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story

Erez’s Story

Erez Komarovsky

Lesson time 53 min

Get to know Erez as he takes you on a journey from the market to the farm, from the city center to the countryside, from the past to the present to uncover his story and modern Middle-Eastern cuisine.

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It was obvious to me that I want to cook. (paper ruffles) (lighthearted guitar nothing) I cooked from the age of 16, I think, for my friends. I am a chef and I am a baker. I cook food and I bake breads. (lighthearted guitar nothing) We are a combination of our memories. (lighthearted guitar nothing) In my case, my culinary memories, because I don’t have much, beyond this. (lighthearted guitar nothing) (upbeat nothing) Boureka! Boureka! (upbeat nothing) (background market noise) This is unbelievable what’s going on here. This is a bakery stall, a bread stall. And you have a Bulgarian bagel the one that you cook in caramel, you have the Manakeesh which is an Arabic kind of pita with a dry hyssop We have pretzel With za’atar With za’atar, it’s amazing. Yeah. This is amazing. and we’ve hamburger buns and baguette. This is all Israeli cuisine, Right here. Here in this stall, it’s amazing. (upbeat nothing) When I was a kid and I used to go with my grandmother, Yeah. I used to walk with her every week with a trolley. Yeah. And I helped her. Really? Yes of course, I would go to the market to help my grandmother. And then with my mother. To schlep (to carry). To schlep. Did she buy everything here? Or she had… Everything was bought in the Carmel from all of the center of Tel Aviv. Yeah. And every week we would go to Shuk Bezalel to eat falafel. (upbeat nothing) Elad! Are you Yemeni? What is your origin? I’m half Yemeni and half Egyptian. The Egyptians make ta’ameya Right, ta’ameya. And the Yemenites make hummus, falafel. So what kind of falafel do you make? Yemeni or Egyptian? A combination of Yemeni and Egyptian. Wow. Who did you learn from? Your mom or your dad? I didn’t learn. My mother makes it. The schug, the salsa, the hilbe. She makes everything. Okay, can I get a half pita? And you too? A half order for each of us. (upbeat nothing) Enjoy! Bon appetit! The same? Are you making it spicy for me though? Of course! Let’s take a picture. On the bottom I put the red (upbeat nothing) Enjoy! Bon appetit! Thank-you. This is amba, which is Iraqi Indian fusion salsa. This is the hilbe. All these different cultures, like in one plate. Wow. Hold on Erez, let me… Yeah, this is the way, when you, when you eat it with pita bread. Amazing pita! In good health! Enjoy. But I still don’t understand if your falafel is Yemeni or Egyptian My mother is Egyptian and my dad is Yemeni. I know! But what is this? I need to squeeze it out of you. I have to get it out of you! The origin of the falafel is Egytian. Egyptian? Yes, but when they came to Israel, they improved it with hummus. (upbeat nothing) I think Erez is the pure definition of new Israeli food. He uses a lot of traditional stuff, but he does it in his own unique way. And it’s a very fresh way. It’s a very modern way. It’s very open. Wow. He’s one of the few chefs who doesn’t have a restaurant. He’s not tethered to that desire to sort of feed people every day, but he still is able to use his obvious talent and desire to sort a feed people and nurture people and fill them up like both spiritually and culinarily, like through these events that he does in these, the way that he cooks and the way he hosts in his home. You don’t have to be. Schwarzenegger in order to do it. It’s not a specific dish that I can say is, you know, this is Erez, but it’s the general approach. It’s always very fresh. The ingredients are very good. You can definitely know, this is Erez’s plate, when you see one. (upbeat nothing) Erez defies rules. He’s like improvising all the time. He’s crazy. Come to daddy, come to daddy. But this is his greatness, this is his spirit. Look at this magic. Look at this magic look, look, look, look, look…wa’up! (upbeat nothing) Let me tell you how I met Erez. I met him in 1987, which is ages ago. We clicked immediately. And after two weeks, I told my mom that I met someone who was actually wonderful. And I think that I’ll spend my life with him. And she asked me, “well, what does he do for a living?” And I said, he’s a chef. And back then it was considered a lowly profession. So my mom asked, “Are you going to marry a cook?” disapprovingly. Later on she fell for Erez, but that tells you something about, you know, how, how that profession was perceived in Israel in the 80s. You know, he was in the center of a lot of revolutions which happened here. First of all, the bread, he was very revolutionary in terms of the restaurant he opened at the time, because he was one of the first people to really start putting local ingredients in the center. Opa! When I cook, I try to free myself