Oren Pe’er poses with some of his culinary creations which guests to the Democratic Convention in Boston enjoyed this summer.Israeli Oren Pe’er is not on the staff of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but in his role as executive chef of Longwood Events in Boston, he is undoubtedly an ambassador to his country.
Like Hillel Newman, the Israeli consul to New England, Pe’er’s work constantly places him close to well-heeled, connected and powerful people. And like a seasoned envoy, Pe’er understands the importance of catering to the needs of his clients and effectively managing his staff. He recognizes the value of exhaustive preparation and attention to detail, and, in a world where discretion is a must, he knows that some of his best work must take place behind the scenes.
In July, Pe’er was given the responsibility of preparing two feasts for more than 1,000 guests each at the Democratic National Convention. One banquet was hosted by Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, the other by former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Senator Hilary Clinton.
Appropriately, the menu was dominated by traditional New England fare, in quantities that could have fed the Revolutionary Army: In just one dinner, nearly 5,000 pieces of shrimp were prepared, as were 4,000 clams, 4,000 oysters, and 200 pounds of lobster.
Beyond the traditional, there were the touches that Pe’er added to create his own signature: Among them stunning ice sculptures, lobster bisque served in Martini glasses, and a contrasting blend of tastes, including Israeli and Asian appetizers. One might say that Pe’er gave the Democratic Convention an unconventional dining experience.
It is the enthusiastic drive to combine ingredients, paired with a flair for unusual serving methods, that marks Pe’er’s individuality as a chef, but also identifies him strongly with the Israeli culinary methodology, something of which he is very proud.
“I like to take, for example, French, Middle Eastern, and American elements and combine them all together,” Pe’er told ISRAEL21c. “I might take beans, avocado and banana from Israel, foie gras from France and sweet corn from America and bring them all together. The results can be very special.”
Pe’er explains that his method of incorporating different types of food and cuisines is actually something endemic to Israeli-style cooking.
“After all, Israeli cooking is really something new [and evolving]. It’s a combination of Middle Eastern, European and even American influences,” Pe?er said, noting that Israeli society is comprised of people from every corner of the world. “Each immigrant contributed his own ideas and his flavors to Israel,” he says.
Pe’er says that Israeli cuisine has begun to come into its own, but the way in which the cooking borrows from so many other cuisines and cultures is not something which is going to change soon – nor should it, in his opinion.
“This is what makes it so special,” Pe’er said.
Pe’er further distinguishes himself by the way he presents his food. “I don’t like to serve food on a plate!” he exclaims, and derides conventional serving ideas as old fashioned.
“You know, the next generation, we’re going to stop serving on plates. Everything will be served in jars and bottles and other creative ways,” he says.
“I’ll make tiramisu, but I’ll serve it in marmalade jars. I’ve served salad in a martini glass. Rather than use a tray, I prefer to serve hors d?oeuvres on spoons and forks,” Pe’er says.
Pe’er’s journey into the kitchen began when he was discharged from the IDF in 1993. He worked for more than three years as an assistant chef at the Holiday Crowne Plaza hotel in Tel Aviv. Pe’er went on to be the operational chef of the Royal Beach hotel in Eilat, a post he held for two and a half years.
In 1999, he attained the position of executive chef of the Meriden Hotel in Eilat, and two years after that, the executive chef of the Red Sea Paradise hotels, before making the trip across the Atlantic to come work for Longwood Events last year.
Pe’er has peppered his career with advanced courses in cooking, preparation and management. With each one he developed a new skill while discarding bad habits. Pe’er studied under Chef Manuel Martinez at the Tour D’Argent in Paris, learned the gourmet art of the hot and cold kitchen at the Ecole Lenotre in Plager, France, and has taken other specialized courses at resorts in Sardinia, Italy and Jamaica.
Pe’er has also studied kosher cooking at Israel’s Technion in Haifa, and is considered to be an authority in this field, often hired as a consultant for kosher events and developing or improving kosher menus for restaurants. It might seem incongruous for a chef who deals primarily in non-kosher dishes to have a second career in kosher preparations, but Pe’er says his kosher expertise makes him a much better chef in all respects.
“Whoever can create delicious kosher meals can do even better with non-kosher dishes,” Pe’er said.
“In a kosher kitchen, the trick is to find the solution between dairy and meat. Naturally, you cannot sauté beef or lamb in milk or butter and heavy cream. You have to use margarine, or soy milk to get the special flavor. My specialty is to find the best flavor, the best presentation under kosher regulations. This is tough,” Pe’er said.
“The challenge is to take a kosher cut of beef and marinate it in kosher ingredients and serve it for top-notch people and still get the compliment as you would for non-kosher food.”
At just 33 years old, especially when you consider that three years of his adult life were spent in the army, Pe’er has attained high goals as a chef. Yet, he still aspires to do more. Eventually, he would like to open his own business, and he would like to innovate in the field of kosher cooking, creating new tastes and, in his own style, new combinations.
Looking back on his career, Pe’er says his fondest achievement was catering and designing a wedding reception for an American businessman, held at a Dead Sea resort hotel.
Three thousand guests, including many celebrities and dignitaries, were served food on specially designed floating platforms. The entertainment program featured fireworks and singing performances from some of Israel’s top headlining acts.
So, who was this wealthy client who commissioned Pe’er and threw this unforgettable party? Pe’er, the culinary ambassador, handles the question diplomatically.
“It’s better not to say,” he replied.