Whether you’re there to see the Second Temple Model or to catch the latest contemporary art exhibition, you can end your visit to the Israel Museum with a meal at Modern, which was opened by food entrepreneur Zafrir Ginsberg and his wife Avital in 2011 after the museum’s renovation.
Jerusalem’s Modern is part of an international wave of trendy museum restaurants like The Modern at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art or Georges at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Now, Jerusalem’s Modern is looking to the world of art for inspiration for its menu.
The restaurant’s new Spring menu, under the direction of chef Avi Peretz, features art-inspired items like “Jackson’s Chicken Kadaif,” A dish described as “Pullet, kadaif threads, walnuts and cinnamon in a plate that Jackson Pollock would have loved.” The plate is full of colored edible drizzles, inspired by Pollock’s style of drip-painting.
The other two art-inspired specials are “Cézanne’s garden,” an antipasti dish served on thin Urfali bread and inspired by Paul Cézanne’s famous landscapes, and “Tartar square a-la Mondrian,” which is finely chopped raw sirloin steak served with three squares of dressing, echoing Piet Mondrian’s famous squares.
“I think that art and food are very similar since both are open to interpretation,” Ginsberg told me. “Two people can look at the same painting or taste the same dish and feel something completely different and notice different things. Reception of both art and food have to do with the senses, with personal taste and with each person’s previous experiences and knowledge.”
Before Modern opened, the Israel Museum only had a cafeteria, as was the case for many years at most of the museums across the world. “Combining the museum experience with a dining experience is a trend of the past 10 years,” Ginsberg explained. “Restaurateurs always wanted to open in museums but the museums didn’t go for it. When the financial crisis started and museums weren’t getting enough funds or donations they started looking for new means of income and started becoming open to the idea.”
“The location is very significant,” Ginsberg added. “It defines the target audience, which in our case is made up of 50 percent tourists, and it also obligates you to relate to your surroundings. Most of our clientele is here for the museum, and we have to give them a culinary experience that compliments that. You can’t open a steak house in a museum. And it’s not just about the food, but also about the design. We worked on the design together with James S. Snyder, the director of the Israel Museum. Together we decided to design the restaurant in the style of early Modernism.”
Modern, which overlooks the Valley of the Cross and the Knesset, and caters not only to guests of the museum but also to politicians and media types, serves contemporary Jerusalem-style cuisine. “Jerusalem cooking means cooking on kerosene burners, it means being influenced by the Diaspora, it means slow cooking, it means using a lot of legumes and olive oil,” Ginsberg explained. “We took all those things, that comprise traditional Jerusalem cooking, and gave them a modern twist.”
Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.