As green as it gets

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Carmit Elkayam

Chef,  Koranit

Interview and photography by Veronica Yudkevich

 

Carmit is a chef that specializes in healthy gourmet food. Her debut award winning book Roasted Figs and Red Lentils  (in Hebrew) is an inspiration both visually and conceptually. The thoughtful, friendly and personal approach will win over, I think, even an ardent critic with uncomplicated recipes that make the everyday cooking healthier yet flavorful.

What is more, apart from teaching how to blanch greens and freekeh the book is a testament to a journey that stems from staying true to oneself. Carmit, who has undergone a complete midlife career change from a high ranking officer in an intelligence organization to a wholesome cooking herald, has welcomed me into her kitchen nourishing me with stories about her path to the new career that led her to the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York and, of course, with her gorgeous food.

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What turns you on or inspires you?*

Vegetables. Fresh ingredients at the beginning of their season make me really happy. I can almost cry from excitement when the first bull mallow or wild endives pop up.

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What turns you off?

Mainly supermarkets. I feel bad that people buy meat, eggs, dairy and vegetables at the supermarket because it’s convenient, although in most areas in Israel you can buy them straight from the farmers. It might seem that only people like me have time for that, but one day things will change. A lot of effort is put into making farm produce directly accessible to everyone.

It also makes me very sad that many of the farmers I know are shutting down their businesses – dairy and goat farms, olive oil makers – because it’s not worth the effort. It seems like the agriculture in Israel is vanishing, and that’s a depressing notion.

Which word do you like?

Farm to table. I don’t know if it will ever come true, but I have a dream to open a place where I’ll only cook seasonal food that I’ve grown myself, nothing imported. It has its limitations, off course; I couldn’t cook spinach in the summer because it’s a winter vegetable.

Which word do you hate?

I can’t stand the phrase “comfort food”. This very emotional concept that alludes to our relationship with food has been highly misused. I think we should stop calling certain, usually fatty, foods comforting and deal more with the feelings food evokes.

If you weren’t a chef, which other profession would you like to attempt?

Radio announcer on GalGalatz station.

Which work you would not like to do?

Jobs that involve dealing with suffering, sickness and catastrophes. I feel that at this moment in my life I can’t contain it anymore.

Which food would you take with you to a deserted island?

Bulgur, because it’s so versatile.

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Fresh ingredients at the beginning of their season make me really happy. I can almost cry from excitement when the first bull mallow or wild endives pop up.

Which food will never enter your kitchen?

Bugs. I find them a bit disgusting.

What is currently most challenging in your work?

Infecting the clients with my enthusiasm, showing and proving that my way of cooking suits them, that it will make them happy. Whether there is fear of cooking in general or fear of healthy cooking, it’s a great challenge, every group anew.

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What comes easy to you?

I really like people and find them very interesting. It doesn’t take me long to find their weak spots, and then I teach them how to befriend lentils. So reading people, identifying the difficulty and working together – that comes pretty easy to me.

Why do you do what you do?

Because it makes me happy and whole. My love for people and my love for ingredients are combined – it’s amazing!

 

Carmit's award winning book Roasted Figs and Red Lentils  (in Hebrew) can be bought here.

 

*(Most of this interview was inspired by Bernard Pivot questionnaire.)


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