An Insider’s Look at the Tel Aviv Culinary Scene

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Participants in the 2015 Open Restaurants project in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.Credit: Ilya Melnikov

If the annual Open House (“Batim Mibifnim”) events provide those interested in architecture and design a chance to get a behind-the-scenes peak at architectural gems, “Open Restaurants” does the same thing for foodies.

The project got its start about 15 years ago at restaurants in Jaffa, and gathered steam among the range of food festivals at this time of year. At first it attracted 20 restaurants, but the number has grown to 70 in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. This year’s event will be held from Wednesday until Saturday. Food lovers will get answers to questions such as where chefs buy their raw ingredients, how they build a menu and what a dish goes through before being served to a customer.

“All of us sit in restaurants and are served precisely-prepared, delicious and esthetically-pleasing meals, but few people know what the raw ingredients went through on their way to the plate and what is involved in preparing them,” says Merav Oren, the founder of Open Restaurants.

“I was curious to know how all this comes about, and as an avid producer, it started to gnaw at me and I wondered if restaurant owners would agree to cooperate, take up the gauntlet and show their diners how a dish was born and where they buy raw ingredients. To my surprise, after the first year in which we conducted a trial run in Jaffa, interest from both the public and restaurant owners has taken off.”

This year, in addition to the increased number of participating restaurants and chefs, and support from the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, the workshops and tours have been extended to visits to markets and neighborhoods. “People are learning how to get to know the operation and appreciate it, and every time the restaurant owners and chefs themselves explain how it works, they have a rare opportunity to get a sense of the public up close and directly, even if in small groups.”

The more intimate get-togethers between chefs and members of the public have been designed to throw the restaurants’ kitchens open and give people a chance to ask questions.

One of the achievements this year is that there will be a delegation of 20 journalists from around the world, who are coming to see and report on the project and gauge its suitability for replication in their own countries. “It got its start because we get inquiries from all over the world from entrepreneurs who want to adopt the idea and adapt it,” says Oren.

This year’s lineup includes sessions with chef Yuval Ben Neriah of the Taizu Asian restaurant. It will start with a visit to the kitchen and an explanation of the techniques used in Asian cuisines. Those joining chef Nir Zook of the Cordelia restaurant will have to get up early to tour the wholesale market at Tzrifin to choose the ingredients that they will later cook in the restaurant’s kitchen in Jaffa.

Nana Schreier of the vegan restaurant Nanuchka, which features food from the Republic of Georgia, will conduct a workshop on the preparation of khinkali, Georgian stuffed dumplings. The founders of the Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar will reveal what goes into making their cocktails, talk about the ingredients and teach participants how to make the perfect cocktail.

Chef Mena Strum of Campanello will do a pizza workshop for parents and children, explaining where the dish was invented and what goes into making it, from the preparation of the dough to the baking process. Staff from the Brasserie restaurant will explain how their establishment, which serves 1,000 customers and up on a daily basis, operates. The “Basar shel Zalman” butcher shop will give the public a behind-the-scenes view of their operation for the first time in 20 years, and conduct a workshop on meat preparation.

The Abushdid restaurant staff will conduct a workshop around the story of Lea Abushdid, who married Itamar Ben-Yehuda, the first Hebrew-speaking child of the modern era. They will reconstruct her recipes. Tomer Niv, the chef at Rama’s Kitchen outside Jerusalem, will visit the Hanasich Hakatan (Little Prince) café and bookstore in Tel Aviv with food and music composed to accompany it.

There will be a boutique beer-tasting tour of the Carmel market, comparing the beers to the major breweries, while chef Avivit Priel Avichai of Ouzeria will give her workshop participants her view of the Levinsky market, letting them in on where the best pickled fish and cheese in the market can be found. The market has recently seen a revival of its fortunes.

Open Restaurant event fees range from 50 to 300 shekels ($12.50 to $75).

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