Food writer Joan Nathan hasn’t been to Israel since before the coronavirus pandemic, and when she arrives on Monday, March 7, she’ll be a woman with a mission: to cook a private meal with Guy Pines.
Yes, that Guy Pines, the “Hi, Guy”, host of the Israeli celebrity news show “Good Evening with Guy Pines”, who also happens to be a foodie and a tremendous fan of Joan Nathan.
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 culinary experts of the city.
“I felt like I knew this woman because of her book,” Pines said during a recent podcast interview with Merav Oren, CEO of Foodish, the new culinary arm of the Anu Museum of Jewish People, which highlights up the Pines-Nathan meet-cook.
This book has been with Pines ever since, now a dog-eared and stained tome of culinary expertise.
Nathan, author of 11 cookbooks and frequent New York Times contributor, wrote the award-winning book “Jewish Cooking in America” in 1994 and “The New American Cooking” in 2005 and was long the doyenne of Jewish cuisine.
Oren introduced Nathan to podcast listeners as the Julia Child of the Jewish world. Pines then replied, “She’s like the Ruth Sirkis of the world!” referencing the famous Israeli cookbook author.
Oren concocted the trip as a way to reunite Pines and Nathan after the original plan for the two to cook together in New York was postponed due to the pandemic.
“Merav said, ‘Come to Israel and meet Guy,’” Nathan said.
“They’re going to show me things in the food world and the museum,” Nathan said, speaking from his home in Washington, DC. “I’ll cook with Guy, then go see wineries and old friends.”
She said she still had fond memories of Anu when she was still known as Beit Hatfutsot.
“I thought it was so cool,” Nathan said, adding that she still had an impression of the museum about Krakow, where her mother was born.
Food-wise, she said she wanted to learn more about local experimentation with sumac and ancient grains, especially spelled, a type of wheat that is currently experiencing something of a renaissance.
“I see the future as the path of the past,” Nathan said. “Chickpeas, for example, will be in the future, in any meat-free environment. And Israel is at the forefront of that.
It was Nathan’s latest cookbook, “King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cuisine Around the World” from 2017, that got her thinking about chickpeas and meatless menus.
In fact, she says, she’s been thinking about meatless protein ever since she worked for former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek as a foreign press secretary in the early 1970s and visited the desert of Sinai.
“I always play a game with myself, what was in the past and what we have now,” Nathan said.
Currently, she takes into account 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 people’s porridge, it’s what people ate for sustenance,” Nathan said. She said 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 had to be a kind of hummus, even if it wasn’t. exactly the same chickpea spread eaten today.
This is all culinary fodder for Nathan, who has spent the past two years writing memoirs and testing recipes, including some beloved Middle Eastern recipes she made back in Jerusalem.
“My Israeli period was very important to remember,” Nathan said, recalling his first job as Kollek’s attaché was to take David Ben-Gurion to Jerusalem with a French TV crew. (She is fluent in French.)
It was also in Jerusalem that she met her husband, lawyer Allan Gerson, who died suddenly in December 2019. For her, the pandemic has been a time of mourning and renewal. She spent time in New Orleans and then moved 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.”