The lady sets the long table, taking her time. Flowers and candles make a feast of color and light for the eyes, while delicious aromas promise the kind of feast that calls for very good wine. Every linen napkin, every fork is in place. She turns away, donning a big apron as she returns to the kitchen. She looks like a young cook’s assistant, but she is Limor Laniado Tiroche, chef. She’s also a food blogger and author of a brand-new cookbook, Mana Ikarit (Main Course, in Hebrew). Her renovated old house in Jaffa is a private restaurant where visiting ambassadors and celebrities wishing to remain incognito dine in style.
Tiroche, 45 and mother of two, describes a normal childhood in Tel Aviv. “I was never much interested in food,” she says humorously. "I grew up eating schnitzel and mashed potatoes like everyone else.” Her career as personal manager for local musicians came to a strange end when her mother became ill.
“My mother had cancer, and was going through chemotherapy,” Tiroche recounts. “She stopped eating and was losing weight. I was 24 years old then and didn’t know how to crack an egg, but I decided to cook for her.
I went into the kitchen for the first time in my life, and spent eight hours there. What I cooked wasn’t very good, but something happened to me during those hours. I felt something different in my body and soul. I didn’t even know how to describe it at the time. I only knew that something peaceful and quiet happened, and that I needed it. Today, I see I received a gift there. I returned to the kitchen seeking that peace.”
As Tiroche continued cooking, she became obsessed with gaining knowledge of the art. “When I’m in love with something, I go the whole way,” she says. She bought cookbooks and subscriptions to food magazines from all over the world, developing recipes and cooking on her own.
“After two years of that, I decided to leave everything, and went to Europe. I studied at Cordon Bleu in Paris as well as in Zurich and London. I traveled around the world, investigating Thai and Japanese cuisines, among others. Everything I could do, I did. I returned to Israel at age 30 and decided that cooking is my destiny. I have a lot to offer to the world, so I started teaching in my home." Tiroche still gives cooking workshops at her home.
Eventually she became convinced that her wealth of recipes and experience should be shared with the public, so she started a food blog, Mitbah Mekomi (Local Kitchen, in Hebrew; address below). From there, her cookbook developed (available via the blog and at bookstores).
Tiroche’s house is a unique setting for the fine dining and classes that take place there. It has a European style, with artfully placed antiques and frequent visual surprises. “I have degrees in business and in art, and have tak - en a course in curating,” Tiroche explains. “I’ve always haunted flea markets and I enjoy picking up old things to polish up and use. I love antiques and tradition. My house echoes with respect for old things.”
The chef draws inspiration from old recipes as well, re-interpreting them to fit the modern way of eating.
“In the old days, people ate a lot of fried food. They didn’t have house ovens, just fires, and they ate a lot of fat because they were poor. I give more space to foods like grains, beans, quinoa and buckwheat. For example, I updated the traditional Beduin recipe for makluba (a layered meat and rice dish). The Beduin fried every layer, using lots of lamb fat. My version is lighter and healthier, with little frying and no lamb fat. I prefer brown rice to white, and use lots of herbs and vegetables.”
And what about those “secret” events? They’re intimate, high-end dinners for diplomats, businessmen or VIP groups from the US, whose names Tiroche doesn’t disclose. The guests eat from 18th-century Limoges plates and silver cutlery, and sip wine from crystal glasses. Tiroche insists on the very best ingredients. “If I need apples, I get them from the Golan Heights. If it’s artichokes, I buy from a specialist supplier near Jerusalem,” she says.
Surprisingly, she adds, “But I don’t take it so seriously. It’s only food, and it should be fun. Food connects people.
When they sit down at a full table, they start talking to each other and emotions flow. That won’t happen if the table is empty.” She offers some casual wisdom: “A conversation with your boyfriend or husband will go much easier if you’re sitting over a meal.”
Musing over her feeling for food, Tiroche concludes: “I honor my roots. We all came from something, some - where. My father was from Syria and my mother was from Tangier. We have very, very deep roots and food was there all the time, moving from mother to daughter as people moved from one country to another. But food changed with our travels. We live in a different world now; we need to eat differently from how our parents and grandparents ate. It’s my goal to change our cuisine to fit the era we live in. And you don’t need to put a lot of effort into cooking. It should be easy. So many people are afraid to try anything new. In my book, my goal is to give readers confidence to cook new dishes with familiar ingredients.”
“I always tell my students to bring their own personalities to the dish. The recipe is only a guideline, an inspiration. You’ll like it best if you bring your own taste to it. You only need to understand what you like and how to cook it. When you gain that confidence, you’ll love to cook, for yourself and for your loved ones.”