Savoring a successful dinner event in Italy with four chefs – two Israeli and two Palestinian – from Notre Dame, Kevork Alemian, then director of the hotel school associated with the Catholic guesthouse in Jerusalem, stumbled upon an idea.
“I saw how the chefs united in this kitchen,” Alemian recalled. “Later, sitting on the balcony of the hotel room, overlooking the Mediterranean, an idea popped into my head.”
Alemian thought, if there are organizations uniting doctors, artists and other professionals across borders, then why not chefs? He had just watched two Jewish Israeli chefs and two Christian Palestinian chefs – not chosen for their religious or ethnic backgrounds – cook for an event sponsored by an Italian organization.
He met with the chefs and threw the idea out here – why not promote peace through an organization that bring chefs to cook together from the three religions in the Holy Land?
Thus, in 2001, with just four chefs, Chefs for Peace was born. Now the organization has 25 chefs from Muslim, Jewish and Christian backgrounds, who cook together for special events, creating recipes and menus that showcase the special blend of food found only in the Holy Land.
The goal, Alemian said, is “to show to the world we can unite at one table and eat together. The bottom line is everyone has to eat.”
The chefs hail from prestigious restaurants and hotels in Israel and the Palestinian territories including Eucalyptus, Mahane Yehuda, the YMCA, Notre Dame and the David Citadel Hotel to name a few.
“Food is an amazing story. Food combines all the languages together into one language – its like love, a first language that everyone speaks,” said Amit Cohen of Luiza Catering in Abu Gosh. “To cook together will make us friends and makes us partners.”
Since its inception, the organization has been called upon to to host events in Jerusalem, around the country and for several overseas initiatives. Its most recent foray was at a Red Cross event in Norway this fall.
Planning an event is a hectic and involved task. First, the chefs who will go to the event, at least one from each religion, are chosen based on their individual schedules and availability. Then those chefs meet to create a menu oriented around Middle Eastern cuisine. Afterwards, they must contact the local sponsors to see if their ingredient list is available and what they need to bring from Jerusalem, like spices and herbs impossible to get elsewhere.
“Each chef has his own way of thinking, but when we unite in the kitchen we forget our differences and unite as one body,” Alemian said.
A sample menu, like the one created for the Norway event, would make one’s mouth water. The Norway event included the “three-faith soup” made of red lentils, eggplant and artichoke; sayadiye (Arabic for fisherman), a white fish dish with couscous and vegetables; a rack of lamb stuffed with figs and zaatar (hyssop) served over moujadara, a famous Middle Eastern dish consisting of lentils, rice and onions; and, for dessert, kenafe (fried cheese topped with and shredded pastry, katayef, a dough pancake stuffed with walnuts and sugar or cheese and cardamon ice cream.
And so the chefs hope to promote peace one meal at a time.
“We spend all day long cooking together in the kitchen without any talking about politics,” said Johnny Goric from the Legacy Hotel in East Jerusalem. “So if we can do that for 12, 13, 14 hours a day, I’m sure we could even do more.”
Alemian said, “When we unite we forget about religion. Here are three chefs from three faiths working in the kitchen, in harmony, using the most dangerous dangerous weapon – a knife – but we don’t stab each other. When we are cooking together, we use our imaginations, we create and we forget our political views.”
Members of the organization are carefully vetted for their culinary abilities and commitment to peace. At the moment, the membership is comprised of 10 Jews, 10 Christians and three Muslims.
“We are members from all the religions, all of us cooking, and we want to show people can live together, cook together, have dinners together, enjoy their life together without politics, without wars,” said Anat Lev Ari of Luiza Catering in Abu Gosh. “Politics never brings this to the world, just the real people do. So this is my way to do a little bit.”
The organization donates its earnings to charities that support the needy of all three religions represented. One of Chefs for Peace’s big events coming up is an annual food festival in Norway next summer.
“When people gather together at one table they gather to break bread and to share with each other the good food and wine,” Goric said. “Over dinner, many peace agreements have happened. Over dinner, most of our disputes have vanished.”
To read more about Chefs for Peace, visit their website or look for them on Facebook.
By Nicole Jansezian
Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.