Shalom Life | November 24, 2014

A Taste of Israel: Janna Gur

Israeli's foremost 'foodie' and editor-in-chief of 'Al Hashulchan' chats with Shalomlife.com about all things culinary!

By: Helen Hatzis

Published: November 24th, 2009 in Culture » Food » Interviews

A Taste of Israel: Janna Gur

Born in Riga (Latvia), in the former Soviet Union, Janna Gur's family uprooted and immigrated to Israel in 1974, settling in Beer Sheva.

As a student, Janna received her BA in English Literature and Art History from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and then did her military service in the Navy, teaching technical English to future naval officers. Her studies continued at Tel Aviv University where she obtained an MA in Translation and Literary Theory. During this time, she helped financed her education by working as a flight attendant for El Al Airlines. The opportunity to travel abroad opened her mind and palate to the world of gastronomy, thus sparking her interest. However, at that time, she still saw her future as a literary translator, and published translations of The Heart of a Dog by Bulgakov, from Russian, and My Father, His Daughter by Yael Dayan, from English.

In 1984 she met her husband, Ilan Gur, a journalist and an independent publisher who introduced her to the world of magazine publishing. By 1991, one month before the first Gulf War broke, the couple launched Al Hashulchan (“On the Table”) magazine, with Janna as a chief editor. February 1991 was the one time Al Hashulchan failed to produce an issue, because of the war.

Originally conceived as a modest trade magazine for food professionals, the magazine quickly became popular among amateur cooks and foodies. The early nineties in Israel were a time of economic prosperity that brought about interest in food and fine dining. This was a formative decade that changed the face of local gastronomy (more on this in the introductory chapter of The Book of New Israeli Food). Together with its audience, Al Hashulchan changed, becoming the premier food and wine magazine for general public.

In 2001, Al Hashulchan Media Group went into cookbook publishing, with great success. Their first book, Chocolate, was a national bestseller, selling nearly 50,000 copies. It was followed by the Kitchen Helper series, which offered innovative approaches to recipes and cooking techniques. Nira Russo, a famous food journalist in Israel, wrote of the first book in the series that "it is the best cook book ever published in Hebrew." Other books in the series were equally well received, and to-date Al Hashulchan Media Group has published 28 books, many of them national bestsellers.

The Book of New Israeli Food is Janna’s first as an author. Along with the talented photographer Eilon Paz, she roamed the country looking for locations, landscapes and cityscapes which would capture the essence of Israel and its gastronomy. The book is the realization of a dream of long standing – to create a book that will reveal to the world the dramatic revival of local cuisine, as well as the beauty and uniqueness of the country and its people.

Between 2000-2002 Janna hosted a regular food segment on an Israeli television network’s morning show. She continues to frequently appear on TV and radio, talking about food and wine.

Shalom Life (SL): You stumbled into the culinary world by way of travel through your days with El Al Airlines during your travels, what countries inspired you most?

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