Familiar faces tour Israel's culinary world

Former 'Bachelor' and former 'Top Chef' contestant take part in the Schusterman Foundation's 'Reality' experience.

The REALITY group at Hasalon in Tel Aviv (photo credit: COURTESY SCHUSTERMAN FOUNDATION)
The REALITY group at Hasalon in Tel Aviv
A slew of reality TV stars, food show hosts and lovers of all things culinary from around the world have been experiencing everything Israel has to offer this week.
The group of foodies is touring the country as part of the “Reality Israel” initiative from the Schusterman Foundation.
And included in the group is none other than Ben Flajnik, the former Bachelor contestant, who was the star of the US dating show’s 16th season in 2012.
Flajnik, a winemaker who also works for Yelp, famously chose model Courtney Robertson in the season finale of the show but broke up several months later. Five years later, Flajnik is still a bachelor, with free time to explore the world – and Israel. And so far, the reality TV star seems to have liked what he found.
“This country is insanely amazing,” he wrote on Instagram last week, alongside a photo of himself on the Tel Aviv beach. He has also shared images from the Golan, the Carmel Market and Jerusalem.
The foodies arrived in the country last Sunday and have been touring the North, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and just about everything in between – and eating everything and everywhere along the way.
And there are quite a few other familiar faces among the 48-person group.
Dale Talde, who competed on both Top Chef: Chicago and Top Chef: All-Stars in 2008 and 2010, respectively, has been floating in the Dead Sea and chowing down on falafel this week. Grace Ramirez, a chef who has been a guest judge on My Kitchen Rules New Zealand, hosts her own show, Destino Con Sabor, on Food Network Latin America and has a new show, Gooey, on the Cooking Channel.
Gabe Kennedy, a chef and environmental advocate, won the third season of The Taste, a US cooking competition, in 2015. Cassandra Bodzak, an author and motivational speaker, was also a competitor on The Taste, and Jeff Miller is the co-host of the Cooking Channel’s show Trip Tasters.
The rest of the group includes chefs, food writers, food photographers, innovators, entrepreneurs and even a couple of farmers.
“The idea of Reality is to bring leaders who speak the languages of the future,” said Seth Cohen, the senior director of the program, in an interview on Friday. “One of the key languages that people speak right now is food and wine and culinary innovation – and Israel is the place where new forms of that language are being created every day.”
Reality has been running trips since 2009, each with their own specific focus, including music, sports, tech, storytelling and more. This trip, Reality Taste, is the group’s first to explore Israel’s culinary offerings.
COHEN SAID there are two measures of success for each trip.
“We want them to come away with an understanding of the complexity of Israel, the inspiring future of the country and its culture,” he said.
In addition, Cohen added, “we hope they go back to their communities in America and around the world and share what they’ve learned about the food and wine of Israel and hopefully inspire more people to explore.”
And while the group has been eating its way around the country, not every stop has been all about the food. They explored Yad Vashem, dunked in the Dead Sea, and even visited the Syrian border – just a few days after an alleged Israeli strike on a Syrian military base.
“Gaining perspective in an abandoned building at the Israel/Syria border,” Flajnik wrote on Instagram last week. “It’s important now more than ever to spread love, not hate. Hug your neighbor today.”
Shir Marom, who has been leading the trip for the past eight days, said the participants have gotten to know all sorts of aspects of Israel.
“This was an incredible opportunity to explore Israel through the prism of food and culinary,” she said in a Friday interview. “It wasn’t necessarily just about the food itself, but what it represented – Arab food and Ethiopian food and the people that they were meeting with and talking with telling their own life stories.”
Marom said for more than half the group, it was their first trip to Israel, and “this whole journey is very much focused on community building as well.”
Of course, there has been plenty of food too. The group had lunch at Uri Buri in Acre, cooked with Moshe Basson at Eucalyptus in Jerusalem, toured Mahaneh Yehuda market and ate dinner at Eyal Shani’s Hasalon in Tel Aviv.
Many of the participants have been sharing pictures and thoughts on social media throughout their adventure.
Miller has posted many photos of his meals on Instagram, including shwarma, shakshuka and burekas. But on Saturday, he shared a picture from Jerusalem at “Santa’s House” in the Old City.
“We’ve seen many amazing things on #realityisrael but none got as big a smile as happening onto #santaclaus house,” he wrote.
At Eucalyptus, Ramirez shared a photo of their dish, with the caption: “Enough about politics...lets talk about FOOD! Im just so inspired, I could have never imagined it was going to be this special.”
Marom said she has noticed that this group has been snapping and sharing even more photos than the average Reality Israel participant.
“We always love to have participants share their experience with the world, on social media and also offline,” said Marom. “The whole idea is to try to show them different and diverse sides to Israel and the story of Israel through different mediums.”