2018-08-29 / Voice at the Shore

Israeli Chef Ido Zarmi serves as “ambassador” for his country’s culture

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Chef Ido Zarmi (at right) leads an Israeli cooking demonstration at the Viking Cooking School at Harrah's casino in Atlantic City. At left are AJC Philadelphia- Southern New Jersey staff members Andrew Demchick, Marcia Bronstein, and Hilary Levine, who took part in the demonstration. Chef Ido Zarmi (at right) leads an Israeli cooking demonstration at the Viking Cooking School at Harrah's casino in Atlantic City. At left are AJC Philadelphia- Southern New Jersey staff members Andrew Demchick, Marcia Bronstein, and Hilary Levine, who took part in the demonstration. Acclaimed Israeli chef Ido Zarmi said he’s “passionate about sharing my love of Israeli cuisine with people throughout the world.”

The young Israeli chef shared this passion—as well as a slew of delicious culinary creations— with the Jersey shore Jewish community earlier this month during “Israel Culinary Week.” Presented by the Jewish Federation’s Israel Center as well as many private individual sponsors, the week of tastings, cooking demos, and more—in which Zarmi was the featured chef—was part of the Israel Center’s ongoing celebration of Israel@70.

According to Chef Ido, today’s Israeli cuisine reflects the many cultures that have deliciously come together in the tiny country during the past 70 years. Accordingly, the “Israeli Tasting Gala,” at the Claridge on August 14 offered a fusion of flavors, including traditional Israeli and modern, with a zesty helping of other cultural flavorings added in for good measure.

Menu items included falafel made with lentils and Branzino (European Sea Bass), and haute cuisine versions of Sabich (a popular Israeli street food sandwich made with pita, eggplant, and hardboiled egg) and Musakhan (a classic Palestinian dish made with chicken, onion, middle eastern flatbread and spices).

“This is really delicious!” said Anna Green, a gala attendee formerly from Philadelphia who recently became a full-time Jersey shore resident.

“Israel’s cuisine has changed so much over the years,” she added. “I lived in Israel during the 70s and the cuisine was not like this.”

That’s exactly why the Israel Center’s Israel@70 Committee decided to bring Israeli cuisine into the spotlight with Israel Culinary Week, said Jewish Federation Executive Director Kirk Wisemayer. “For so long Israel was the ‘poor little cousin’ of the Jewish world,” he noted, but now “she’s become a world leader in so many ways, including with respect to cuisine.”

“People from world culinary centers go to Israel, rave about it, and send people there. It’s amazing that in 70 years they have come to this point,” said Wisemayer.

Indeed, Zarmi considers cuisine “a bridge between cultures and peoples.” As a senior instructor for Bishulim, the Israel Institute of Culinary Arts (IICA), in Tel Aviv, Zarmi has seen culinary students and chefs from other countries effectively turn into “ambassadors,” for Israel, telling their fellow countrymen about the wonders of

Israeli cuisine and life.

“Israel is so much fun. Everyone who comes to Israel falls in love with it,” said Zarmi of both Jewish and non-Jewish visitors. “We as Israelis are passionate about good living.”

Zarmi himself is perhaps the consummate

Israeli chef-ambassador. A Culinary Institute of America graduate who has worked with leading chefs in both New York City and Israel, Zarmi has served as head of international affairs for IICA and has given lectures, cooking demonstrations and culinary tours in Israel, Europe and the United States.

This work, said Zarmi, “creates positive dialogue about Israel.”

Bringing in an “ambassador” to spotlight an aspect of Israeli life people don’t usually hear about is exactly what the Israel@70 Committee had in mind, said Sheila Friedman, who co-chairs the committee along with Judi Galler and Miriam Hirsch.

“So much of what we typically hear about Israel relates to politics and history,” said Friedman. “We wanted to do something different.” This alternative approach will continue next month, with an Israel@70 program exploring Israeli film as a genre (for more details, contact Becky at the Jewish Federation at 609-822- 4404).

The ongoing Israel@70 celebration has been an important way to bring people from all parts of the Jewish community together to express their love of Israel, added Rabbi Yaacov Orimland of Young Israel of Margate, who is also a member of the Israel@70 Committee.

Notably, Zarmi did most of his cooking and food preparation at the Young Israel’s Glatt kosher kitchen, so that community members who adhere to strict kashruth standards could also take part in tasting events. For the gala at the Claridge, the Israel@70 Committee even brought in a mashgiach (supervisor) to kosher the hotel’s kitchen. “We wanted the main event to cater to everyone,” Rabbi Orimland stressed.

Many diners appreciated this important detail, including Orthodox Rabbi Shalom Ever of Rodef Sholom in Atlantic City, who was happy for the opportunity to eat at a fine local kosher venue. “It’s nice to see everyone from the entire community, to get the whole community connected,” added Rebbetzin Sara Ever.

Community newcomer Anna Green agreed. “I feel really lucky to be part of this. It’s wonderful that this small community could have this kind of celebration,” she said. 

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