Seek Life

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JUTKA HARSTEIN, CHEF, RESTAURANT MANAGER - HARDUF

Interview by Veronica Yudkevich 

PHOTOGRAPHY BY INBAL CABIRI & Veronica Yudkevich 

 

It’s 8 am in Harduf’s Home Garden. The leaves are still shimmering with dewdrops; everything is quiet except for the bees buzzing next to the hive and an occasional sound of croaking frogs or a ruffle of feathers from the ducks in the small, nearby pond. Though it’s the middle of summer all is green and blooming or rather a more befitting word that’s on the tip of my tongue - healthy. Everywhere I turn I see healthy, strong plants. Jutka presently joins us with an even better definition: "everything is full of life."

Home Garden is Harduf’s vegetable garden that supplies fruits and vegetables to Harduf Market, a few shops in the area, and of course Jutka’s restaurant. Organic farming methods are practiced here in conjunction with the biodynamic approach that applies preparations specifically designed by Rudolf Steiner, while also attending to the existing relationship between the Earth and other planets. In addition, it is also a healing environment for people from the Hiram Center for adults with mental health problems, who work in the garden as part of the therapeutic process, aided by volunteers from around the world. Jutka explains that with three centers for kids, people with special needs, and adults in psychiatric care Harduf is all about healing.

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During our visit, two women in the outdoor kitchen make luscious breakfasts for the early-rising workers. They invite us to visit the greenhouse and taste the sprouts, to which we happily assent, especially after Jutka’s suggestion that "a good cook has to taste everything." The crispy green leaves look so much like little jewels and they fill our mouths with a rich, invigorating flavor.

 
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The crispy green leaves look so much like little jewels and they fill our mouths with a rich, invigorating flavor.

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Our sampling tour continues to the field that offers plenty of opportunities.

"I know that if a bird has eaten half of a fruit it’s the most delicious one, because a bird knows what’s best. And from the very best only one bite should be enough; you don’t need a lot of garbage, because it will never feel satisfying. What’s inside is the most important thing. These green beans, for example, don’t look perfect but inside—and in the earth that feeds them—there’s so much care and love. Love is not something to learn in a workshop; it comes from your heart and your deeds."

She tells us a story of when Gidi Gov came to take an interview, she took him to one of the gardens in Harduf. Standing next to the lettuces, Gidi pointed at a worm and said: "Look, here’s a friend of yours!" And Jutka, who likes to naturally disentangle herself from such situations, heard herself say: "Gidi, think about it this way – if a worm doesn’t want the lettuce, do you want it?" It’s a little funny that Jutka, who abhors noise and overexposure to media and digital devices that people, especially young ones, are prone to disappearing into, is so apt at pulling cool, totally Tweetable observations. Perhaps technology might even be the perfect servant in helping spread her ideas to a larger audience.

 
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I know that if a bird has eaten half of a fruit it’s the most delicious one, because a bird knows what’s best. And from the very best only one bite should be enough; you don’t need a lot of garbage, because it will never feel satisfying.

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While walking in that magical place, we couldn't help discuss ecology, a subject Jutka feels passionate about. She regards the world and the forces that move it with a concerned, criticizing, and even apocalyptic view.

" The young people of today will still experience this world, but I’m not sure about the future generations. As a woman that has already lived her life, I must pass a message to the young people that ecology can’t be only about buying organic food anymore; it’s not enough. You have to sustain whatever remains of this Earth and everyone can make her or his small contribution. Gaia – the Earth should become everyone’s first priority before parents, children, or oneself."

"Sustaining," according to Jutka, means saving the natural resources and not wasting them unnecessarily but also avoiding the human inclination to egoism. "People have low endurance. No one is troubled that wasting takes years out of Gaia’s life, years that could have been made available for the next generations." Sustaining also means carefully choosing to whom you give your money – supporting local businesses instead of global conglomerates (Jutka has been boycotting Nestle for 22 years): "Don’t join or support the powers of death; seek life!"

