“I watched these three cooks -one Christian, one Muslim, and one Jew – working in perfect harmony in the kitchen where cooperation and communication are essential. It was very exciting. It suddenly popped into my mind that we should do something together on a sustained basis. I realised that since all people have to eat, including chefs, why not cook and eat what we make together – but without any talk of politics. I felt it could work. We started by preparing meals for ourselves, and then the idea took shape as we began to cook for others.” Says Kevork Almenian, The founder of ‘Chefs for peace’, a non-profit, non-political organisation founded in the Holy City of Jerusalem in November 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and coexistence through food.
‘Eating is a political act’ claims Michael Pollan, a well known food activist and journalist. This statement usually takes shape in the socio-economic side of the politics. Eating and cooking have a significant effect on financial and environmental issues. In the last years we saw several chefs stepping out of their kitchen and working for a better world through food. Celebrity chefs such as Ferran Adrià, René Redzepi, Dan Baber, Jose Andres, and more, were involved with numerous great projects concerning local cooking, sustainability, biodiversity and the preservation of culinary heritage. Many other chefs throughout the world are working everyday in their restaurants with these same values.
In recent years, these actions taken by chefs show that their role as chefs doesn’t start and end in the kitchen behind the closed doors which separate them from the dining room. Chefs of our times have a significant effect on people’s opinion and eating habits, but can they play this role with a wider view? Chefs For Peace aims to use cooking to dimostrate exactly this. In events organised and held by Chefs For Peace, the goal is to bring cooks to the kitchen and diners to the table with indifference to politics, religion, nationality or skin color. Food, as a basic need and a great pleasure to human beings, is a great bridge between different people and a powerful tool to connect them. Cooking is an excellent tool to facilitate the learning of mutual acceptance. The kitchen is a place where, unlike the battlefield, knives and fire are used to create and not to destroy, it is a great place to bring harmony and to promote co-existence.
Chefs For Peace brings us the image of the chef’s role as creator and non violent figure. It brings the story of the person who cooks and his identity. After telling this story, the question always rises whether you, as chef, really think that you can bring peace. Well, of course not. Like any other, a chef cannot change global violence from his restaurant, but… he can make an impact. Peace is a very complicated achievement that is built in a long process on the negotiation table much like other global politics decisions. Living in peace starts within each person, same as with the will to eat good food. We are working on opening people’s minds and hearts to the idea that we can live and eat together, we are raising the awareness for our dream to solve this conflict and live in peace together in our divided city of Jerusalem.
I was a teenager when my mother went to a trip to Italy, she was one of the Jewish chefs to take part in the Slow Food festival that was held in Positano, Italy. I remember that they came back with the idea to create a group of Chefs for Peace and it seemed magical. As a child who grew up in a city such as Jerusalem, it appeared only natural that food will bond the divided people of the city. With the passing of the years, this small group grew to a non-profit organisation that holds events throughout the world. From time to time I joined them to cook in various events in Israel and I recall the good and special energy every time.
While I was a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy I had the opportunity to organise a meal cooked by Chefs For Peace as part of special meals held during the event ‘Salone del Gusto & Terra Madre 2010’ in Turin, Italy. The result was and is always amazing: after dining, to see these chefs from what are supposed to be conflicting cultures stepping outside the kitchen together, gives an extra value to the food; It opens people’s mind not only to the taste and appearance of the food but also to its background and to the people who cooked it. Kitchens all over the world are multicultural spaces, and they can make people stand up for peace, leaving behind the conflicts belonging to politicians and extremists.
In the last summer (2015) we had to stop our routine, work and creation for the sake of war. Suddenly our life changed dramatically and we found ourselves with no work, no one to cook for and nobody to feed. The noises of the kitchen has transformed into noises of alarms and missiles dropping by. In this extreme situation we decided to have an open dinner cooked by Chefs For Peace in our garden. We feared that not enough people will show up because of the situation, that people wouldn’t agree with this statement during days of war and that our dinner will be interrupted by a group of extremists. Nevertheless, the will to cook, to express ourselves in some semblance of normality was strong and we decided to make the dinner.
0n the 27.7 .2015 we held one of the most successful dinners held by Chefs For Peace in my kitchen (‘Luiza Catering’) located in ‘Abu Gosh’, an Arabic village in suburban Jerusalem. The village of Abu Gosh is a living symbol of coexistence. For many years the village sustains a very good relation with other neighbouring Jewish communities and there are some Jewish and Christians habitants in the village, so it was only natural to perform our dinner in that location. We organised everything within a few days, and a couple of days before we were already booked up with 200 reservations and a lot of interest from the media. We couldn’t believe it. In an open kitchen at the middle of the garden all the chefs coming from unimaginable different backgrounds gathered together to perform a dinner composed of 13 small dishes. The good vibes were indescribable, a light shone from the event, leaving us feeling illuminated.
Paradoxically when times are harder in our small beautiful land, bonds between us get stronger. When the extremists from any side push for conflict our work becomes increasingly important, ensuing the voice of human sanity to be heard above the war cries. We do this by cooking and hosting. We hope that in the future we will have more cooperation from our politicians. We will continue with our mission until the day will come in which a cooking session of Jewish, Muslim and Christian chefs will be a normal day to day thing and not something to write about in a magazine or the news paper.
(4 October 2018)