Monday, March 18, 2013

Middle East Food Fight: Palestinian Chefs Protest Peres State Dinner Menu For President Obama

Peace process gets scorched on the dinner plate:  Palestinian chefs say that Peres menu is "a flagrant Israeli attack on our culture"...
President Obama will be honored with a State Dinner hosted by Israel President Shimon Peres this Thursday in Jerusalem, where he will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Distinction.  It's a reciprocal affair for President Obama awarding Peres the Medal of Freedom at a White House dinner last June.  But the dinner menu for Peres' distinguished guests is now causing a fiery outcry, according to the Times of Israel(Above, the Presidents in the Oval Office)

A group of indignant Palestinian chefs are protesting that Peres' menu, billed as "local Israeli cuisine," is in truth a "flagrant Israeli attack on our culture" because it uses Syrian and Palestinian foods.

Peres' office last week tipped the dinner menu to Maariv.  It will be prepared by chefs Meggi and Tuly, and will open with a first course of falafel balls and hummus, topped by a tehina sauce.  The main course will be lamb chops and zucchini flowers, stuffed with mushrooms.  Fruit and Israeli chocolate will be served for dessert.

The falafel and hummus are causing the outcry; they "never were, and never will be, Israeli," said Palestinian chef Ghassan Abdul Khaleq, according to the Times.  He offered to prepare a special official dinner for President Obama and Palestinian Authority President Abbas with traditional Palestinian dishes "to counter this flagrant Israeli attack on our culture."  

No such dinner is on President Obama's schedule, but he will have a working lunch with President Abbas on Thursday in Ramallah.  The menu has not been released.

President Obama will also have a working dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night, prepared by acclaimed Israeli chef Shalom Kadosh.  The menu has so far caused no controversy.  

For the record, White House Executive Sous Chef Tommy Kurpradit traveled to Israel last year to attend an event designed to inspire culinary diplomacy; he cooked in Tel Aviv with Israeli and Palestinian chefs, including Kadosh.

The Times of Israel on the menu protest:

"Ghassan Abdul Khaleq, a Palestinian chef, told the Palestinian daily al-Ayyam that hummus and falafel are Syrian and Palestinian dishes that “never were, and never will be, Israeli."

“We, a group of Palestinian chefs, are prepared to counter this flagrant Israeli attack on our culture by preparing the official dinner for presidents Obama and Abbas,” Abdul Khaleq told al-Ayyam. “[Our dinner] will reveal the fallacious claims of the occupation and its continuous attempts to rob our folklore, this time in the presence of the president of the biggest country in the world.”

Abdul Khaleq offered to oversee an official dinner for Obama in Ramallah, which would comprise traditional Palestinian dishes including musakhan (a dish of roasted chicken baked with onions and spices), maftoul (a Palestinian version of couscous), and frikeh (young wheat) soup.

The provenance of so-called Israeli food has ignited culture wars between Israel and its neighbors in the past. In 2010, a brief skirmish over hummus was ignited between Israeli and Lebanese chefs, each trying to cook up bigger bowls and claim the dish for “national pride.”


*President Obama's full schedule for his trip.

*Photo by Pete Souza/White House, taken in the Oval Office Tuesday, May 5, 2009.