Georgia on her mind

Chef Irma Kazar’s Georgian-inspired foods waft you away to the Caucasus.

Georgia on her mind (photo credit: Courtesy)
Georgia on her mind
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the workshop kitchen there were about 20 people paired off in front of industrial steel mixers, all of us whipping cream. Chef Irma Kazar was showing us how to put together an elaborate trifle pudding with lady fingers, fruit and mounds of that perfectly whipped cream.
“This is the texture,” she said, raising the mixer blades to demonstrate. “It just holds its shape. Don’t whip anymore,” she cautioned two women who were raptly watching their mixer whirl around. “It will turn to butter.”
The workshop, one of a series that Kazar teaches in the Laga’at BaOchel cookware centers, proved useful and fun, with Kazar supervising every step of the way.
Ever since, whenever I fold egg whites or whipped cream into a batter, I remember her advice (give the bowl a quarter-turn every few seconds).
Kazar made aliya from Caucasian Georgia with her parents at age five. “We came out of pure Zionism,” she says in her rich, lively voice. “We arrived six months before the Yom Kippur War. We had to integrate fast.”
It was hard to keep the chef to the topic of herself.
Kazar has a deep knowledge of her native country’s culinary and general history, and her talk veers to those topics with passion. Pressed for a few personal details, she laughs and says, “I’m married, with two grown children and a grandson. My husband usually does the cooking at home.”
She remembers taking an interest in cooking from a very early age. “I was still little enough to perch on my grandmother’s kitchen countertop and watch her cooking,” she recounts. “I can still taste the flavors of her tomato and rice soup.
“I began to cook at age eight or nine. Seeing my parents return from work tired in the evenings, I began cooking dinner for them. Naturally, some meals got thrown in the garbage, but little by little, I began to cook in earnest. My parents didn’t expect this development, but they were proud of me.
“I especially love dough – the process of baking from scratch. There’s something miraculous about the action of yeast on flour and water,” she says, her brown eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. “I studied pastry at the Bishulim cooking school in Tel Aviv. Later, I traveled to Georgia and worked with a wedding hall there, where I learned authentic, rustic Georgian cooking.
“Returning to Israel, I worked with a nutritionist to create healthy baked goods, which I supplied to several Tel Aviv cafes. At age 40 I saw that here in Israel there’s no one teaching Georgian cooking, so I decided to teach it. The Laga’at BaOchel chain agreed to feature my Georgian workshops. Their success led me to become the pioneer of Georgian cuisine in Israel.
“About four years ago, I took a year to travel in the mountain villages of Georgia, wherever the culinary traditions remain unchanged, to learn local variations of typical dishes.”
Kazar organizes culinary tours of Georgia with an emphasis on regional foods and out-of-the-way eateries where the traveler will taste the genuine flavors of the country. Kosher tours are available on request, with a mashgiah on board. Kazar pre-orders meat through the Georgian chief rabbi’s office. An Israeli ritual slaughterer from the Chief Rabbinate travels regularly to Georgia to slaughter local beef, poultry and lamb. Clients who require kosher dairy are provided with products brought from Israel.
Kazar becomes lyrical over Georgia. “How can you not fall in love with its natural beauty? So many waterfalls, green fields and snowy mountains; it’s like Switzerland. And in the summer, all the roadsides are lined with fruit trees: cherries, pomegranates, walnuts, persimmons, hedge berries. You can just get out of your car and pick some.”
Kazar describes how northern Georgians like to “build” their dishes, layering ingredients over a long cooking time. With rainy summers and cold winters, a tradition of preserving food has naturally evolved. Beef and lamb slaughtered in the fall are preserved for winter eating, or made into sausages. Poultry, and especially geese, are preserved in their own fat. Southern Georgia is characterized by many kinds of cheeses, some of which are traditionally stored in clay jars.
“Georgia was once part of the Ottoman Empire.
So there are many culinary influences at work. The famous khachapuri cheese breads are based on a strudel-like dough, for example. And there is a candy that’s something like Turkish delight. Our typical chinkali meat dumplings resemble dim sum.
“In Georgian cuisine, nothing is wasted, not even the tissue-like skin inside the walnut shell that divides the nut halves. Georgians use that membrane to flavor the local home-brewed spirit, called tchatcha.
“I always recommend that travelers not only check off museums and landmarks. It’s important to know the local cultures, the foods, the local small eateries and country inns.”
Irma Kazar’s Georgian culinary tours are held eight to 10 times a year, May to September. She also leads workshops at private homes. For more information: 054-220-1207,, or