Cooking on the coast

After graduating from a culinary school, Lauren Shockey spent several months in restaurant kitchens of four international cities, including Tel Aviv.

Amy Spiro 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Amy Spiro 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After a stint in an upscale restaurant in New York followed by several months cooking in an eatery in Vietnam, Lauren Shockey landed in Tel Aviv – all in an effort to find her culinary path. She details her experiences cooking across the globe in her fast-paced, entertaining memoir, Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv and Paris.
Shockey, who grew up in New York City and described herself as “Jew-ish,” stunned her parents when she announced after graduating college that she wanted to set aside her degree from the University of Chicago and try her hand at the stove. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in New York and experiencing a lackluster internship at an eatery in the southwestern French city of Toulouse, she set out to have a true global culinary experience, spending several months shopping, cooking, working and living in each of the cosmopolitan cities mentioned in her book’s title, “armed with a set of chef’s knives and determination.”
Though she’d only visited the country twice before – once on a press junket and again on Birthright Israel – Shockey was eager to include Israel as a stop on her savory adventure. So she spent the fall of 2009 in Tel Aviv, working at Carmella Bistro on Nahalat Binyamin Street.
“I was really interested in visiting a place where a food culture wasn’t as well developed as it might be in, say, like Paris, where you automatically think food,” Shockey told The Jerusalem Post by phone from New York. “You don’t really think food: Tel Aviv, but there really is an exciting cuisine going on.”
Plus her past visits had “kindled my interest in the country,” she said. “And being Jewish, I was really interested in seeing day-to-day Israeli life.”
Though she landed in Tel Aviv with a “Hebrew vocabulary limited to ‘shalom,’” she found enough English-speakers in the city to enable her to get by. She fell in with a crowd of immigrants, and peppers the book with her experiences having communal Rosh Hashana meals, bicycling through the empty streets of Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur and ambling through the Carmel Market buying produce.
At Carmella Bistro, owned by executive chef Daniel Zach, Shockey learned how to prepare dishes from falafel to roasted eggplant mashed potatoes, gnocchi and the restaurant’s signature herb salad. She calls her decision to learn Israeli cooking at a non-kosher restaurant “perplexing,” but doesn’t delve deeper into the subject. A scene in which she and a coworker clean squid, “giggling when we were accidentally squirted by an exploding sac of fingerstaining black ink,” underscores the issue.
But the writer enjoyed exploring the varied cuisine found in the diverse city.
“I think what’s really great about a place like Tel Aviv is you have so many different culinary traditions working at once,” Shockey told the Post. “So many people in America think of Jewish and Israeli food as one and the same but that’s really Ashkenazi [food]. There is Iraqi Jewish cuisine, northern African Jewish cuisine... all these make up a patchwork quilt, creating a food culture and figuring out how to combine so many different ethnicities.”
The book is sprinkled throughout with recipes from Shockey’s time in each city, from chili dogs in New York to fried spring rolls in Hanoi, gnocchi with tomato- eggplant sauce in Tel Aviv to beef bourguignon in Paris. A significant number of recipes contain nonkosher ingredients, such as bacon, pork rinds and seafood.
Shockey ultimately put down the whisk to pick up a pen – she is now a food critic for the New York-based Village Voice – a move that offers a hint that the journey may have been more for the sake of the book than for the experience.
Today she prefers to cook for family and friends instead of for dinner crowds, and says she still prepares many of the dishes she learned to make in Tel Aviv – like pomegranate-herb salad and red winebraised brisket, the recipes for both of which are included in the book.
You’re unlikely to regret spending a few hours curled up reading this entertaining and intriguing book, which focuses more on one woman’s journey than on the food..