Naama Barak
January 10

Orly Segal, by her own account, became an Israeli culinary mogul quite by accident. Twenty years ago, she stopped off at a restaurant near her home in Tel Aviv after a difficult day’s work as a political communications adviser.

Chatting with the chef there, she realized she had the knowledge, tools and passion to pivot away from politics and into food – at a time when culinary PR in Israel was far from being a thing.

“I started over from the beginning,” Segal recounts. “And I think I was the first one in the country to do public relations in the culinary field.”

“We took care of the opening of Machneyuda, of Shalom Kadosh, the opening of the Messa restaurant, Avi Bitton, Yossi Shitrit – really all of the biggest names in the Israeli culinary field.”

“Over the years we began specializing in content. We produced cookery books for chefs, online series, culinary conferences, events and festivals.”

Her latest big project is Tel Aviv Groove, which saw Segal and her partners bring the essence of Tel Aviv to Los Angeles with a series of pop-up culinary events.

Meet the woman bringing Tel Aviv’s groove stateside
Chef Dana Lee Berman with local chefs at LA’s Next Door restaurant during the Tel Aviv Groove pop-up. Photo by Ra Dreyfus

“The goal is to take my Tel Aviv, this contemporary city with its diverse culinary scene and tempo, to other places around the world,” she explains. “Each event had alcohol, food, art, video art, contemporary Tel Avivian music.”

Different every time

Tel Aviv Groove is set to hit stateside again in February, this time in LA and New York.

“Each time the festival looks different. It consists of Israeli chefs who are guests for special evenings with their own menus at local restaurants. Some of the restaurants are owned by Israeli chefs and others aren’t. There are also tasting workshops, such as olive oil tastings and sommelier workshops.”

The idea for the festival, Segal notes, came from her need for an invigorating challenge – which was certainly met.

“It was above and beyond all expectations. We were really welcomed there. The events had crazy waiting lists, the headlines were super flattering and the restauranteurs had fun,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

Chefs Jonathan Sharvit and Danna-Lee Berman, left, with sommelier Efi Kotz. Photo by Gil Aviram
Chefs Jonathan Sharvit and Danna-Lee Berman, left, with sommelier Efi Kotz. Photo by Gil Aviram

“Another thing that surprised me in LA was that I was sure that most of the audience would be Israelis and people from the Jewish community. But a lot of the crowd were American foodies who absolutely loved our food.”

She has since received dozens of inquiries from restauranteurs, chefs and Jewish organizations that want to host Tel Aviv Groove.

“It’s really heart-warming, and I think there’s a hunger not only for the culinary aspect of things, but for the DNA of Tel Aviv that we bring with us. It’s contemporary culinary — it’s happiness, it’s life,” she adds.

Real diplomacy

The success of the enterprise, Segal notes, also does a good for Israel on a grander scale.

“In my opinion, this is real diplomacy,” she says. “It’s not only the interactions that we had with people there. I believe that sort of thing brings to the fore the stuff that’s easy to love about us. It’s delicious and it’s happy. In my view, the things that bring people together the most are food, music and art.”

One of the goals that emerged from this project is to put together a platform for recommendations of where to eat in Tel Aviv.

“I think that what’s nice about Tel Aviv is that unlike other cities around the world, you have to really try hard in order to eat badly here,” Segal says. She’s hard pressed to single out stars because there are so many, at so many price points.

“There’s Popina by chef Orel Kimchi, and for something simpler a sandwich at Nordinyó in Nahalat Binyamin. I love eating falafel at the Kosem, and I love eating at my mom’s,” she says.

Local wine and olive oil

Segal also recommends trying locally produced items such as wine and olive oil.

“A wine journey in Israel could be super fascinating to any wine aficionado from across the world,” she says.

“Israel offers wine lovers an almost spiritual wine experience,” she adds. “From boutique wineries located in the world’s very first wine regions, such as La Forêt Blanche winery or Vitkin Winery, to huge wineries that tell Israel’s history, like Binyamina.”

Meet the woman bringing Tel Aviv’s groove stateside
A wine tour is a must for any wine aficionado visiting Israel. Photo by Ra Dreyfus

“As for olive oil, our goal now is to take with us in February olive oil from as many oil mills as possible. The olive harvest just ended, and there are absolutely amazing olive oils this year because of the climate of the passing year. All the olive mills have crazy quality oils that I want to bring over with me so people can love them like I do.”

Segal says that she lives and breathes culinary so completely that most of her friends are winemakers, pastry chefs, restaurant owners or exporters.

“Perhaps I’d have liked to know a few engineers, doctors or programmers,” she muses.

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