On June 13, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) hosted a fundraising culinary event at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel to honor Israeli spice master Chef Lior Lev Sercarz, and launch the upcoming establishment of JNF’s International Culinary Institute in northern Israel’s Kiryat Shmona, in partnership with Sercarz.
Upon entering the hotel at the sold-out event, the 260 attendees, who paid up to $360 for a ticket, were greeted with an Israeli-style shuk (market). Large Mason jars were filled with green olives and baskets were stuffed with fresh hay and eggs. Guests were able to sample authentic shawarma and falafel, pita, Israeli salad, eggplant and hummus.
In a phone interview with the Journal before the event, JNF National Campaign Director Sharon Freedman said of the Institute, “My goal is to develop recognition and awareness of this incredible project that I believe is going to be absolutely life-changing for the people in the north [of Israel].”
Freedman said the institute will “be like a real center for culinary arts. It’ll be a central hub offering researchers and companies opportunities to develop food security, healthy products and agricultural technology. We believe this will motivate entrepreneurs to also invest in incubators for new products.”
“[The International Culinary Institute] will be a central hub offering researchers and companies opportunities to develop food security, healthy products and agricultural technology.” — Sharon Freedman
Shari and Mike Weiner, who attended the event and who have been involved with the JNF for over 12 years, concurred. “The Culinary Institute will bring a lot of new jobs into the region, more tourism up north and really help to rejuvenate the area and bring communities together,” Shari said, adding, “Our daughter, Samantha, is a psychotherapist [and] will be combining food therapy with psychology and yoga, [so] she was very interested in hearing Lior.”
Sercarz told the Journal in a phone interview after the event, “What we’re mainly trying to achieve [is] to really allow the students of all ages to explore what [it is] within the culinary world that they’re good at … because culinary doesn’t only mean cooking.”
Born on a kibbutz in upper eastern Galilee, Sercarz later moved to France to attend a culinary institute and has been living in New York since 2002. He told the Journal the necessary skills required to become a successful chef include having “a love for not only food but giving to others and pleasing other people. … When people are having fun, this is when you’re working. You [need] to be really organized and be able to execute under pressure. If you really don’t love it, chances are that you’re going to get burnt out very quickly.”
Sercarz’s love for his work was on full display at the JNF event. For the first course, he served a salad of peaches, tomatoes, roasted beets and fennel over whipped tahini, followed by a main course of short ribs with carrot purée, roasted turnips and chickpeas.
“For dessert, we made you another vegan preparation,” he told attendees. “It’s called Malabi. It’s a very traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with orange blossom and rose water topped with some dates with some fresh cherries, pistachios and halva floss.”
“Lior’s custom blends are a thing of dreams from big-deal chefs and at-home cooks and anyone in between who loves to eat and drink,” Gina Raphael, JNF board member and event co-chair, said in a speech at the event.
“All of our projects that we have at JNF [contribute to] building our homeland,” Freedman said. “We’re building the frontiers of [Israel].”
The Jewish National Fund International Culinary Institute is slated to open to the public in October 2020.
Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern.