Shalom responsible for Israel’s growing culinary reputation

By Adam Cailler

SHALOM Kadosh is the reason why Israeli cooking is known around the world.

He might not be a household name in this country, but in Israel, he is the master of Israeli cuisine and is often credited for being the reason why Israeli food has been on an upward trend in recent times.

The Moroccan-born 70-year-old, who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 44 years, has cooked for King Hussein of Jordan, Queen Beatrix of Holland, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, and American presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George Bush.

But his proudest achievement was organising the 3,000 years of Jerusalem celebration in 1996.

Visitors to the event included nine Michelin three-stars chefs from France, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium, as well as two celebrity chefs from America — Jean-Louis Palladin and Paul Prudhomme.

He told me, during a busy lunch service at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, Jerusalem, where he is currently executive chef: “I was lucky enough to be in charge of that dinner.

“That was the dinner that put the Israeli gastronomic scene on the map. From then, all these top Michelin star chefs came to Israel to cook kosher food. They come here and create new ideas.

“I host chefs from all over the world, in my kitchen, and they all say ‘wow’ because, before they come, they don’t think you can make delicious food without seafood or without mixing meat with cream or butter.

“Now, we have showed what we can do.”

Shalom laughed, recalling how when he first started out in the food world, nobody wanted to be a chef.

“Jewish mothers always wanted their sons to be lawyers or doctors,” he explained. “Today, it makes me happy to see the progression of the food industry in Israel.

“What is happening is unbelievable — there was always Chinese, Italian, Japanese etc and now Israel is at that level.”

Shalom’s own journey started in 1965 when he decided he wanted to see the world.

Although, coming from a family of nine siblings — five boys and four girls — he was always interested in what his mother was cooking.

He said: “Travelling the world, in those days, was not like it is today. You could not buy a ticket for cheap and fly wherever you wanted.

“I decided to study a profession where I could travel the land. I started on a cooking school in Haifa.

“I also worked on a cruise ship which had a home port in New York, so I travelled the world and learned about a lot of interesting cuisines.”

His worldwide experience led him to join the most prestigious group of chefs — Club des Chefs des Chefs.

For those who aren’t familiar with the exclusive group, it was founded in 1977 in a luxury restaurant in France by Gilles Bragard, the owner of a chefs’ fashion design house.

He invited 12 chefs of a few heads of state to a friendly dinner in which they shared cooking tips and anecdotes.

Following the evening’s success, they decided to form a club of chefs cooking for monarchs and heads of state. The club has more than 30 members, including the chefs of the French president, the Queen and the White House.

Although Shalom is not officially the chef for a head of state, he is often considered the unofficial chef of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other leaders before him.

Netanyahu once told him: “When the dinner is good, the meetings go smoothly.”

The first leader he cooked for was President Carter. He recalled: “It was before peace with Egypt.

“The Israeli prime minister at the time was Menachem Begin. In this profession you have to like cooking for everyone.

“I once cooked for an Egyptian foreign minister and was surprised when, after cooking an Egyptian dish, he called me to the table and said ‘When I go abroad, I want to try the food of the country I am visiting, not what I eat at home’.

“Since then, I have never cooked anything local to the leaders I am serving.”

There is often an argument over what constitutes Israeli food.

And Shalom was a victim of this when, in 2013, he made traditional Israeli cuisine for President Barack Obama.

Included in that menu was hummus and falafel, in order to “reflect local Israeli cuisine”.

But, Ghassan Abdul Khaleq, a Palestinian chef, told the Palestinian daily al-Ayyam, at the time, that hummus and falafel are “Syrian and Palestinian dishes that never were, and never will be, Israeli”.

For the record, he actually cooked an entirely different meal for President Obama.

It was, to start, ravioli filled with Jerusalem artichoke; mullet with a green soybean cream; and a grapefruit and pomegranate sorbet — and he was treated to a roast beef and spring vegetables main course. For dessert, Shalom served apple crumble, dates and figs.

But, for Shalom, Israeli food is all about making good use of local, fresh ingredients.

He said: “Israeli food has lots of influence of Jewish people from everywhere, such as Morocco, Poland, Iraq, Egypt etc.

“Israeli food has to have good olive oil, lots of herbs and light food. What we are trying to do here is to use fresh ingredients and more vegetables.”

But, with all of the famous names that Shalom has cooked for, who he would most like to cook for might surprise a lot of readers.

Far from being a current world leader, celebrity or famous name, Shalom would like to cook for someone integral to Israel’s past.

“King Solomon,” he said.

© 2018 Jewish Telegraph