Shalom Life | April 16, 2014

In the Kitchen There's No Nationality or Religion

"Working in the kitchen with sharp instruments doesn't mean we have to kill each other", says one of a team of multiethnic chefs who brought culinary glory to Israel.

By: Abigail Klein Leichman

Published: December 24th, 2010 in Culture » Food » Interviews

In the Kitchen There's No Nationality or Religion

Four chefs on a multiethnic Israeli team called Taste of Peace garnered three gold medals and a diploma of honor at the international Villeroy & Boch 2010 Culinary World Cup competition in Luxembourg, that took place November 20 to 24.

"The idea is to show peace through the dishes we do," says Sarkis Yacoubian, an Armenian chef instructor from Jaffa who founded Taste of Peace with Arab Christian Johnny Goric, executive chef at the Intercontinental Resort in Jericho.

The team is rounded out by Charlie Fadida, the Jewish executive chef at the Sheraton in Tel Aviv, and his sous chef, Muslim Arab Imad Shourbaji. Four culinary students and an instructor from the restaurant at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center came along for the event, considered the Olympics of cooking.

"We showed the world that working in the kitchen with sharp instruments doesn't mean we have to kill each other," Yacoubian tells ISRAEL21c. "I'm proud and glad we succeeded in giving this message."

Gold medals, diplomas of honor

The men triumphed despite finding upon their arrival that the kitchen they'd reserved in advance did not exist. On the verge of turning around and going home, they found a hotel restaurant chef who gave them free reign of his kitchen in off hours as well as the hotel's basement laundry room for prep work. This was a far cry from the Sheraton kitchen where they'd been practicing for five months, but it was the best they could do.

"We used the restaurant's kitchen while everyone was sleeping, because we had to present our food at five in the morning," Goric recounts. "We had two hours to display the dishes before the expo opened to the public from 11 in the morning to 7 at night. Then we collected it from our tables after they announced the winners. We did the same thing for four days. It was really tough, but our achievement is something most people work toward for a long time."

Goric, Shourbaji and Fadida each earned a gold medal for their cold platters and tapas. "I did a salmon platter with five salmon terrines in different styles, and tapas for six - two cold and two hot," relates Goric, a 37-year-old resident of East Jerusalem.

Yacoubian, who at 51 is the oldest of the foursome, received a diploma of honor for his two-dimensional marzipan sculpture of wild horses, finished with a "painted coat" of white and dark chocolate.

Just the beginning

"I used to teach disabled people and I taught them that cooking is not just adding spices and making soup. It's also art, and you should be creative," Yacoubian explains.

In thanks to the restaurant that allowed them to use its facilities, Taste of Peace presented a multiethnic meal to the workers after the competition.

All of the team's expenses were covered by Goric's personal client, the Norwegian ambassador to the Palestinian Authority. During his career, Goric has prepared dishes for King Abdullah II of Jordan, former French President Jacques Chirac, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

"Hopefully this is just the beginning," says Goric. "We want to do more projects together if we get more sponsors." To be eligible for the Culinary World Cup, which takes place every four years, Taste of Peace joined both the World Association of Chefs Societies and the Israeli Chefs Union.

"I think these guys are the best ambassadors for peace," says Yacoubian of his teammates, who are all close friends. "We are trying to go forward with it and hope we can do more activities together to show that in the kitchen there is no nationality or religion we're just human beings who can talk with each other through the dishes we make."

This article originally appeared on Israel21c and was reprinted with permission.

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