Biblical inspiration – in the kitchen

Cookbook author Jamie Geller’s newest ‘Joy of Israel’ episode features recipes containing the Seven Species, cooked in the City of David.

Tom Franz and Jamie Geller cook in a courtyard in the capital’s City of David in June. (photo credit: DAVID VAAKNIN)
Tom Franz and Jamie Geller cook in a courtyard in the capital’s City of David in June.
(photo credit: DAVID VAAKNIN)
Most cooking shows are set in a sleek, well-equipped kitchen studio. But Jamie Geller took the latest episode of her web series “Joy of Israel” to the oldest part of Jerusalem – the City of David – to celebrate the upcoming Jewish holidays.
Geller, a cookbook author, magazine editor and food blogger, started her online “Joy of Israel” show last summer, after her successful 10-part series “Joy of Aliya,” which chronicled her move from Monsey, New York to Ramat Beit Shemesh. Previous episodes showed Geller and her family meeting Israeli cowboys in the Golan, cooking Kurdish cuisine at the Srigim moshav and celebrating their first Lag Ba’omer in the country with s’mores.
The three-part holiday special, which was released on the “Joy of Kosher” YouTube channel over the past week, opens at the City of David, where Ze’ev Orenstein, its director of international public relations, joins Geller to take her on a tour, filling her in on the history and main attractions of the site.
It’s not until part two of the series that food arrives on the scene – along with special guest Tom Franz, the winner of last season’s Master Chef Israel. Franz, born Catholic in Germany, speaks about his journey to Judaism and to Israel, before he and Geller whip up several dishes in a courtyard in the City of David. The recipes showcase the Seven Species – the produce noted in the Bible as being special products of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
The pair make Moroccan frena bread topped with tomatoes, olives, rosemary and goat cheese; Waldorf salad with salmon, grapes, parsley and silan (date syrup); and yogurt and silan pancakes topped with white chocolate ganache and figs, dates and berries.
Last year Geller told The Jerusalem Post that the “Joy of Israel” show is “totally dedicated to bringing the beauty of Israel to the world.”
“We know what the perception of Israel is in the media – it’s wars, it’s politics – and I just want to show a totally different side.”
The show, produced in partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh and 12Tribe Films, has a slick and commercial feel, with split screens, re-imagined scenes from ancient times, slowed-down montages and schmaltzy music. The strong advertisement feel isn’t helped by plugs for the jewelry of the City of David gift shop, Geller’s Joy of Kosher magazine or Franz’s new book – published only in German. Geller also never drew a clear connection between the recipes and food featured and the site they visited – aside from their ancient roots.
Still, viewers outside of Israel will enjoy an up close and personal glimpse of the ancient site, and fans of Geller will enjoy her bubbly personality and Franz’s creative dishes – though the link from YouTube to the recipes does not work. [UPDATE: After press time the recipes were made available on the Joy of Kosher website.]
Though Geller originally intended to air a new episode of “Joy of Israel” each month, budgetary considerations forced production to slow down; there were no shows between November 2013 and July of this year. Upcoming episodes are set to feature the markets of Tel Aviv, the old city of Jaffa, and the zipline at Deerland Adventure Park in Gush Etzion.
As Geller and Franz sample one of the recipes they created in front of their audience, she waxes poetic: ‘We are in [the City of David], the sun is setting behind us, I am eating Moroccan frena bread – is there anything better?”