BLOOM: ISRAEL blooms in the DESERT

By Jo Phillips

Israel is undeniably a breeding ground for filling you with wonder, provoking reactions and shattering incorrect perceptions. It’s a Biblical Holy land distorted by the Medias negative portrayal, yet from it has come astounding beauty through food, music and the arts.

Honey & Co, the husband-and-wife-run restaurant promising a taste of the most exquisite ‘food from the Middle East’ without ever failing the task, allowed us to share in the amazing story that was their field trip to Israel. With the ultimate goal that their many multinational Chefs –from South Africa and Columbia to Italy and Poland- could become more than talented zealous foodies, that they could instead truly connect with the country of Israel and the enticing foods it provides.Israel1Patricia Niven, Copyright 2015

“So we found ourselves on a warm January morning on the green foothills of Mount Carmel, just outside of Haifa. It was both of us and our chefs, some friends & their kids & a couple of parents we picked up.On the road up the side of the mountain we met Dr Uri Meyer Chissick – an expert on local and traditional food ways. As far removed from the image of an academic as can be, straight talking and funny he started showing us around, breaking the foliage around us into finer details – those bland looking grasses are wheatgrass – favorite of the health freaks – squeeze it between the palm of your hands to produce a bitter, vile tasting green juice that is meant to be so healthy for you, these feathery fronds will become, in a few weeks, wild asparagus, those blue flowers taste quite sweet, but not their leaves.

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The Leaves of wild Cyclamen are good for eating, they’ve been used in local cooking for decades, but we cannot pick any – it is an endangered plant now. We walk and fill our bags, stopping every so often when Uri spots an interesting plant he wants to tell us about. Slowly everything around us makes a different kind of sense.


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We meet up with Uri’s business partner, Roman, who brought us some more local food. Uri & roman have a deli where they sell only locally sourced produce, and create natural food as its been made for centuries, we try their mustard – sharp, fruity, rounded in flavor, fresh chickpeas that have been sprouted, pepper sauce fermented in the sun, homemade, organic tahini. He brought from his deli a couple of plump, local chickens, some vegetables from the garden and a rump of veal, he can name every farm and grower and knows the origin of every bit of produce he cooks with and eats.


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It is all a group of chefs need – we start a fire in a pit in the ground, we get cooking – the leaves we picked go into a salad with freekah (smoked green wheat ) the wild fennel and other herbs join the chickens in a south African poike pot (they are all the rage in Israel) and the veal goes into an iron pot to later become the best siniya (meat baked in a tahini crust) we have ever eaten.


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Olives that we picked off the ground are pitted and pounded to a paste, we didn’t even realize they can be edible without curing (but only the ones that are ripe enough to fall off the tree). We make a simple dough and bake it on an upturned drum set over the fire. Everything we cook and eat is delicious and surprising, in a totally unfamiliar way – these flavours are deep, wild and feel somehow ancient.



Israel7 Patricia Niven, Copyright 2015

We came to Israel find the source – I don’t think we could have gotten any closer.”  ~Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich

This month of June held the wonder of SERET 2015 ‘The London Israeli Film and Television Festival’, which showcased an incredibly varied programme of shorts, documentaries and TV series all created by Israel’s most talented film and television makers. One real treasure was Director Dan Wasserman and Barak Heymann’s documentary “Do you Believe in Love?”, and as Dan Wasserman explains these films hold the power to encourage audience’s to understand the world of Israel and reach beyond preconceived ideas.


“I think I make films to try to understand life better, and not with a motivation to say something particular about Israel. On the other hand my films are not part of this world-wide media belief (that has some resonance even between Israeli directors) that Israel is a horrible place. I really feel that Israel is a fascinating culture, with a very strong spiritual atmosphere. And as I see it the relationship between Arabs and Jews is a lot more complex and optimistic than the way the European media wants to acknowledge or portray it. I hope my film will attribute some positive influence, but the problem is not just the prejudice about Israel. I think that every one-sided belief that is constructed on a clear good or bad differentiation between groups will not describe reality, and will not help make this world a more peaceful place.”


Being a director its common to find creative difficulties, and in Dan’s case these came with his discovery that Tova, the main Hero of “Do you Believe in Love?” didn’t evolve throughout the film. “I felt that I have a problem in the mechanism of the story, because I was taught that in a good Drama there must be change in the inner world of the protagonist. After many attempts to solve it we understood that this needed change can happen not in the inner world of the protagonist, but in the consciousness of the viewers.”

As a native of Haifa and Mount Carmel Dan always had an innate desire to shoot in his home of Haifa, and is currently filming his new documentary “The Last Lesson” in the location. He describes it as “-a beautiful city where the “superstar” troublemaker of all Jewish prophets, Elijah, was wandering.” As the most interfaith and tolerant city in Israel “Jews, Christians, Muslim, Druze” are able to “live peacefully together creating a very unique atmosphere” and a miraculous foundation for any ground breaking film.

See the “Do you Believe in love?” trailer here


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