A new stunning Israeli book aims to bridge the space between the ocean and the table. Half cookbook, half artful seafood encyclopedia, the book is a project of famed Tel Aviv port restaurant Mul-Yam (or, Across the Sea).
“Mul-Yam is known for bringing unusual fish to Israel,” the book’s designer Dan Alexander said about the 17-year-old restaurant. “We wanted to show [the owner] Shalom Maharovsky’s obsession in bringing the best raw material. He was the first to bring lobsters, oysters and rare seafood to Israel.” In 2003, Mul-Yam was the first Mediterranean-region restaurant to be added to the elite Les Grandes Tables du Monde group.
The first section of the book, which is also called “Mul-Yam,” contains stunningly artful photographs of a wide selection of domestic and imported fish and edible sea creatures — with their names given in seven languages. Culinary information along with scientific and even mythological anecdotes accompany the photographs. The book’s second part consists of recipes from the restaurant, along with beautiful photographs of the prepared dishes.
“The challenge was to create something people wanted to look at,” Alexander explained. “Creating a catalogue of fish was risky. It could have ended up just a book of dead fish.”
On the contrary, Alexander’s expert styling and noted food photographer Clay McLachlan’s exquisite pictures create a vibrant work of art highlighting the unexpectedly fascinating beauty of all variety of fish, mollusk, clam, crustacean, and cephalopod — ranging from the common sardine and codfish, to the exotic whelk (a sea snail) and slipper lobster.
For weeks, the cookbook’s production team got up at three o’clock in the morning to photograph fresh fish from all over the world as it arrived at either the Le Havre port or the gigantic Rungis Market outside Paris. “We basically set up a little fish photography studio right on site,” Alexander recalled. “We turned the fish into beautiful models.” The team later proceeded to Tel Aviv to shoot the dishes prepared in the Mul-Yam kitchen by chef Yoram Nitzan.
The concept for the book came from a collaborative process undertaken by Mul-Yam owner Maharovsky, together with Alexander and chef Yair Yosefi, his partner at their Tel Aviv and Paris-based boutique publishing house, à point books, part of the Dan Alexander & Co. design house.
Yosefi assisted Nitzan in writing the Mul-Yam recipes for the book. Among them are: “Chilean Sea Bass in Miso Soup with Bok Choy, Tofu and Persian Lemon”; “Striped Bass, Grilled Red Cabbage, Gnocchi, and Morel Mushrooms”; and “Little Neck Clams in Chardonnay Butter.” The dishes served at the restaurant change according to the seasons and supply of the fish, but half of the dishes whose recipes are in the book are on Mul-Yam’s menu at any given time.
Unfortunately, as of right now, the book’s entire text (save for the species’ names) is in Hebrew. However, with the attention “Mul-Yam” has been receiving for being a finalist for a Gourmand Cookbook Award, (the winners will be announced February 22), translations are sure to be forthcoming. Alexander reported that there are proposals for French and English versions already in the works.
“Israel is not the target audience for a non-kosher cookbook like this,” the publisher said. “We knew from the beginning that we wanted to go international with this.”
In the meantime, Hebrew readers can get one of a limited initial run of 1,000 copies only from the Mul-Yam restaurant, or by ordering directly from à point books.
Take a peek into the beautiful “Mul Yam” cookbook with the slideshow below, or click on the top right corner to expand each picture to its full size.
Photo Credit: Clay McLachlan