A group of American celebrity chefs, restaurateurs, writers and critics toured Israel, taking in the tastes and smells of the nation in January. Organized by culinary entrepreneur Herb Karlitz, the Celebrity Chef’s Birthright trip was based on the visits paid by 18- to 26-year-olds every year.
Karlitz explained that it wasn’t exactly difficult to convince big names to join the trip, and, in fact, he had many more who wanted to be a part of it but couldn’t for scheduling reasons. He explained that the trip was more than two years in the making, after he visited Israel and was amazed by the experience.
“I figured I was in a unique position because of all of my relationships,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “I thought: I have to do something, I have to help to tell this story about the other Israel, not the Israel you read about in the newspapers.”
Among those in attendance were the former head of Gourmet magazine, chef and writer Ruth Reichl; restaurateur Nancy Silverton; chef and cookbook author Jenn Louis; chef Jonathan Waxman; “Chopped” judges Marc Murphy and Amanda Freitag, and “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons.
While some of the chefs have visited Israel before — Murphy as a child when his father was a diplomat, and Reichl and Silverton more recently — for many, this was their first taste of the nation.
Unsurprisingly for a group of chefs and critics, much of the focus was on the food. Their first meal together was at the Tower of David Museum.
“First day in Jerusalem was filled with delicious tastes from the market in the old city to hummus and freshly baked pita, spices, sweets and dinner at the Tower of David,” Murphy wrote on Instagram. “Everything was delicious. Even squeezed in a visit to the Western Wall and took it all in.”
From there, the chefs toured the country. Murphy and Simmons chronicled each day on Instagram, accompanying each description with photos of the people they met, sites they saw and foods they devoured.
In addition to just eating, Murphy marveled at the food sustainability technology being developed every day in Israel, an industry in which it is a global leader.
And while some commenters on social media posts have tried to ignite arguments, the chefs did their best to focus on the unique opportunity they’d been presented.
“I’m not going to get into the argument,” Murphy told The Jerusalem Post. “It doesn’t matter where [a food] is from. As long as you accept it, you transform it, you embrace it as an ingredient, you can use it.”
Simmons and Waxman also participated in a groundbreaking event for Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer and I-PEARLS (Israel Pediatric Aesthetic and Reconstructive Laser Sugery).
The center works with revolutionary laser technology to lessen burn scars and relieve skin contraction in burn victims, especially those who suffered the burns as a child.
The chefs organized culinary activities for the young burn victims in attendance, all of whom were treated at Sheba Medical Center.
“As a chef, you naturally nurture,” Waxman said. “Just seeing the smiles on the faces of these kids is something that I will always remember and hopefully they will remember this unique experience as well.”
The trip was funded by several partners, among them: The Paul E. Singer Foundation, the Israel Export Institute, Israeli-Canadian philanthropist Sylvan Adams, social activist Raya Strauss Ben-Dror, Dan Hotels, El Al, Kirsch Foundation and Loren Fried, founder of Food for Good.
- Herb Karlitz
- The Jerusalem Post
- Ruth Reichl
- Nancy Silverton
- Jenn Louis
- Jonathan Waxman
- Marc Murphy
- Amanda Freitag
- Top Chef
- Gail Simmons
- Tower of David Museum
- Sheba Medical Center
- The Paul E. Singer Foundation
- Israel Export Institute
- Sylvan Adams
- Raya Strauss Ben-Dror
- Dan Hotels
- El Al
- Kirsch Foundation
- Loren Fried
- Food for Good
- Eden Grinshpan
- Celebrity Chef Birthright
- Birthright Israel Foundation
- Israeli Food