Appetites are bound to be stimulated in the course of watching “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” a documentary directed by Roger Sherman and featuring chef and restaurateur Michael Solomonov as the guide to this tasty survey.
The film is filled with scenes of cooking, tracing the growing of ingredients, and discussions that shed light on the nature of cooking in Israel. One truth emerges: Israeli cuisine’s distinct characteristic is that it is a blend of recipes and food of a broad mix of cultures, about 100 of them according to an estimate that Solomonov has made. There is a reason for this.
Israel is made up of people who came there from so many diverse backgrounds. They arrived with recipes for food their mothers and grandmothers made. There is also the Palestinian influence. So many different tastes abound, from the Jews of Spain to the Jews of Eastern Europe and North Africa. Amid all of this is the distinctiveness of local produce that has its own influence.
Solomonov, who is the award-winning chef and owner of Zahav and other restaurants in Philadelphia, leads us on a tour of restaurants in different parts of Israel. The visuals are alive with shots of tempting foods of an amazing variety, and we meet an array of chefs and homemakers involved in demonstrating their skills and tastes.
The approach is dominatingly secular, although there is also a section of the film that delves into the special situation of kosher foods for the pious and the rituals accompanying Sabbath dinners.
All of the attention to detail will be a plus for those with special interest in cooking processes, but for the lay spectator whose interest may lie in the overview, the film can be overly long. It clocks in at about 98 minutes, but it seems longer because of considerable repetition of the film’s basic analytical approach as the different geographical areas are visited.
This criticism aside, “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” is a remarkable exploration of an unusual confluence of cultures and tastes that are to be found in this fascinating country, a journey that reflects the very nature of Israel itself. Appetites lie ready to be awakened by a trip to the movies. A Menemsha Films release. Reviewed March 27, 2017.