One goal I have in feeding people is to create a liminal stage of some kind. I use my role as Chef and artist to invite people into an experience they know well (ie eating out) and then I attempt to change certain rituals in order to allow for the potential of new customs and communities to materialize.
For 6 of my cooking years I was creating and running the kitchen of Cafe Xoho, a supremely special place in Tel Aviv. Much of my ethos about food and my purpose in cooking developed within those walls. There, I asked questions about food and connectivity and let the answers seep out from the open kitchen and onto the floor. What pooled around the ankles of our customers (and can explain much of Xoho's popularity with locals and tourists alike), embodied a sort of missing component felt within the industry: the human component. The part where feeding people and providing them sustenance and comfort and joy is relished and supported and not hidden or masked.
More recently I tested the limits of those ideals in a collaboration with artist Yonatan Rosen, based in Berkeley California. In a series of events exploring Dinner & Memory we culled our interests in design, video art, food & landscape and then gathered people together to dine with us to embark on unique journeys into those worlds. In doing so we offered people a safe space to be together, to ask questions, to be present and to feel a sense of place in the context of the chaotic world around us. We wanted to see if we could make the monotony of the dining experience transform into a temporary stalling of time and space.
This approach influenced my most recent working project, an improvisational series of food experiences, called ZoeFoodParty Site specific and totally joyous, these events put me back at the center of the relationship between people and their desire to be taken care of and fed lovingly. It is a formula that allows for unsolicited connection through food and for me is a great reminder of the basic human interaction that I am trying to explore. To understand more about this process and for food pics scroll down.
PERFORMANCE is a big component of what I do and ZOEFOODPARTY became the platform for that practice. This summer while in Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to find myself at Thank You For Coming - an experimental food and art space (and so much more).
My approach for this series became to take what I had gained during 'Who's Bloomin'' and find other formats in which I could comfortably cook improvisational. Cooking this way challenges me to push past certain insecurities and be more forgiving of myself in pursuit of better, more enjoyable food. It's a methodology that rewards flexibility and thinking outside the box and is simultaneously a catalyst for further instant human connection with people.
The goal became: to 'read' people according to a myriad of communications that take place when someone comes to the counter to inquire about the food in front of them. Basic. Something that actors, comedians, artists all must do. I used these intimate moments to observe body language, gesture, eye contact to get the intel I needed about a person.
At Thank You For Coming we did Bagel Pop-Ups that became the stage, and met a smattering of people that became the characters. Each week I did my best to connect with people through an authentic moment and made food that I truly believed was for them and them alone.
Video by Yonatan Rosen
"...brains and sympathy - the mark of our humanity - will alone have to guide us."
photo by Yonatan Rosen
Salads 2017 served in multicolored acetate boxes, rich balls of Kubeh swimming in vulgarity, heads of cauliflower purposefully reminiscent of our new leaders' quaff.
Guests arrived amid an unseasonably strong rainstorm in Berkeley, California on Inauguration Day. Yonatan had readied the path to the house with fallen oak leaves and lit the stairwell accordingly. Greeting each person with a shot of vodka and a heartfelt hug, we welcomed them in to let off some steam.
If 45 taking his oath of leadership left all of us gutted to our cores, it was sharing in an over-the-top meal beginning with lamb carpaccio served in CA with a pomegranate caramel (later in NYC paired with blueberry and umeboshi) that began to fill the void. Tongues tingled from Szechuan peppercorns reminding us to stay agitated. Video of Melania hawking jewelery via the Home Shopping Network streamed while thoughts of her 4 favorite cities (Paris, London, NYC and Palm Beach) lingered in our minds. We took the communion of Slovenian cakes and sucked on Ivanka's diamond sugar candy. It was a bite to remember and a reality check we will never forget.
Riffing on dishes like Sabich (an Iraqi-Jewish sandwich of hard boiled egg, eggplant and potato etc), Malawach (a Yemen fried bread served with grated tomato sauce), Pistachio milk (one of Tunisia's numerous uses for the pistachio), and Omelette Khorma (a Persian dish of warm dates and eggs with saffron), allowed for an environment of pure comfort and enjoyment. The goal was to establish an effortless flow between table, guest, host and food in order to balance the chaos of the time.
Brunch in a time of crisis was a reminder that if breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the traditional breakfasts of the Middle East are king. The traditional foods I chose to feature are saturated in color and culture. Balanced by the vibrancy of lemon and the depth of olive oil and and the freshness of herbs, breakfast foods from this region contain within them a tiny world of dynamic texture and flavor.
The stability provided by food that comforts us and the safety aided a warm and nurturing environment did the impossible at both of these events. They created a space to breath in, to let go, to exhale.
PESACH or Passover, is a holiday steeped in ritual but also in collective trauma. Jews around the world gather to a table to walk themselves through the story each year in order to never forget. It is the burden of never forgetting that we are remembering. Religious stories delivered from only one vantage point, predominantly male. Our vision was to mark the traditional components of a Passover Seder while telling the story of our foremothers, more specifically their ritual cooking of the seder meal.
Yonatan hand-crafted an Exquisite River version of the traditional Haggadah, where instead of traditional prayer he used ritual to guide us through our experience. We asked guests to dip their fingers into bowls of mud to experience the mortar used to build the pyramids more viscerally before eating it in the form of liver and charoset, salty tears were slurped in the form of oysters and Arak, and we took time to mark the sacrifice with bone fragments and bone marrow. A story as epic as Passover is gnarly and gruesome and we opted for a meal that felt no less. We had to eat from the heart of whole roasted beets blackened from the wood-burning fire and stain our fingers red doing so in order to never forget.
menu design Yonatan Rosen
"Yet let me suggest once more that we look long and clearly at ourselves, our strange and naked bodies, our evolutionary wounds, wracked as we have been through trees and lion haunted grasslands and by the growing failure of instinct to guide us well. Let us take care, for beyond this point in time, brains and sympathy - the mark of our humanity - will alone have to guide us.
The precedent of the forest will be wrong, the precedent of our dark and violent mid-brains will be wrong; everything, in short, will be wrong but compassion - and we are still the two fold beast. Why did we have to be man, we ask ourselves, as the Christians of another day must have asked: "How can man be made whole? How can he be restored to the innocence he knew before the Fall?""
'Who's Bloomin' a vegetarian rite of Spring,' was a three part site-specific series that took place in Berkeley, NYC and Berlin. A celebration of nature's unbelievable resilience to the more dormant winter months - we wanted to inspire people to tap into their inner blossom.
The special moments of surprise in each meal allowed people to let go of traditional eating norms. No menu was planned, no dishes were created in advance. Instead, we arrived to each location and allowed the local produce to dictate the direction. The gorgeous artichokes in California, the spring carrots in NYC and the white asparagus in Berlin were three such examples. While relishing in nature's bounty we cooked meals that tried to match flora's enthusiasm for life.
Using archival footage of floral time lapses and videos of vegetal reproductive parts, Yonatan created a series of moving images that could be scrolled through as the projected images of spring came to be in real time.