 
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As a woman that has already lived her life, I must pass a message to the young people that ecology can’t be only about buying organic food anymore; it’s not enough.
  "Please don't pick strawberries"

"Please don't pick strawberries"

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" Even when there is awareness, there is no action. It takes time until a thought is realized in action – it’s a very anthroposophical point of view that takes into account the body-soul-mind connection. The head (thought, materialism) represents the physical body, the soul (feeling) is represented by the heart and lungs, and the mind (will) is in the digestive and reproductive systems. ‘I want/ I act’ is also about what you eat and not only about what you think or feel. Everything starts from the head and comes to the will that is then expressed in action. Everything is connected. There is a lot of consciousness in the world today, but it’s not translated into action."

Though painting quite a depressing picture, Jutka says that she is a cheerful person who wakes up every morning with a smile on her face. "You have to stay positive and act, because acting restores positivity. And when there is no peacefulness, it must be created through hard work."

 
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After walking through the Home Garden we cozy up in Jutka’s restaurant and continue talking about it and her book, while sipping coffee and golden milk (warm almond milk with fresh turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon).

To those used to cookbooks with mouthwatering photographs, Jutka’s book shows that there is another way. It’s quite refreshing to find that in our speed-driven world, in which pictures sell the products and those that don’t have a picture don’t exist; a slow-reading book that cannot be rightfully appreciated through a superficial impression can still be a bestseller. Therefore, it is not surprising to find Internet comments like "something in the presence of this book fills me with happiness." As readers slow down, lingering on the drawings and the inspirational stories, they are transported into a somewhat different world which, according to Jutka, is "a must for anyone who wants to cook well – a world without phones, radio, or Facebook."

The book project started with "let’s try and maybe something will come of it" and took nine years to accomplish. Jutka would give her recipes away from the moment she stepped into the restaurant because she felt "honored that people want to prepare her food." Later she offered Ayelet Arnon, who joined the team, to make the drawings for the coming book, which took a subsequent four years' work. Afterward, Jutka says, the stories started to come out: "It took me a lot of time to polish them. I wrote in English and did test-readings with customers. Every time I read the story about my mother and her roses, I'd start crying. And everybody cried. It took me two years to read that story without crying; then I knew I had let her go."

 
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… yellow, orange, red, pink and white roses [are] filling my nostrils with the best scent in the world: mother’s roses. …

I am sitting in a deck chair in the garden… Mother by now is in the kitchen rolling pasta, which we will eat with ground-up nuts and sugar. I close my eyes and do not want this moment ever to pass. I am holding my breath back as the most horrifying certainty grasps my heart: one day I will be sitting here, twilight will descend, but the chickens will not come running to eat their supper. Mother will not be here to call them. To stop my tears I run into the kitchen, put my arms around her and give her a big kiss. She smiles.
— J. Harstein, The Living Kitchen, 2012
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For years Jutka’s recipes have been cooked in the restaurant. Its menu has only been adapted for vegan and gluten-free cuisine, which now comprises 80% of it, and dishes whose preparation involved frying are now being baked. A strong-minded and opinionated person, Jutka is one of the first people to bring vegetarian cuisine to Israel, by founding the restaurant 22 years ago. Now, at its peak she feels that the place has reached a crossroads, mainly because she herself has reached a similar point in her life.

Working for many years with vulnerable people has taught her to be open-minded and flexible, a much needed trait in the challenging process of transformation that she realizes the restaurant must follow. Although managing the place is important to Jutka, the food has always taken precedence, and altering its essence is not part of the sacrifices she's prepared to make: "food like we have here—good from beginning to end—is very hard to find." Having spent years in building a solid foundation for the business, Jutka cannot yet afford to rest on her laurels but must continue to develop and invest in the team and collaborations with other chefs, because "if [she] leaves, it (her lifework) will come apart, and that's forbidden."

At the end of our conversation Jutka hurries to the many tasks awaiting her. She’s involved in every aspect of the daily routine, starting from picking roses for small vases on the tables up to planning and adjusting the menu of the day, buying missing ingredients from Harduf Market and managing the book and gift shop. Through hard work and a "simple" approach Jutka puts her heart into this place, whose unassuming food and peaceful atmosphere make you feel at home.



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