Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.
Food writer Joan Nathan hasn’t been to Israel since before the coronavirus pandemic, and when she arrives Monday, March 7, she’ll be a woman with a mission: cooking a private meal with Guy Pines.
Yes, that Guy Pines, the “Hi, Guy,” host of the “Good Evening with Guy Pines” Israeli celebrity news show, who also happens to be a serious foodie and a tremendous Joan Nathan fan.
Pines, it turns out, was introduced to one of Nathan’s books — he won’t say which — when he was in New York years ago reporting a story about Israeli chefs visiting the city’s culinary experts.
“I felt like I knew this woman because of her book,” said Pines during a recent podcast interview with Merav Oren, CEO of Foodish, the new culinary arm of the Anu Museum of the Jewish People, which is putting together the Pines-Nathan meet-cook.
That book has been with Pines ever since, now a dog-eared, stained tome of cooking expertise.
Nathan, the author of 11 cookbooks and a frequent contributor to The New York Times, wrote the award-winning 1994 “Jewish Cooking in America” and the 2005 “The New American Cooking” and has long been the doyenne of Jewish cooking.
Oren introduced Nathan to podcast listeners as the Julia Child of the Jewish world. Pines then responded, “She’s like the Ruth Sirkis of the world!” referring to the well-known Israeli cookbook author.
Oren cooked up the trip as a way to get Pines and Nathan together after the initial plan for the two to cook together in New York kept getting postponed due to the pandemic.
“Merav said, ‘Come to Israel and meet Guy,’” said Nathan.
“They’re going to show me things in the food world and the museum,” said Nathan, speaking from her home in Washington, DC. “I’ll cook with Guy and then go see some vineyards and old friends.”
She said she still has fond memories of Anu from back when it was still known as Beit Hatfutsot.
“I thought it was so cool,” said Nathan, adding that she still has a printout from the museum about Krakow, where her mother was born.
Food-wise, she said she’s interested in learning more about local experimentation in sumac and ancient grains, especially einkorn, a type of wheat currently experiencing a rebirth of sorts.
“I see the future as the way past,” said Nathan. “Chickpeas, for example, are so in the future, in any meatless environment. And Israel is at the forefront of that.”
It was Nathan’s last cookbook, 2017’s “King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World,” that got her thinking about chickpeas and meatless menus.
In fact, she said, she’s been thinking about meatless proteins since she worked for former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek as his foreign press attaché in the early 1970s and visiting the Sinai desert.
“I always play a game with myself, what was in the past and what we have now,” said Nathan.
Right now, she’s considering the fact that chickpeas have been around for thousands of years in the region and require less water to grow.
“It’s not just for hummus. It used to be the gruel of the people, that’s what people ate as sustenance,” said Nathan. She added that author Meir Shalev once told her that the biblical terminology used in the book of Ruth for dipping bread in vinegar shows that the dip must have been a kind of hummus, even if not the exact same chickpea spread eaten today.
It’s all culinary fodder for Nathan, who has spent the last couple years writing a memoir and testing recipes, including some beloved Middle Eastern ones that she made back in her Jerusalem days.
“My Israel period was very important in the memoir,” said Nathan, remembering that her first job as Kollek’s attache was taking David Ben Gurion around Jerusalem with a French TV team. (She’s a fluent French speaker.)
Jerusalem was also where she met her husband, lawyer Allan Gerson, who died suddenly in December 2019. For her, the pandemic was a time of mourning and renewal. She spent time in New Orleans and then went to California to be near her children.
“It was a good healing time for me,” Nathan said, “because I was alone for so long and realized the power of life.”
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