work out for you?
I say thank goodness I chose to be a cook! It is working out better than I dreamed.

What influence does your Israeli background have on you? 
The last time I was in Israel was in 2003. It was the last time I got to sound with my grandmother before she passed away. Growing up I was able to come a few times to visit. Each time I return it feels that I am reconnecting to a life I never had. When I am on the streets I will smell something that will remind me of my grandfather and I feel such strong sensations with that. Who would ever think that the smell of cigarettes and body odor could evoke such a positive response? It only can happen like that when I am in Israel.

I am in admiration of so many people I am meeting on this trip, like the lone soldiers and like yourself - you made a choice to be in a place that I never really thought about living in.

This visit is so different than past visits - I am getting the chance to appreciate a side of Israel I never experienced - the hotels, restaurants and nightlife - it is all world class!

I can see very clearly that you and John have a very tight and meaningful relationship - can you tell me a bit about that?
I met John through a friend that was his business partner. Ever since that day John has been an incredible mentor - he got me to stop and say to myself, okay, slow down, let's see where this is going.

I worked for John for five years as the chef of his steakhouse. When I told him that I wanted to open an Italian restaurant he said okay, and off I went packing to Italy for a year. It was incredible to learn authentic cooking and meat curing from the families that were so welcoming.  When I came back we opened up Domenica and it has been a dream come true ever since.

How do you feel being back in Israel in the context of a chef?
So inspired because I get to stop (as John taught me to do) and to ask about dreams that I have not yet dreamed. I am meetings Americans here like the lone soldiers and like yourself that moved here because of dreams that you have. It is very inspiring to see.

For each of us this trip has been special in our own way. Some of us are religious Catholics - when we are at the religious sites I am mesmerized by watching the look in Jennifer and John's eyes - it is enough to show me how special this is for them.

I have had some pretty emotional experiences. Cooking at the promenade and army base events was so special. I feel like I can give back in a small way to a country that in some ways I feel that I abandoned.  Also, a friend of my mother’s, Esther, heard that I was going to be in Rosh Ha’ayin, so she came to the promenade opening and surprised me.  It was very emotional with tears and all because she has not seen me since I was 4 years old.  It was a strong reminder for me of my mother and grandmother.  The power that people have on me here is quite strong.

What were some of the foods that your grandmother cooked?
The last time I saw my grandmother was in Israel - we went to Monka together (in Jaffa) and had authentic Bulgarian food. She cooked a lot of that type of cuisine - tzatziki, burekas, lutinitza, spanakopita, chopped liver, kabobs. My grandmother would make feta cheese at the house. I am a manic depressive when it comes to food, I love it, I hate it.  I get a crazy craving for something but then I overindulge and hate it afterwards

Has the food on this trip influenced you? 
Yes, I want to take back a little bit of everything and incorporate it into my cooking.  My senses are incredibly heightened while here and I am noticing elements of food that I may not have noticed elsewhere.  For example, I ate a tomato dish where the leftover tomato juice at the end of the dish was swimming with the leftover olive oil, salt and pepper.  This “juice” was so delicious that I am trying to figure out how to serve it on its own. When writing a menu, I am thinking that people will laugh at me if I try to serve this because it is so simple, but I am so sure it can be just as delicious as any dish, so I just have to figure out how to market it the right way.

Another simple dish was at Abraxas North – a yogurty/sour cream dish with olive oil, sumac, salt and pepper. Again this is an example of a dish that is so simple yet so flavorful and satisfying.

Your Hebrew is pretty good – what is your favorite word to say?
Tapuach adama [potato] – I like the sound of that.  Also, charif [spicy].

Flourless Almond Cake with Figs, Orange and Honey

Makes a 10-inch Bundt cake

  • 2 tablespoons matzo meal
  • 2 cups almond flour (or finely ground almonds)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 6 whole eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 6 tablespoons pure olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Brush the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with olive oil and then dust the inside with matzo meal.

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    In a mixing bowl, combine matzo meal, almond flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar.

    In a separate bowl, combine egg yolks and another 1/4 cup granulated sugar; beat with a whip attachment until thick and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Drizzle in the olive oil. Once that is combined, add juices and zest.

    Fold dry ingredients into the egg-yolk mixture.

