Daniel Rogov, food and wine critic, is dead

Master of the tall story was known for restaurant reviews, guides to kosher wines.

daniel rogov 311 (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Los Angeles Times)
daniel rogov 311
(photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Los Angeles Times)
He was the most public figure and the most private person.
His biographical details changed depending on whom he was talking to or whom he was writing for. Sometimes he had been born in Russia and went as a child with his parents via Geneva to New York. Sometimes he had been born in Brooklyn.
Sometimes he had fought in the US Army in the Second World War. At other times, he had lived out the war as a teenager in Paris. He spent his life living under the pseudonym Daniel Rogov, although his real name was reputed to be David Jaroff.
Rogov was a name that aptly suited any of his biographical identities, since it definitely had a Russian ring to it, in addition to which Russian was one of the languages he spoke. He never made a secret of the fact that the name he used was not his real name. His age, though, was a very well-kept secret when Rogov, the well-known Haaretz food and wine critic, died on Wednesday morning.
Rogov always conveyed the impression that he’d just walked out of an Ernest Hemingway novel. There was something suggestive of the 1920s in his tweedy jackets, in the way he smoked his cigarettes, in his body language and in the weight of history that was part of his aura.
He had a mellifluous voice, was the most marvelous of raconteurs, and he loved an audience. He could talk endlessly about almost anything, although his conversations were almost invariably peppered with discussions about food and wine.
If his stories about himself are to be believed, his father offered to reward him with a car for the exceptionally good grades he had achieved when graduating high school.
Most teenagers in those days would have jumped for joy at such a gift, but Rogov declined it and said that he would rather have a plane ticket to Paris.
It was love at first sight in the French capital. In addition to visiting the museums and the regular tourist sites, Rogov was drawn to the cafes and quickly learned to appreciate French wines and cuisine. He opted to remain in Paris, but didn’t want to rely on his father for money, so he decided to try his hand at journalism. He knew nothing about food and wine in the sense of being a critic, but he figured that the Americans back home knew even less, so he began submitting articles to major American newspapers, and to his great joy, they were accepted.
Much as he loved France, Rogov was curious about other parts of Europe and traveled frequently – often to Geneva, which he loved almost as much as Paris.
The European winter of 1976 must have been very cold, because it was in December of that year that Rogov decided to head for Israel. He arrived on Christmas Day and promptly went swimming – a factor that induced him to stay, though at the time, he knew only four people in Israel.
When he died, he probably knew thousands – or at least they knew him through his writings.
Before he went to Haaretz in 1984, he spent several years writing for The Jerusalem Post, and managed to antagonize many readers by reviewing nonkosher restaurants and by publishing non-kosher recipes.
Editors frequently had to explain that the Post was not a Jewish community newspaper, but a national publication that aspired to cater to the tastes of its different readers including non-Jews and non-observant Jews. This was very difficult for religious Jewish readers to swallow.
Rogov did not confine himself to the print media, but also appeared on television, including French-language television in Europe, and on numerous Internet sites. He liked to keep his finger on the pulse of food and wine trends in Europe and frequently went back to Paris.
He also spent time in Florence.
He was interested not only in the food and the wine but in the wine makers, the vintners and the chefs with whom he spend long hours discussing the quality of grapes, the bouquet of the wine, the ingredients used to bring out the flavor in a particular dish or the ideas that went into the presentation. He liked to write about the ambience of a restaurant, which was no less important than the taste of the food.
Much as he savored haute cuisine, he was also a consumer of street food, such as schwarma in a pita, falafel or pizza. He often laced his revues with anecdotes, which made what he wrote that much more interesting.
He also wrote a book, Rogues, Writers & Whores: Dining With the Rich & Infamous, in which he related stories about culinary habits and dishes that had been named for royalty, writers, composers, military heroes and courtesans. Whether these tales were true or not is immaterial.
They were written in Rogov’s inimitable, entertaining fashion – and that’s what counted.
Rogov was known in coffee shops and restaurants all over the country, but his favorite meeting spot was a coffee shop in Basel Street, not far from his apartment in Tel Aviv.
Although he was a very private person, he was not aloof in his personality and was always approachable and willing to share information. He was always kind to junior journalists, adopting an avuncular attitude and giving them hints about which flatware to use.
Israelis tend to get very confused when there more than two forks and two knives at the side of the plate, and still haven’t learned that although one reads from right to left in Hebrew, the plate with the bread roll is on the left and not on the right. Rogov would find a non-intrusive way of teaching table manners to newcomers to the profession.
While the ideal for a food critic is to be an anonymous diner, this was almost impossible where Rogov was concerned.
He was just too well known, and as soon as he was recognized, the maitre de and the waiters fawned all over him and the chef came out of the kitchen to shake his hand.
The only way to ensure that he wasn’t served something that was specially prepared for him was to send in a couple of friends who ordered various items from the menu and for him to come in just as the waiter brought them to the table.
As famous as he was for his newspaper columns, Rogov was probably known farther afield for his guide books on Israeli and world kosher wines.
There is a certain irony in the fact that while he incurred so much wrath for writing about non-kosher food, he did a tremendous service for Israel’s wine industry by writing about the high quality of Israeli kosher wines, which have improved enormously from year to year and have won gold medals in international competitions for wine in general.
Rogov had been in poor health for some time and his condition had deteriorated to the extent that he submitted his resignation to Haaretz on Sunday.
In wineries and bars across Israel, there is little doubt that a glass was raised in tribute to his memory. That’s the way he would have wanted it.