Asaf Abir is an Israeli food writer, a books editor and a former journalist. His Hebrew food-blog is thetaste.co.il. His first book, “Not Another Cookbook“, was published in Israel in March 2019 and three weeks after publication first entered the bestseller’s list.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up in Tel Aviv.
When did your passion for cooking begin?
Only recently. At home food was never an issue. It was fuel. That’s a common “Ashkenazi” approach, by the way, rooted in the days of the socialist Third Aliya. And this is why to this day Israelis joke about Polish food being bland and grey. It was in my thirties, when cooking shows and foodies were everywhere, when I first noticed a book about the science of cooking. I’m a geek so I opened it. Then things got out of hand.
What inspired you to write Not Another Cookbook?
The Why. All of food’s whys. When I realized: science, culture and personality all come together in the pan – they are actionable, they change the cooking and affect the flavor – then I started to think I may be on to something.
How long did it take you to write your cookbook?
What did you enjoy most about writing your cookbook?
The research, that included working for Chef Meir Adoni at his flagship restaurant Catit. Now you can taste his innovative work at New York’s Nur, and imagine what it’s like to be let near it when it’s created.
Which of the recipes you have included is your favourite?
“Erez Komarovsky’s Toilet Paper Carpaccio”. Chef Komarovsky’s dishes are literally shake the diner’s body. The might of his flavours is hard to mediate in words, and impossible to compare. The book starts at his home in the Galilee, with him teaching me his personal method of home cooking. It’s all about minimal process and a very bold, deliberate combining of spices. He ends the lesson with an exercise in flavour building: a “dish” with no basic ingredient – only pure seasonings. You separate a square of toilet paper to its layers, set them on the plate, and then use Erez’s simple, almost primitive method of choosing and applying spice. His style is both a gastronomical philosophy and a distillment of the craft.
How did you decide which recipes to include?
Every recipe delivers a point. So the task wasn’t to filter but to find. In some places I use a famed recipe (such as Escoffier’s scrambled eggs), in others, generic ones (hand-made green pasta), and some I had to develop myself – for example a “One-Ingredient Cauliflower Soup”, or a “Chose Your Own Adventure Frittata/Pie”. There was one important decision, though: everything has to taste great. Especially the toilet paper.
Are there any ingredients you are particularly excited about?
Contrast, which I consider an ingredient. Delicious cooking is made of this.
Which dish would you recommend to someone who has never tried Israeli cuisine before?
Sabich. It’s probably the one true “Sabra” Israeli street food, invented in Tel Aviv’s neighbour city Ramat Gan. It’s a Pita bread stuffed with eggplant, hard-boiled egg, cooked potato, tomato, parsley, tahini and the condiment amba. It’s faithful to the street food formula – all street foods, from a New York hot dog to Peking duck, are “built” the same – and thus it lets you observe what sets apart our palate. It’s very Israeli and Jewish in another way: its true roots are gentile. It was inspired by a traditional Iraqi plated breakfast dish.
Where can we find your cookbook?
You can order it here from Steimatzky, Israel’s largest bookstore chain. They ship worldwide. Their website is in Hebrew, but so is the book. You can also contact me through my blog TheTaste.co.il, or write me directly to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll make all your troubles disappear.
© Asaf Abir