The 'Battle of Knives'

Tel Aviv chefs outclass their Jerusalem counterparts in a culinary contest.

chef feat 88 224 (photo credit: ORIT ARFA)
chef feat 88 224
(photo credit: ORIT ARFA)
One has to wonder what the Jerusalem Municipality was thinking when, as a tribute to 40 years of a united Jerusalem, it pitted top chefs from Tel Aviv against chefs from Jerusalem in for a gourmet cooking competition. Anyone versed in the Israeli culinary scene could have predicted the winner even before the contest began. Jerusalem may be the capital of Israel, but Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel's restaurant industry. While many talented chefs were born and raised in Jerusalem, those seeking a career in the kitchen eventually moved to the big city, like Aviv Moshe of Messa and Rafi Cohen of Raphael, where the cosmopolitan cooking culture pushes them to international standards of excellence. "We are sure Jerusalem will win," said Tal Marom Malovec, spokesperson of the tourism and culture unit of the Jerusalem Municipality, ahead of the competition. "They worked a full week on the menus. They'll give Tel Aviv a fight." But Tel Aviv positioned itself for a victory by including Meir Adoni, chef of the acclaimed Catit restaurant, along with Shaul Ben-Aderet of Kimel, Chef Antonio Mensa of Ali-Oli, and Chef Hadassa Wolf of Caume Il Faut. Catit was recently voted by readers of Time Out magazine as the best restaurant in Tel Aviv, and a few weeks before that, Adoni became an instant national chef celebrity when he was the first of four Israeli chefs (including Aviv Moshe) to beat out French Chef Stephane Froidevaux in Channel 10's cooking showdown Battle of the Knives. Despite Adoni's fondness for Jerusalem, he wasn't about to cook with any mercy. "It looks bad [if Tel Aviv wins], but we'll still win, even if it's by half a point," Adoni predicted ahead of the cook-off. Nevertheless, the competition was digested in good fun by both teams. The atmosphere was lively, optimistic and friendly, with chefs from each team encouraging each other and Adoni leading his team in old Jerusalem folk songs. "There's no pressure, we're cooking in good spirits," said Chef Itzik Mizrahi, head chef of the Inbal hotel and its Sofia restaurant, the official caterer of the president. Both teams prepared their dishes using raw materials native to Jerusalem, including Jerusalem artichoke, garbanzo beans, root vegetables, sesame, wheat, beets and za'atar. Dishes were served unmarked, but Cohen admitted to Metro that he could recognize the creators by the presentation. "From the first dish, I felt who was Jerusalem and who was Tel Aviv - the taste, the presentation, the plating," said Cohen. "From what I've seen of Tel Aviv," added cookbook author and food writer Phyllis Glazer, "it's not so much the plating, but the taste. They're more sophisticated, use a range of ingredients and are more delicate." The final score came out to 135:150, Tel Aviv, and the winning entrée, "A Jerusalem Winter Stewpot," concocted by Shaul Ben-Aderet, went to Tel Aviv hands-down (literally, after the contest journalists couldn't stop themselves from dipping their fingers into the large pot in the kitchen). The winning recipes were served to President Shimon Peres on Thursday. Upon accepting the Medallion of Honor on behalf of Tel Aviv, Adoni generously announced to the city of Jerusalem, "It's yours!"