A diplomat in a chef’s uniform

When famed Israeli chef Shaul Ben Aderet is in the kitchen, he’s creating more than just good food.

Shaul Ben Aderet poses in his restaurant, The Blue Rooster, in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Shaul Ben Aderet poses in his restaurant, The Blue Rooster, in Tel Aviv.
With his thick, neatly groomed white beard and purple rimmed glasses, Shaul Ben Aderet is hard to miss in a crowd. This is even more true when he’s abroad and wears his crisp white chef shirt with an Israeli flag on it, which he’s wont to do during his international travels.
The look is just one part of his raison d’être: to help the world understand that there is much more to Israeli culture than a bloody geopolitical conflict.
“I feel very proud whenever I have the Israeli flag on my chest. If people see this flag with a different connotation, maybe their mind goes to a negative place. But if they begin to associate the flag with food, then perhaps they can view Israel in a more positive light,” Ben Aderet told The Jerusalem Post at his north Tel Aviv restaurant The Blue Rooster.
Next week, Ben Aderet will introduce Londoners to Israeli culture in a major way as he takes part in the TLV in LDN festival.
The festival from September 6 to September 11 spans multiple locations across the city and will showcase every- thing Israeli culture has to offer. What began as the brainchild of major British Jewish donor Marc Worth, became an all-out extravaganza as the Israeli Embassy in London and the Strategic Affairs Ministry pooled their resources to make this event happen.
From famed musical acts like Dana International and Infected Mushroom, to a concert promoting LGBT rights to a robust Israeli food market, festival goers will be able to see just how diverse Tel Aviv and, by extension, Israeli life is.
Ben Aderet is looking forward to show- casing his work in that food market or what he is calling, a “taste of Tel Aviv in London.” The booths will be divvied up by different neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, with each booth highlighting something unique that neighborhood is famous for.
Kebab on a cinnamon stick, raw red beet salad and (of course) hummus and tehina, are just some examples of what festival goers can expect.
And the best part? At approximately five pounds per dish (just under $6.5), it’s affordable.
“I want dishes that are fun and you can eat standing up while people enjoy the music,” he said.
Cocktails infused with nana (mint) and Arak as well as Israeli wines will also be on hand for any festival goer looking to really turn the event into a glorified Tel Aviv party.
“If they have negative thoughts about Israel, this will help change hearts and minds,” Ben Aderet predicted.
This is not just a pipe dream, Ben Aderet has seen firsthand how understanding someone’s culture can help alter negative preconceived notions.
Courtesy of the Foreign Ministry, the acclaimed chef has traveled the world and catered gala events for dignitaries and members of the press so could expose them to a dynamic side of Israeli life for the very first time.
Name a country, and chances are Ben Aderet has been there. Angola, Croatia, Japan and Spain are just some of the places he’s gone where he’s attempted to change hearts and minds. He’s even been featured on cooking shows including one on local Turkish television back in 2012, when Turkish-Israeli relations were at an all-time low.
“Food can change a whole mindset. After a good meal, their eyes open and they see us in a completely different light,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what they think, but in every place I go to, Israel always seems more interesting after they consume the food. I show food that’s colorful, fun, full of flavors and variety. After all, it’s known that business dealings are closed not in offices, but over dessert. You can change worlds with food,” he marveled.
It helps, of course, that Ben Aderet is just one aspect of what is a booming culinary scene in Israel.
“Israel and Tel Aviv especially has devel- oped an amazing culinary scene with excellent chefs, and I have no doubt in the next few years people will come here because of the food,” he said.
And after tasting dish after dish of flavor- ful Israeli-inspired offerings and enjoying the eclectic array of music that make up the soundtrack of life here, it is hard to say that Ben Aderet will be proven wrong.
The writer will be a guest of the TLV in LDN festival. For more information about the festival visit http://tlvinldn.org.
This article was written in cooperation with the Strategic Affairs Ministry.