from any restrictions. I try not to cook from my head, but to cook from my stomach. It’s like being a jazz nothingian. You just do. You just do. (Upbeat nothing) Not bad. Not bad at all. (upbeat nothing) First of all he was the guy who made, the bread revolution in Israel. I mean, no doubt about that. until Erez showed up the bread in Israel was, you know, the industrial kind, mostly nothing special. Nobody even didn’t even know that there is, there are such possibilities when it comes to, when it comes to bread. It’s amazing because the land of Israel is at the center of a region of wheat. But for a long, long time, we got used to eat and consume industrial bread, not necessarily made from the best ingredients and not made in traditional techniques. And then he, the guy, this guy came along, open his Erez bakery, and it was a blast. You know, everybody freaked out because we’ve never seen anything like that before. When I started to bake, I started to bake with the knowledge that I had already. So I knew how to do, how to roast tomatoes. I knew how to use herbs, to use marjoram to use rosemary, to use sage. I knew how to combine spices, how to use cumin seeds and kimmel. And so I merged this knowledge into the baking and I started to bake with spices and veggies, that I treated before. Why? Why? look at those beauties And good breads came out. Excellent breads came out, because of that. Because it was kind of new, but not really, nothing is new. ( upbeat nothing) It’s amazing because the dough here, is very similar to a pita dough, but the techniques and the oven makes it completely different. (up beat nothing) It’s amazing the way he enters the oven, its 180 degrees Celsius, or 200 degrees Celsius and he just enters without any cover. He’s doing it from the age of 14 years old. Why is he spraying water on it? To keep it moist. To have a nice color. Give him. Here, here, continue! Can you handle it or not? Yes of course! You’re a baker. And when you step out, exactly, that’s it! I wasn’t consistent here. Don’t worry. In 1 month you’ll have bread. I wasn’t too consistent. (upbeat nothing) It looks so nice. (upbeat nothing) Do you see the one that puffed up? I probably did that one. (upbeat nothing ) (instrumental) You do it so beautifully, wow. Delicious. (instrumental) I used to come here with your father. Shimon, King of Soups. It’s a legend here in Tel Aviv. Now I’m the queen. What do you want? Cheek soup and the Lahoh and the hilbe and schug. (instrumental) It’s amazing. So good, it’s so perfect with the soup. Great, nobody’s doing hilbe in the States. It’s only associated with Indian food. Yeah. Ah! Lahoh! This is, this is the magic bread. Like the Yemenite pita, and it’s so soft and nice and tasty. How does it differ in the way you make it from like a regular pita, just larger. It’s a softer dough, and you make it in a different oven. Right? So this is the schug, which is kind of the iconic hot sauce to the Yemenite kitchen. Why, why, why why. (laughing) (soft instrumental) It’s amazing we sit in the Yemenite Quarter Yeah. And this was for me that was born 500 meters from here. Yeah. It was a completely different country. Right? For me, going to the Yemenite Quarter to eat Lahoh, was so different. I come from a Polish background. I got hooked on it. Yeah. Yemenite food is something very strong in the Israeli food culture. Because It is. The Yemenites came before. Long pre-state. Pre-state. Yes. I mean, I feel like the Yemenite breads have become sort of like national comfort foods. Like everyone loves to eat. Kubaneh. Kubaneh on Shabbat and Jachnun on Shabbat The Yemenites are really an empire in the dough department. Exactly. It’s amazing. They have so many doughs. (soft instrumental) Wow, Wow, wow ,wow wow, wow Oxtail Oh, we say Zanav (tail) to Oxtail. Why, why, why look at this potato. Are you having a flashback moment? The color of the soup is incredible. It’s like sunshine in a bowl. Tumeric. Delicious. Does it taste the same as your childhood? Completely The evolution of Israeli cuisine really was represented by the building where I was born. The first floor was occupied by people that came from the Holocaust and they cooked completely traditional Polish food. Second floor was my grandparents, that were born in Poland, but they came to Israel and they, they started to smell different flavors and odors. Third floor was the woman that raised me, because my mother was working. She cooked eclectic food Bourekitas from Egypt and eggplant and okra. And in every building, actually in Israel, in every town and every village, the same thing happened. And suddenly this whole thing started to be mixed completely in a very natural way. And so we are free, we are free to do whatever we want. We are, we don’t have one tradition. So it’s an amazing thing. (upbeat nothing) Hello. Hello. These are some amazing ones! Whoa! I know Erez has become a celebrity chef and he’s very