In Design: Good enough to eat

Presentation is key when it comes to pleasing a crowd, says chef Gil Geller, who believes food should look at least as good as it tastes.

By ORI J. LENKINSKI
July 26, 2011 10:13
Gil Geller's Gil Gourmet

fruit salad 311. (photo credit: Amit Raveh)

 
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Have you ever looked down at a plate of food and thought, “It’s too pretty to eat”? Perhaps it was one of those gorgeous marzipan mini-fruits or a well-crafted birthday cake. Although the “it tastes the same” approach is cute, most chefs will swear by the fact that presentation is key when it comes to pleasing a crowd.

And maybe, as Gil Geller, founder and executive chef of Gil Gourmet, will tell you, beautifully designed dishes taste just a smidgen better.

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Among his many talents, Geller is known for his aesthetic approach to dining. A relatively new voice in the local culinary community, he takes particular pride in sending out dishes that walk the walk and talk the talk, so to speak. In fact, he would argue that good design is critical in creating a successful dining experience.

His company is part of a culinary trend that is rapidly conquering Israel, known as slow food. The gist of this revolutionary philosophy to supping is simple: the fresher the better. While a regular restaurant will plan its menu according to the season, adding only a few specials to the daily offerings, a slow food proprietor will have a revolving-door policy when it comes to the menu. Produce comes in, recipes come out.

The daily menu is decided upon based solely on what ingredients are available fresh from the market. Dining staples are chucked out the window in favor of innovative entrees inspired by truly current flavors.

For the gastronomically savvy diner, this may not come as any surprise. However, Geller’s surprisingly deft application of this trend in catering has begun to turn heads. Since 2005, Geller’s company has catered one-of-a- kind events around the country. The distinguishing touch, aside from providing mouthful after mouthful of delightful delicacies, is the focus on aesthetics.

“Our goal isn’t to satiate hunger,” he said over a chilled glass of lemonade at Café Michal in Tel Aviv. “The idea is to eat something with a concept.”



A born innovator, Geller found himself blending flavors in an almost chemistry set way from an early age.

Even now, he admits that his best friend is Google and that he is constantly in search of new ways to wow himself and his customers.

He received his training in Israel at a number of culinary establishments including the Tadmor Culinary School.

Armed with basic gastronomic skills, Geller cut his teeth working in an Asian kitchen, then for a small catering company in the north of the country. Eventually, he found himself sweating at the stove of Moshe Segev, the head chef of El Al Israel Airlines.

Driven by the desire to expand his horizons, Geller set sail for Europe, where he experimented with new techniques and traditions in Holland, among other locations.

“I love making traditional food,” he said after having described, in great detail, a signature dish of his: tzatziki with a cucumber sorbet.

Eighteen months ago, he returned to Israel ready to wok and roll. In fact, most of his early cooking memories involve a wok. He now is the manager of 10 employees and has catered an extensive list of impressive events.

The application of slow food to celebrations can be tricky. Beyond the extra human resources necessary, there is an element of risk and spontaneity involved in the menu that some find daunting. An established restaurant can take liberties with its menu, but try telling a bride that the salmon croquettes she has envisioned since she was seven won’t be served at her wedding due to a mysterious virus called infectious salmon anemia.

To keep everyone happy, Geller keeps his sleeve loaded with tricks. For example, confronted with a mango short-age, Geller is ready, willing and able to swap his fruit sorbet for an equally delicious mini-cone filled with hand made ice cream.

“It takes me about three weeks to prepare for an event, mainly because I make every single thing myself. This is not an industrial catering company. All the elements of every dish are hand made,” he said. He continues to tamper with the menu, fine tuning and revising up to a few days before a scheduled bar mitzva or birthday bash.

“I meet with the customer about two months before the event to talk about the menu, which is very flexible,” he explained.

You need not look for the buffet; there isn’t going to be one at a Gil Gourmet event.

“Our events function more like cocktail parties; with small dishes being served by waiters,” he explained. Every forkful of food put out by Geller is designed and plated for you by an experienced chef. “In an event of 100 people, I’ll send out 160 dishes,” he said, “and every single one will be beautiful. I make a salad that has 30 ingredients, and every single plate will look identical. That is the power of Gil Gourmet – the art is in execution.”

Another focus of Geller’s is the proper pairing of his handiwork with alcohol.

Luckily, his wife is a trained sommelier. For every dish, the Gil Gourmet team selects a matching drink, be it a shot of Martini Bianco alongside a bite of foie gras or the perfect chilled white wine next to a zesty ceviche.

Departing from the preconceived notions most party goers have of catered events has proven successful in the meantime, explained Geller.

“There was this one event we did in a private home,” he said. “About halfway through the service, the guests rushed our kitchen. They were so excited by what we had put out, that they came straight in and started eating the food right off the counter. We couldn’t plate things fast enough. For our staff it was really intense and stressful; but for me, it was the best feeling in the world.”

Geller charges between NIS 300 and NIS 500 per person for a catered event. He offers both kosher and non-kosher events.

For more information about Gil Gourmet, visit www.gilgourmet.co.il

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