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Visiting Chefs Bring a Taste of Paris to Tel Aviv—and Vice Versa

Culinary experts from France come to Israel to share their knowledge, and to learn a few things at the same time

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Sylvain Sendra, left, arrived from Paris to cook alongside Yossi Shitreet at the Kitchen Market restaurant in Tel Aviv. (Daniella Cheslow)
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“The way of cooking in Tel Aviv is very interesting for me,” Sendra replied. “When I come back to France, I have lots of ideas. Israeli chefs are very relaxed and professional.”

The festival’s opening party was not only a meeting of food professionals, but also an event to see and be seen. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai sipped wine as he shook hands with other guests. “I love the French cuisine, and I always wonder how come the French know how to eat so much and stay very thin,” he told me. “The mayor of Paris is a good friend of mine. And I brought our Tel-O-Fun bike-sharing system from Paris.”

Hebrew and French mingled in the warm February air as guests milled around the back patio waiting to eat the food. The cheeses were colorful wheels of Fol-Epi French Emmental, brie, creamy goat cheese, and oniony Boursin; the manners were Israeli, though, and the caterers had to fend off early nibblers.

Tourism Minister Uzi Landau glowed with pride as he stood flanked by 19 chefs in white coats. French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave heaped praise on Israeli food culture. “I am here only six months, and really here in Israel you can find aromas, flavors, and dishes, a real representation of gastronomy from around the world,” Maisonnave said through a translator. “It is the privilege of the Jews—perhaps because of their tragedy—because they were scattered around the world.”

Maisonnave also alluded to a common frustration of Francophile chefs in Tel Aviv—the high price of imported French products like butter or cheese—and implored Landau to press the government to lower import taxes.

However closely Israeli and French chefs worked this week, the French kitchen retains an aura of pretention in Tel Aviv. I left the launch event in a cab driven by Yosef Asulin, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco as a child and still reads his dashboard meters in French. “Look, some people like this food,” he told me. “But it has so much cheese, oil, and fat. This fat food of theirs, it has a bad smell. I prefer the smell of our spices. They make the food like wine.”

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Visiting Chefs Bring a Taste of Paris to Tel Aviv—and Vice Versa

Culinary experts from France come to Israel to share their knowledge, and to learn a few things at the same time

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