Settler activist Yehoyada Nizri turned into a culinary celebrity on Sunday night when he became a contestant on Channel 2’s Master Chef show.
Nizri and his wife, Tamar, are Amona evacuees, best known for their media appearances made in an attempt to stave off the February evacuation of their small West Bank outpost.
But on Sunday night, Yehoyada Nizri prepared a Shabbat meal for the four Master Chef judges with homemade challah and wine from his boutique vineyard that drove away any negative associations the judges might have had with his politics.
Tamar and the couple’s eight children were brought into the kitchen for the moment when Nizri was awarded an apron, a sign that he had passed the audition.
“It was very emotional,” Tamar later told The Jerusalem Post
, explaining that the sequence of events were somewhat surprising given that she and her husband don’t really watch television.
It was their children who signed their father up for the show and, eventually, he warmed up to the idea, Tamar said.
When the two were first married, neither of them really knew how to cook. Tamar instinctively took over the kitchen tasks on Friday and Yehoyada would clean. But she noted that he seemed to not do much more than move the dirt around with his broom, so she suggested they switch.
Yehoyada’s cooking was so tasty, they never switched back.
Master Chef prohibits its contestants from interviewing with the media, but on the show he said he first learned he loved cooking when he and his wife would prepare large Shabbat meals in India.
Wearing a large kippa that Tamar crocheted, Yehoyada was hardly what the judges expected when first they ate the pita meal he prepared prior to meeting him. It was filled with grilled tomatoes, roasted eggplant, spices, sautéed hamburger meat and onions.
Based on that food, they guessed he was either a Shwarma connoisseur, a mother, or a woman who made salads for her husband’s barbecue before learning she could do it better.
“I’m the mother,” Nizri joked when he first walked out to meet the judges.
The very simple question of where he lived, however, forced Yehoyada to dive right into the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We lived in Amona,” Yehoyada said.
“You are one of the evacuees?” asked Judge Michal Ansky.
“You’re a settler?” asked judge Eval Shani.
“Yes,” responded Nizri.
“Now we live in a field school in Ofra, until we create a new community,” Nizri said.
“Which will also be a settlement,” Shani noted.
“Which is also on the land of our forefathers,” Nizri corrected him.
“Don’t you want to return to [sovereign] Israel?” Shani asked.
“What is more Israeli than Amona?” responded Nizri.
“You have to come there and you will see how Israeli it is.”
“You are in a very fragile situation,” said Shani, noting that Nizri had placed eight children in a home he knew could be uprooted. “Do you see yourself as a responsible father?” “Yes, I am a responsible father. I think that, in general, life in the Land of Israel and in Judea and Samaria is about living and not about politics.
There are 400,000 people in Judea and Samaria and no one is going to evacuate them from there,” Nizri said.
“You can’t say this isn’t about politics,” said culinary judge Michal Ansky.
“Politics is often thought of as something negative, but politics deals with life.”
“I feel as if Master Chef is almost like the army. You meet all kinds of people. I ended reserve duty a few years ago I miss that ability to talk with everyone.”
“Maybe you don’t feel part of the state because of Amona,” Shani said.
“They evacuated me from my home. When the police entered, I felt like they were cursing me. The home is the most secure place for me, my family and my children. Suddenly, they infiltrate that. It was painful and I still carry that pain. I will remember it forever,” Nizri said.
Nizri gave the judges a taste of what Shabbat would have been like in his former home, by serving them homemade challah, chicken, couscous, squash, spices and wine he made from his small vineyard, which is still standing.
It is the kind of cooking that cannot be done in the field school, where he lacks a kitchen.
The only thing seen in a normal kitchen in two rooms in which the family lives is a sink.
Nizri’s family was brought into the kitchen and together with the judges sang the opening stanza of the weekly Friday night Shalom Aleichem song that marks the start of the meal.
“I am far from you politically and geographically,” Ansky told the Nizri family. “But I feel like you are the closest people to me because I had a taste of Friday night dinner from your home.”