famous and successful, but that was a slow process. He was very inventive, but he was still looking for his own path. He went to Japan and studied for a couple of months, Kaiseki cuisine, Japanese haute cuisine, and said, it’s an absolutely wonderful cuisine, but it’s not mine. You know, I’m not connected to it. (soft instrumental) Then he went to California, San Francisco, and he came back a whole new person, really. I mean, culinary-wise definitely. He came with a new fresh language of cooking. We lived in San Francisco from 1989 to the beginning of 1994. And Erez was fascinated by the Californian cuisine. And he told me back then, there’s no reason Israel won’t be like California. We have also people from so many diasporas. Because what California did, in San Francisco, is to combine Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, French, South of France. And I understood that I can do it in Israel also. Erez opened Lechem Erez as a bakery in 1996. It was immediately hugely successful. And a year later, he opened the restaurant in Herzliya. And it was wow, Hamburger, Caesar salad. And it was not Israeli. Only after a year in the restaurant, I worked on a book that I called Israeli Cooking: Fresh and Simple. Verbalizing it helped me organize my thoughts and realize in what direction I should go to have my own voice, to have my own language and to help define what is our Israeli cuisine. (slow nothing) (upbeat nothing) Slowly the Caesar salad turned into a Fattouche salad And the Sabra salad which is a prickly pear salad took over from the Nicoise. This is going to be… I will hold it. (upbeat nothing) Opa! Millimetre after millimetre, this local language, that I use now was developed. Wai, wai, wai, wai, wai! (joyful noise) Cheers! Wow Thank you so much. Cheers Thank you (upbeat nothing) Erez is a workaholic. I mean, maybe now he’s a little bit less of a workaholic than he used to be. You know, he would be in the bakery at 5:00 or 6:00 AM until midnight. So it was a terrible lifestyle. He loved it, but at the same time the business grew and grew and the more it grew he felt that he’s, you know, that he can’t do what he really likes, which is to invent, to cook, to be in the kitchen, The craziness of a business with 300 employees and 27 branches and working 24 hours a day. Horrible pressures and too many clients. And, phew! It was very difficult. (upbeat nothing) What I really admired about Erez is that he kind of jumped off the ship and moved up north to this mythical place. And everyone was like, where is Erez Komorovsky? (upbeat nothing continues) In 2006, I moved here because I sold the whole business, The whole bakery, restaurant, cafes and everything. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Too much pressure, too much, I wanted to go to, to be in nature. I want to grow my things. And, I felt that I’m going to retire. (slow nothing) Erez in the North is like Erez at home. He was one of the people that introduced the idea of Galilean cuisine to, maybe even Israelis, but especially to someone like me, who thought she knew a lot about Israeli food and cooking, but really wasn’t thinking so hyper regionally about the Northern part of Israel and the spices and the cooking techniques and the use of lamb and all of those things that really make this a terroire. (slow nothing continues) Gorgeous, gorgeous kebab. I think that l got more connected to the terroire. I got connected to the ground because I started growing my own veggies. I built this organic garden. And when everybody were just, talking about farm to table, actually Erez actually just did it without talking about it. He went to his house in Galilee, planted his beautiful vegetables and fruit gardens. (soft nothing) Sweetie. What’s going on? What’s going on? He definitely was taking his time after his time in Lechem Erez to sort of regroup and recreate this idea about how he wanted to share his vision for Israeli food with the world. And a lot of it had to do with really getting entrenched in his life in Mattat and growing things here and having chickens and eggs and starting to bake here and getting to know all the local purveyors of cheese and meat. (soft instrumental) Gaby! Come! Come! Come, Gaby, come. (soft instrumental nothing continues) This a good enough place for you? Wow. Let’s do breakfast. Okay, if you are a man you have to do it in one match. (soft nothing) One match. (soft nothing continues) (wine pouring in glass) Opa! Single handed. The best to cook in nature, no? In the vineyard, okay, drink your wine. Much better than working. (soft nothing) Wow. Okay, let’s eat. (soft nothing) Gaby, I wanted to ask you something. I stopped matching wines to food, a long time ago. I just drink what I love and I choose erratically what I eat it with. I know a little bit about how you, how you cook, and it’s a, it’s a nightmare for sommeliers to match. A nightmare? It’s very difficult. Israeli cooking