Not one Jewish or kosher eatery in the US made the cut for a new global guidebook that ranks restaurants by “truth, love and care” along with food.
But in Israel, ten restos qualified for Truth, Love, & Clean Cutlery, whose criteria include organic, sustainable, and ethical considerations.
For the book, which covers nearly 500 restaurants in 45 countries, the book’s editors tapped local experts; in Israel, that turned out to be Ronit Vered, longtime food critic and columnist for Haaretz.
To get the inside scoop on why she chose the restaurants she chose, the Forward caught up with Vered by phone from Tel Aviv. “I loved the idea,” she told us. “The old guidebooks are no longer relevant.”
You’ve made it clear you think these new kinds of guidebook standards are important. Do you think restaurant patrons agree?
Maybe they didn’t before, but they definitely do now. Israel’s part of a world trend when it comes to these matters - sustainability, fair trade, ethical sourcing. People take them into consideration now.
How did you narrow your list to ten restaurants? Israel’s got such a vibrant food scene.
It was important to choose places that I don’t necessarily think tourists know. A lot of them are doing great work, but they don’t have big PR offices. And it was very important to choose places that weren’t all in Tel Aviv. It’s famous for food, but it’s not the only place in Israel with good and interesting food.
Is there a common thread between the places you chose?
Most of them are small. It’s difficult these days to maintain these values on big scales, unfortunately. So rather than big commercial businesses, these are small operations with one owner or one or two chefs in the kitchen. All of them also have really interesting stories. When people are so into what they’re doing, and passionate about it, those are the good places. They’re doing things with real content in them. With a place like Majda, the first parameter was good food. But there’s such a great story there [groundbreaking fusion cuisine in a Jerusalem Hill village]. Or Ofaimme Farm - they raise their goats in the desert, and found this beautiful cafe restaurant in Jerusalem.
What’s your read on what happening in Israeli cuisine at this moment? It seems like there are so many directions and trends.
Maybe because they don’t have a long national tradition behind them, Israeli chefs are doing really interesting things with Mediterranean ingredients. Sometimes it feels like it’s easier to define Israeli cuisine outside of Israel. We’re still debating what it is, being so new. But I’m not surprised it’s getting worldwide attention.
I do have to balance that by noting it’s a very difficult time for restaurants in Israel. It’s always been tough, because every two or three years, there’s a war or military operation. We’ve become a culinary destination, but still not the kind of touristic destination you can count on in the long term.
Before Love, Truth, and Clean Cutlery was released, you wrote a cutting takedown of the new Gault-Millau dining guidebook for Israel. Where did that come from?
One of the reasons I was excited to work on this new book is that the old restaurant guides are ridiculous. They’re not really relevant anymore. The Gault-Millau guide has 240 restaurants in Israel - only three of them owned by Arabs or Arab chefs. They emphasize French food, which is so not relevant nowadays. People are tired of long, expensive dining experiences. A lot of what Gault-Millau highlighted was kosher. If you know about the dining scene in Israel, you know that kosher restaurants are a big problem, with quality lower than restaurants that don’t keep severe kosher laws. People are looking for something else.
The complete list of Israeli restaurants in Truth, Love, and Clean Cutlery:
Bana Brut Wine Bar Dok Gouje and Daniel Majda Ofaimme Farm Rutenberg Savida Sharabic Tzuk Farm Deli