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April 10, 2013

A novel meeting of Israeli, Socal culinary worlds

http://www.jewishjournal.com/yom_haatzmaut/article/a_novel_meeting_of_israeli_socal_culinary_worlds

Chef Uri Navon  Photos courtesy of Machneyuda restaurant

Chef Uri Navon Photos courtesy of Machneyuda restaurant

Given the similarities between their respective climates and diverse populations, the food cultures of Israel and Southern California would seem to have much in common. Chefs Assaf Granit and Uri Navon of Jerusalem’s lauded Machneyuda restaurant are about to find out firsthand whether this is so. 

Thanks to the efforts of Israeli Consul General David Siegel, the pair are headed to Los Angeles, where they’ll join chef Suzanne Tracht to prepare a joint dinner on April 13. The special event at Jar, Tracht’s Beverly Boulevard restaurant, will showcase the best of their respective culinary worlds as part of Israel’s Independence Day 65th anniversary. (For fans of the recently published “Jerusalem” cookbook, take note that Yotam Ottolenghi recently name checked the restaurant in a New York Times Travel section story covering his favorite food picks from the city.)

To overcome the distance and establish a rapport, the menu came together via a series of Skype conversations between Jerusalem and Los Angeles. The result highlights some of Machneyuda’s signature dishes inflected with Tracht’s know-how. The menu will no doubt have a Southern California accent, as the team will shop at the Santa Monica Farmers Market in advance of the benefit dinner. Granit and Navon are chefs and owners of Machneyuda, along with a third partner, Yossi Elad. 

For Granit, this journey will be an experiment in how ingredients translate. “I am intrigued by how my tahini sauce will taste in California, as well as my local version [of] hummus,” Granit explained when contacted via e-mail. As for what he’s eager to try in Los Angeles, he’s “looking forward to tasting your avocados and vegetables in general.” While the courses are mostly set, the chefs are open to giving themselves some leeway, should inspiration strike upon seeing what local purveyors are offering.

Many of the components one would expect of this crew will indeed be part of the meal. After all, how could Israeli chefs act as de facto gastronomic ambassadors without turning to tahini, yogurt, lamb, dates and pomegranates? But Granit and Navon approach them with contemporary insight. Modernist cooking, for example, will make an appearance in the form of a Crispy Childhood Dream concoction, combining cream, cambozola cheese, wild mushrooms, garlic confit and egg yolk topped with a milk foam. 

Other items include a sashimi starter spiked with pickled onion, radish, pickled ginger vinaigrette and granny smith apple. Moshiko’s Calamari brings together porcini mushrooms, dates, honey and pomegranates, plus an inventive confit of cherry tomatoes, onion, garlic and carrots  with a hit of burnt aubergine paste. Shikshukit will feature spiced minced beef and lamb accompanied by a tahini and yogurt blend. 

Basbusa semolina cake with fresh fruit and tahini ice cream concludes the meal, which costs $125 per person with wines provided by the Israeli Wine Producers Association. (Seatings begin at 5:30 p.m.) Proceeds will be donated to Ultimate Peace, an organization that offers Ultimate Frisbee programs and summer camps with the mission of building bridges between Jewish and Arab youth. 

Jar’s modern day supper-club feel and plush dining room that’s largely shielded from the street provides quite a contrast to Machneyuda’s open kitchen and teeming scene, which draws its energy from the adjacent Machne Yehuda market itself. Given that Granit and Navon, however, both spent time in high-end kitchens in London and Rome, they’re adaptable to a range of restaurant environments. And Granit is confident that their sensibility is well paired with Tracht’s, both vis-à-vis their shared values and their differences. 

“Our cooking styles are similar since we both use the freshest ingredients to be found in the market the same day,” he said. “From my talks with Suzanne, I feel we have the same management skills in the kitchen and we are both not afraid of taking risks.”

This trip won’t include an extensive tour of the United States for Granit and Navon, who just opened their second restaurant and are stopping only in Los Angeles. And Granit says he still has his eye set on a specific West Coast culinary pilgrimage site: “Our dream was to visit the French Laundry, but it’ll have to wait for next time.”

MACHNEYUDA FAMOUS POLENTA 

POLENTA:

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups fine ground cornmeal
3 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes 
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional shavings
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

MUSHROOM RAGOUT AND ASPARAGUS TOPPING:

2 tablespoons butter
1 pound mixed mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 punch asparagus
Truffle oil

For the polenta:

Heat milk and cream over medium-low heat, taking care not to let it reach the boiling point.

Add the cornmeal gradually in a steady stream, stirring or whisking constantly. 

Once the liquid is mostly absorbed and it’s slowly bubbling, add the butter cubes, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and
pepper. 

For the ragout and topping:

Heat butter in wide pan. Add mushrooms, sautéing for a few minutes until cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Trim and cut asparagus into 1-inch lengths; blanch.

To assemble, transfer polenta mixture to wide-mouth bowl or platter, top with mushroom ragout, asparagus, fresh Parmesan shavings a and drizzle of truffle oil.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Summer Tomato & Onion Salad

SUMMER TOMATO & ONION SALAD

Pickled Ramp Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
4 heirloom tomatoes,  in 1/8 inch slices
2 sweet Maui onions, in 1/8 inch slices
Sprigs of fresh herbs (basil, tarragon,
Italian parsley, chervil), stems removed
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare Pickled Ramp Vinaigrette.

Toss vinaigrette with tomatoes, onions and herbs.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

PICKLED RAMP VINAIGRETTE

1 cup champagne vinegar
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 dried red chili pepper, crushed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 cloves garlic
12 ramps, thinly sliced*
1 teaspoon fleur de sel

In medium pot, bring to a boil vinegar, water, bay leaf, chili pepper, peppercorns, coriander seeds and garlic. Add the ramps. Cover and turn off heat.  Let stand until cool. With a slotted spoon, remove ramps and add to the salad. Strain brine.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

*Ramps are very seasonal and can be found at farmers markets and specialty food stores. Scallions can be substituted. 

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