in general and your cooking definitely, So we’re gonna maybe drink the red. What is in your red? This is a blend, a very, very Mediterranean blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre with a little bit of Barbara in it. Cheers. This is very much like your Galilean cooking, very spicy, Wow very rich. You know, you want to cuddle it a little bit. And you want to eat pepper with it. And you want to eat pepper with it. Wow, good cheese. You know, that’s a reflection of, of this growing area, which is the Galilee. It only makes sense that it will work well with what you’re doing in the Galilee also. You know, it has to be something that you will open, not only when you’re cooking a leg of lamb, but also when you’re doing an omelet in the vineyard. It’s very, to me, it’s very important. (laughing) Cheers. (soft nothing) Being in the Galilee, the first year was amazing. I just did the garden, and after a year, too many zucchinis too many corn, too much of everything. Too many tomatoes. So I decided that I will give workshops. And for me, it was a revelation, because before the bakery, I did catering, big parties and so for, for me, giving workshops for 15 people was amazing because I didn’t have waiters waiting for me. I didn’t have a sous chef, checkers, cooks… no. (soft nothing) Every little detail here is the result of a few decades. Of learning and cooking and baking and studying and traveling. (oriental nothing) Osama. My dear! My dear! How are you doing man. Good to see you. Good to see you. How is life? Very good, interesting. It’s good to see you in Akko again. Yeah, Tel Aviv, like, wakes me up, I cannot stop loving and thinking about this place. Were you born in Akko. Yes. (middle eastern nothing) (market noise) This is monkfish. They have calamaris. This is the local shrimp that we have here, crystal shrimp. And this is the cod, wow. We have a small season for it, but man. Oh my God, wow. This is best fried. Wow. It is an Albacore? Yeah. When choosing this fish or a bigger Albacore, Flip and see if it’s round. If you pull it and it’s, you know, it’s smooth, it has a high fat quality. Oh really? Yes. Like this one? And this I think it is. We’re choosing this one. We’re taking it. Okay, let’s weigh it. Let’s make the deal now. People have got confused because when you see, for example, a Japanese chef, big chef, cutting fish, something that you will never, never succeed to do if you don’t practice for many years doing it. I think that what I bring to the table, is exactly the opposite. I am enjoying cooking with you. Okay, fantastic. It doesn’t matter if the slices are the same, you cut the fish like you cut the cucumber. You are not afraid of your ingredients and you are not afraid of imperfections. Imperfections make the whole thing. (oriental nothing) The most important thing that people cannot understand is the co-existence here between all the people living together in the city, the different religions; Arab, Jews, Christian, Muslims, Druze, whichever, you know Baha’i, and we’re working together, living together. And the relationships are fantastic. And this is why you can move around here and feel so welcome, secure and happy. From the culinary point of view it’s paradise. It is paradise. We have from the Mediterranean up to the Golan Heights, We have all the fruits and vegetables you can dream about. Where I live there are cherries and apples and nectarines and figs. And within 20 minutes’ drive, you’re in a completely different area. I think this is something that you can’t find anywhere. Now let’s see it. (Call to prayer) What’s the style of your restaurant? Do you, are you influenced by the Arab neighbors? Are you talking with them in your food? For me, the Israeli kitchen is the mixture of all cultures. Coming from Japan, China, the United States, Sweden and Africa. And all of these that met here. The outcome of this meeting is for me, the Israeli cuisine. But the nice thing about the Israeli cuisine is that everybody can call his kitchen Israeli cuisine. (laughing) Yeah, it’s completely open to interpretation. Yeah join the club, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you cook and however you cook, you can say to everybody, this is the Israeli cuisine. And if you cook it abroad? Then you have to say this Israeli style cuisine. (laughing) Exactly. My point of view, it’s a bit different. There is an Arabic kitchen and Arabic heritage Jews that share the same culinary and philosophy and idea. And there is Jewish kitchen that represent Polish and German and all the Eastern European kitchen. Because of the Conflict, it’s very hard for me as an Arab, as a Palestinian-Israeli citizen to say, yeah, of course, everything is cool, everything is great. The kitchen, it’s mixed together and we have this wonderful, new product. The situation it’s, not really like that, For me it’s a bit in a way to keep me shut up. That in international level, the most of the stuff that represent, supposed to represent me, or coming from my heritage, it’s not. Israeli cuisine in my opinion, to answer to Yes please. To give you my perspective. It is consisted of Muslim heritage and Christian people that live here and Druze people live here and Circassi people that live here… You’re hundred 100% right. 