The seed for a documentary on Israeli cuisine was planted during a food press trip to Israel in 2010.
New York filmmaker Roger Sherman went on a whim and was blown away by what he encountered at restaurants, markets, farms and on the street.
“I was knocked out everywhere I went,” Sherman said of his first visit to the country. “I think it is the most dynamic food scene in the world.”
Back in New York, telling friends about the experience, they either laughed at him or didn’t believe him, Sherman said. “I said, wow, I think I got a film here.”
“In Search of Israeli Cuisine” chronicles the diverse culinary scene across Israel, informed by some 150 cultures. Talking to restaurateurs, food makers and journalists, the film attempts to answer the question: “What is Israeli cuisine?” while also exploring food in a politically-fraught climate.
“One of the things that every chef told me was, ‘You cannot be my enemy when you’re sitting at my table,’ and that was very powerful,” Sherman said. “I didn’t want to come off as naive — I’m not going to create peace through food — but it was important to have that as an undertone.”
For a guide, Sherman enlisted Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov, behind the acclaimed Philadelphia restaurant Zahav and the Chelsea Market Israeli-inspired food stall Dizengoff.
amNewYork spoke with Sherman about the film, which, after more than 125 festival and special screenings, comes out Friday in theaters.
Why was now a good time for this documentary?
Israeli cuisine is truly having its moment. There are Israeli restaurants opening everywhere. The country is so young. It was one of the poorest countries in the world for most of its history. The cuisine started to come into its own in the 1990s. Really only in the last 10 years has it accelerated. ... I couldn’t have made this film 15 years ago because Israeli cuisine was just getting started.
How did you go about finding chefs and food makers to interview?
I made friends on that first trip, they became consultants. We had a spreadsheet that was a mile long with all kinds of different types of foods, traditions, places. You have to balance — you can’t have it all be in Tel Aviv. And just research, research, research.
Sounds like a lot was left on the cutting-room floor.
Please don’t remind me. There’s an hour-and-a-half of fully edited scenes that didn’t make it into the film. Some of them will be on the DVD when the DVD is released, some will be streaming online that people can see. People said, “Why didn’t you make this a big series?” I could have, but nobody would have watched it. You have to think about your audience, and what their attention span is.
Who has this been bringing out in terms of audience?
It’s amazing, we get young and old, Jews of course, and non-Jews. We’ve gotten everybody to come. What’s really been interesting is, even Israelis are surprised. The way I’ve put together the film, incorporating the history, they’ve said, “We don’t know our stories as well as we might think.”