Metrosexual Meals

A manual for men could serve as the only cookbook in a kitchen

Metrosexual Meals 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Metrosexual Meals 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WHILE MOST ISRAELI cookbooks include mainstays like schnitzel and mashed potatoes, few of them feature well-dressed men who hold up a salad in one hand and a Goldstar beer in the other. “Gam Abba Yachol,” which translates as “Dad Can Do it Too,” is a guide to the man who wants to begin sautéing vegetables, frying omelettes and maybe even making his own jam, but doesn’t know how. Written by veteran home cooks and longtime friends Romem Saranga and Yuval Kemp, the book is so basic that it includes a page on how to use it. Recipe directions include where to find baking paper in the supermarket and how to talk to a butcher.
“The goal is to tell people that cooking is like assembling Ikea furniture,” co-author Kemp, 40, tells The Report. “With clear directions, you can’t fail.”
Neither Kemp nor Saranga, 38, are chefs: Kemp runs a camera bag company and Saranga is a copywriter. They wrote the book over the past year as a way to spend more time together and to formulate their own recipes. The sumptuous photos of the pair and their wives and children were taken in Kemp’s Tel Aviv home by Yasmin Peled and Arye Morad.
Recipes range from the simplest, like a kibbutz-style salad of fresh chopped vegetables, to time-intensive feats like osso bucco (veal shanks cooked in meat broth) or scones. Most are accompanied by a salty commentary. When describing the preparation of the Palestinian mussakhan of chicken baked over thin pita bread, the authors remark: “According to the Arab tradition, your wife was supposed to make this for you. But where’s tradition, and where is your wife?” And sprinkled in between the copious dishes are short guides to doing laundry, cleaning an oven and employing children as kitchen helpers.
THE BOOK IS A REFRESHING break with what’s out there, says veteran food critic Janna Gur, who founded and edits the Al Hashulchan food magazine. “You see here men very comfortable in the kitchen,” she tells The Report.
“They don’t look like they’re being forced to be there.” The relaxed tone of the book shows Israel’s progression from a Spartan country that assumed women would cook no-nonsense meals to a hedonistic gastronomic world where men take on household chores, Gur says.
“Until the early 80s or 90s, good food was for people who didn’t have anything else to do,” she says. But as the economy boomed in Israel, and gastronomy grew fashionable, “combat pilots would learn to cook in France or New York. During that time a lot more men became interested in cooking, but they mainly confined that to glory cooking, when you cook for friends.”
Kemp and Saranga’s book is aimed not at one-time occasions but at the day-in, dayout family table. Oatmeal, quiche, soups, the tomato and egg dish called shakshuka: all are quick meals with fresh ingredients.
The recipes are heavy on vegetables and light on butter and cream. The ingredients for a mushroom soup include onions, garlic and “mushrooms (not from a can!).” The authors encourage their readers not to use processed food where possible.
For each simple recipe, “Gam Abba Yachol” also offers tips and “upgrade” options, like garnishing potatoes with parsley or turning out a ceviche salad of raw fish in a tidy dome on a plate. The book’s last chapter, in a nod to the more sophisticated world of cocktails, is on mixing mojitos (Cuban highballs) and martinis.
Overall, “Gam Abba Yachol” is an easy to- follow guide and a feast for the eyes. Although written for men, it is good for any starting cook. Native English speakers trying to learn Hebrew will also enjoy the many diagrams, which could help an immigrant navigate a cooking supply store, and a guide to speaking “cooklish,” that defines fry, braise, boil, bake and grill.
The book’s weak point is its overeager attempt to domesticate the Israeli man. One tip sheet offers advice on how to be a spontaneous host for friends who come over unexpectedly. Step one: smile and don’t panic. Step two: offer a hot drink. Step three: step into the kitchen, supposedly to boil water for tea and coffee, but actually ransack your refrigerator for chilled white wine, cheese, grape leaves, vegetables, bread, butter, cottage cheese, herring and smoked salmon. Present these all on nice plates. If you have no white wine, make mojitos.
In a country known for its casual culture, it is difficult to imagine an Israeli man offering guests more than coffee and maybe store-bought cake and beer. But Kemp tells The Report that section came from real life. “Romem came to us one day by surprise, and this is what I did,” Kemp says. “So Romem said you have to put this in the book. The whole idea of the book is to try to do something different.”
Despite this, “Gam Abba Yachol’s” range of recipes, including desserts and holiday dishes like potato pancakes, means it could serve as the only cookbook in a kitchen. The many photos of contented men – Kemp holding up a pot of soup, Saranga mixing the cracked wheat, parsley, and mint salad known as tabbouleh – make the process look fun. And although the basic approach shows that many Israeli men still fear the kitchen, Kemp and Saranga may help refine the increasingly metrosexual Sabra.