100% Okay so we have to talk, to learn to talk in the same language and we are learning it. And I think that Akko can be a model for co-existence. And we have all to contribute. You know what the difference is between a monologue and a dialogue in the Middle East? A monologue is a man talking to himself. A dialogue is two people talking to themselves. Nice. Yeah. Very good. (middle eastern nothing) Food is such an important part of our identity because it’s one of the most complicated places on Earth. And you’ve got people coming from different backgrounds that all of them met here. And because it’s a new country and we’re just, you know, 70 years it’s not long enough to establish a very hard or tradition of food. Shalom. Shalom! Wai, wai, wai, wai, wai, wai, wai. Kiss for the lady first. Al’lan! (Hey there!) So this is Elran and he opened this place five years ago. So we have the Metaphonia The kubbeh soup. The kubbeh soup. And this is the okra. Okra! Tomato sauce, garlic and mint. And this is green beans, tomato sauce. Wow, it look so good. This is chicken meatballs with lemon sauce. You know, you can see here, like, what is Israeli cuisine? Because it’s not just Kurdish Turkish influence from his father. This is like a really North African Jewish dish. It’s not just his traditional curries and recipes. This is the real Israel roots here. Yes. People like Erez are trying to create a new language and to understand what is Israeli cuisine, whether there is such a thing or not, and they are combining local influence and the influence of Jewish communities from all over the world. We’re trying to understand what is local. Ay, ay, ay Oh. This is Jerusalem style. Jerusalem style hummus. Where you break down the egg on top of it. Oh my God. You know, we were under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. So you know, for 400 years a lot of the foods that his father brought from Turkey. This is what people cook here also. Of course. (middle eastern nothing) Oh my goodness! Why, why, why… This is with cherry kebab. This is delicious. Cherry kebab? Yep. It’s the Northern part of the Mediterranean where it’s high and you have cherries. Like in my place? Like in your place. Wow. Wow! Amazing. Cheers. (oriental nothing) North African, Buhari, Central Asia, Mediterranean, the north of the Levant you know that area of Qatar there’s a tip and Syria, it’s like… Wow. The essence of Israeli cuisine, yeah. You see where I come from almost everyday? Wow. (Middle Eastern nothing) (upbeat nothing) My life is divided between the Galilee and the city. In Tel Aviv I’m super urban animal that knows exactly what’s happening and what’s the right thing to do. And in the Galilee I’m relaxed. It’s like Mr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde [Camera Crew] Like who? Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. He’s one of the funniest people that you’ll meet. I decided that I’m going to decorate my Challah breads with flowers because I love flowers and because I’m gay. He always keeps you on your toes. If you’re obsessive, you can do it this way. If you’re obsessive, you can go to therapy also, or you can bake, yeah. But it’s better to bake and to go to therapy. And I think that he brings out sort of this primal fun unselfconscious character in people. You’re drinking and I’m working. This is the way you like it? (Erez laughing) And that actually, once you feel that way, it makes you even more open to tasting and experiencing food in a different way. I don’t have one culinary father figure, but I have many, many, many people that influenced me. It can be an old woman here in this village. It can be this amazing Arab chef. It’s about accumulating different experiences, and merging them together into something that is more relaxed. Yes, yes, but she was married already. I’m happy. (middle eastern upbeat nothing) Shakshuka, wow so spicy. Eggplant. Wow, let’s taste this Eggplant. Cucumber salad and Challah. Delicious, healthy, pure olive oil, veggies, and lots of love. So do it.

About the Instructor

Renowned chef, baker, and cookbook author celebrated as the “Godfather” of modern Israeli cuisine, Erez Komarovsky takes viewers on a journey to discover the roots of his Middle Eastern cuisine. Starting from the bustling markets of Tel Aviv, Israel to his blissful home in the North Galilee, Erez teaches viewers how to bake his “flowering” Challah and Pita breads, plus his signature dishes including Lamb Kebabs, Hummus Mezze with Falafel, Harissa Chicken, Fish Crudo and more.

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