    In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites and salt to soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and keep beating until stiff peaks form.

    Fold the whipped egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. It should be a thick batter. Spoon into the prepared pan halfway up the sides.

    Bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

    When the cake comes out of the oven, brush it with honey syrup (below) and then sprinkle the nut mixture (below) all over the top. When cool, fill center with room temperature Fig Marmellata (below).

    Honey Syrup

    1/2 cup honey

  • 3 tablespoons Manischewitz wine
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, combine honey, wine, salt and pepper and cook until honey begins to bubble. Remove from heat and set aside at room temperature.
  • Nut Topping
  • 1/4 cup roasted pistachios
  • 1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup roasted pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Place nuts, cinnamon, sugar and zest in food processor and pulse several times until all the nuts are coarsely chopped.

    Fig Marmellata

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 cups Manischewitz wine
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cups dried figs cut into fourths
  • 2 cups dates, seeded, cut into fourths
  • Combine honey, wine, zests and juices, salt, figs and dates in a medium pot. Place on low heat until mixture thickens, about 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

    Israel Food Tours
    Jacques Leonardi, owner of Jacques-Imo's Cafe in New Orleans was one of the chefs to join the Jewish Agency's Partnership 2Gether delegation trip between Rosh Ha'ayin and New Orleans.  The name for Jacques-Imo's Cafe is a play on the lyrics from the Mardi Gras song Iko Iko.  As Jacques patiently tried to teach me his interpretation of the song lyrics (and as I repeated them incorrectly over and over), I got a feel for Jacques' infamous laid back, yet business-inspired attitude.  

    How did you get involved with this visit to Israel?
    Alan Franco [the upcoming President of the NOLA Jewish Federation] got me involved.  We met through my restaurant and when he suggested this trip, it seemed like it would be a great experience. I have never really had too much exposure to Israel or Israeli cuisine and I am learning from scratch a lot of the issues related to the country and to the Jewish people.  When Alan told me about this trip, I was also excited for the experience from a culinary perspective. 

    Did you have any image of what Israel would be like?
    When I started to tell the people around me that I would be heading to Israel, a common response from the people I talked to was, (perhaps jokingly), 'will you be returning back safely?'.  Although I did not have too many expectations, this question was in the back of mind.  This mind-set seems very far away now that I am in Israel and those safety concerns are trumped by the beauty of the country and the people.

    I am also really thankful for the chance to visit this part of the world now.  I know it has changed a lot in a short time, and I am happy to visit it now before it changes too much in the future.

    What do you think of Israel so far?
    It is a beautiful, European style country with a middle eastern flavor.  I am a bit surprised though at how expensive it is, I did not expect that.  I would love to come back and hang out around the Dead Sea. Also, I love archaeology and I think I could learn a lot here. 

    As far as the people, I really identify with the way that people here live for the day. I am figuring this out in my life, that what is important is living to the fullest with a real joie de vivre.  In New Orleans we live for the moment because who knows when the next hurricane will be; this is what I understand from Israelis that they do because they don’t know when the next war will be, so they live for the day.

    And your favorite food experience in Israel?
    Eating at the restaurant Abraxas North.  It is really clear how in love the chef is with his tomatoes.  Our whole group had an incredible experience because the chef does what we all aspire to do - take the basics of the culture and make authentic, high-quality food.

    What aspect of Israeli food will you bring back to New Orleans?
    The spices for sure.

    What is the best part of being a chef?
    That I get to be part of someone’s good experience and can make them smile.

    Recipe of Choice:
    Chicken Livers on ToastIngredients:1 lb. chicken livers                            
    3 tbsp. margarine                                 
    1/3 cup red wine             
    1/3 cup green onions                         
    1 tbsp. soy sauce                               
    2 cloves chopped garlic         
    ¼ cup chopped parsley                     
    1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce           
    ½ tbsp. Cajun seasoning 
    ½ tbsp. black pepper
    Toasted white bread

    Preparation:Combine wine, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, soy sauce, seasoning and garlic to create a marinade.  Marinate livers in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.  Drain livers and reserve marinade.  Saute livers and chopped green onions in 1 tbsp. margarine.  Add marinade and remaining 2 tbsp. butter to the saucepan.  Stir until cooked, and sauce thickens.  Add chopped parsley, and serve over toast points.