Monday, September 17, 2012

Taste of Israel: Day 1

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The journey begins. Let's just say my journey to Israel started well before I even set foot at the airport. Exactly a month before my flight, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime... to visit Israel and eat my way through the country. I was invited by an amazing group of students from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) of Herzliya. These students were chosen to represent their campus in the prestigious Stand With Us Fellowship, a public diplomacy program that trains Israel's future leaders. The students IDC of Herzliya created the Taste of Israel - Eat.Tweet.Love. Program in which I had the honor of participating in. On this culinary journey, the students shared with me the breath-taking beauty of their country, the mix of cultures in their flavorful melting pot and a passion for all that Israel has to offer. It truly was an experience that I will forever cherish. So with that introduction, let's talk about my journey...

Students of IDC of Herzliya

As I mentioned, I was invited exactly a month before the Taste of Israel program began. When I received my invitation via email, I was thrilled! But it was short lived. It dawned on me that my passport and my permanent U.S. resident card were expired. As a Canadian citizen, there were a few obstacles I needed to overcome since renewing these items took a bit of time. Renewing my Canadian passport required me to drive 11+ hours to/from to Windsor, Ontario Canada so that I could have it processed in person. Apparently renewing a Canadian passport at a U.S. passport office is not an option. Even after driving all that way, I had a very small window of time to have my passport in my hand. Thankfully the Canadian offices were working through passports faster than usual so I received my passport exactly 10 days before my flight.

At the same time, I also began the renewal process for my permanent U.S. resident card. That took longer and I was fortunate to have an extension placed on my expired card exactly 4 days before my flight. Four days. Talk about cutting it super close. Needless to day, the fact I was able to get all my stuff done in time was quite a feat in of itself. I kept saying to myself that if it turned out that I couldn't go, then it wasn't meant to be. I'm so thankful that things worked in my favor and I was able to partake in such an amazing trip.

So the day comes and my flight is set for 3pm on Saturday, September 1st. The week leading up to this date was nothing short of hectic. I was packing up what I could, not for the trip but rather for the move from a 5 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment. It was time to downsize since the house sold faster than anticipated. As much as I would have wanted to relax a bit before my flight, I was signing a lease, picking up keys and moving a few things into our new home. Then it was off to the airport...

The first leg of my flight was from Chicago to New York. The flight was quick, nice and smooth. It was in New York where I met Amy Sherman, who I previously traveled with just a year ago to Alaska. There we caught up with each other since our Alaskan adventure. We had several hours to kill since our flight from New York to Tel-Aviv was around midnight. Once on board El Al, the Israeli airlines, we settled into the very last seats in the rear of the plane for the 10+ hours ahead.

Flying red-eye eastbound gets some used to because you essentially lose a day. Although we left the U.S. around midnight EST, we arrived in Tel-Aviv Israel just before 6pm Israel time. We were greeted by Lior Shabat who picked Amy & I up from the airport. We also met up with Carey Jones of Serious Eats, who was on the same flight. From the airport, we get to our hotel which sits right on the Mediterranean Sea. I took the following picture from the balcony of my room...

After settling into our rooms, we freshened up and were whisked away to a special welcome dinner at Liliyot Restaurant. This restaurant is unique in that it's a restaurant that integrates a social project into the daily business of a restaurant. Ever since it was founded in 1999, Liliyot has welcomed at risk youths and provided them with a real opportunity to integrate into society in a positive way by means of professional training in the culinary field. Chef Noam Dekkers, one of Israel’s top chefs, is the executive chef of the restaurant and serves as a mentor and role model for these youths. We had the pleasure of speaking with him and learning about his efforts was inspiring. There at the restaurant, we also met up with another blogger, Zing Yang, along with more students from IDC of Herzliya and a local Israeli food bloger, Sarah Melamed of The Food Bridge.

Now I don't really have too much experience in kosher cuisine, but from what others have mentioned, kosher cuisine can be underwhelming. There are several guidelines that must be adhered to for a real kosher meal which includes specific ways in using dairy products, meats, etc. I guess I'm lucky in that my first true kosher meal happened here in Liliyot because the dishes we were served were outstanding. Not only did the dishes taste exceptionally well, they were presented in such a beautiful, artistic way. I don't remember how many courses we had... but I do remember each one was wonderful. Many of the dishes were gluten free so it was great to be able to not feel like I was missing out on anything. Overall, it was a delicious way to kick off a Taste of Israel! Stay tuned to tomorrow's post where I recap the fun on Taste of Israel: Day 2...

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