Monday, March 20, 2017

Roger Sherman & Michael Solomonov take us on a thoughtful, visually splendid gastronomic tour IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE


Unlike some of the modern food-porn documentaries that gush over certain chefs or restaurants, together with their fabulous "presentations," the new documentary, IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE, directed by Roger Sherman and featuring Michael Solomonov (along with a number of other fine chefs), seems much less pretentious and a veritable model of intelligent, entertaining filmmaking about food and its delights -- to be found in this case via the little country of Israel. Or perhaps I should identify it as Israel/Palestine.

Mr. Sherman (pictured at left) and Mr. Solomonov's doc never overtly brings up any two-state solution. As one chef reminds us along the way, "Food is not political." Yet, here we see and hear enough chefs with Palestinian and/or Muslim Middle-Eastern roots to quickly realize that Israeli cuisine owes as much to those roots as it does to the Jewish Ashkenazi or Sephardic cultures. All three come into play during the movie and seem to complement each other surprisingly well. Visually, the doc offers some of the most enticing shots of food preparation that TrustMovies has seen.

Solomonov (shown above, left) acts as our guide, leading us around the country of Israel, discovering restaurants and chefs aplenty. That's Mike, above (with Meir Adoni at Mizlala, sampling the chef's Kubbaneh, a Temenite Sabbath bread and below) with Palestinian chef Husam Abbas and his famous Kebab El Babour, for which his restaurant in Umm Al-Fahm is named.

We discover a cheesemaker, below, and learn some interesting tricks of his trade, as well as meeting journalists who've covered the Israeli cuisine scene for some time. We spend a Shabbat evening with a cook and her family, and learn (if we didn't already know this) that most of the citizens of Israel are more secular than religious. Yet the Orthodox sect still exerts huge control over the country, forcing a city such as Jerusalem to close all its shops on the Sabbath.

We learn some history of Mr. Solomonov and his family -- including a brother killed in service of his country shortly before his military term would have ended -- and some history of Israel and its immigrants pertaining to food and culture and why Israeli cuisine was for so many years considered inferior. Explaining how and why this changed is part of the film's mission.

Changed it has, and the many different dishes and meals we see prepared and sampled should make a convert out of you, as it did me. Everything from street food to the selections in some of the famed restaurants look as enticing as food can get. Yet it's all hands-on, no-nonsense cuisine, made with mostly, usually only, local produce.

We learn of the tension between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic sects and how the old-time Ashkenazi cooking -- "cold, boring and guilt-ridden," as one woman puts it, is becoming more vibrant and inclusive.

The movie is also a kind of travelogue, taking us to city after city in all parts of this tiny country. (That's Michael, above, with a seafood maven known as Uri Buri.) From tiny villages to Tel Aviv, we see it all.

We learn how, below, irrigating using salt water makes cherry tomatoes even sweeter (sometimes too sweet), and we discover the Nabatian culture, including its dormant-for-centuries wine industry, and how wine production is flourishing once again. (Our guide explains to us that he is not a drinker, and the reason he gives becomes the documentary's funniest line.)

Full of interesting ideas, scrumptious visuals and a lovely multiculturalism, In Search of Israeli Cuisine should prove a simultaneous treat for foodies, history buffs, and travel lovers. The movie, from Menemsha Films and running 94 minutes, opens this Friday, March 24, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. The following Friday, March 31, it hits Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal and Town Center) and a few other cities. Elsewhere? Yes, so click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.


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