James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov was in Tel Aviv on July 5 to headline the opening of Asif, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating and nurturing Israel’s diverse food culture.

Established as a joint venture of the New York City-based Jewish Food Society and Tel Aviv’s Start-Up Nation Central, Asif (Hebrew for “harvest”) encompasses:

  • A café and deli store featuring locally produced wines, olive oils, cheeses, spices and more, operated by Puaa Group in Jaffa.
Asif Café and Deli. Photo by Amir Menachem
  • A test kitchen for researching and preserving traditional recipes and experimenting with new ingredients and techniques.
  • A gallery where visitors can explore the intersection of food and society, fashion and history.
View from the gallery of Asif. Photo by Amir Menachem
  • A rooftop farm growing rare varieties of herbs, including over 250 types of ezov (hyssop), the main ingredient in the za’atar spice blend. This collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Organization-Volcani Center is a vertical garden that is hoped to supply raw materials for Asif’s workshops, pop-up dinners and test kitchen.
The rooftop farm on Asif. Photo by Amit Geron
  • A public library with 1,500 research books and recipes recommended by Asif’s global expert panel including Solomonov, Claudia Roden, Johnny Mansour and Gil Hovav.
View from Library of Asif. Photo by Amit Geron

Asif is housed in a space at Start-Up Nation Central that formerly hosted the L28 eatery spotlighting emerging Israeli chefs.

Naama Shefi, founder of Jewish Food Society in New York and Asif in Tel Aviv. Photo by Matan Choufan

“We will be featuring emerging chefs, not for long periods like L28 did, but for special popup events,” founder Naama Shefi tells ISRAEL21c. “Also, we will invite chefs from the international scene, to inspire and be inspired by Israeli cuisine.”

Planned events include tours, dialogues, storytelling, panels, lectures and classes such as a “Flavors From the Library” series with winemakers and chefs who helped select books for the library.

In person and online

A workshop in August will explore Syrian cuisine with two talented cooks — Safaa, a Druze woman from the Golan Heights, and Sigi, a Jewish woman from Gadera.

“Ahead of the workshop, we used our test kitchen to prepare the dishes we will present and talked about the differences and similarities between Syrian-Druze and Jewish-Syrian cuisine,” says Shefi.

“Did you know, for example, that there is a kosher version of shish barak, the meat-stuffed dumplings that are usually served with a yogurt-based sauce?”

Lower level of Asif. Photo by Amit Geron

While visitors from abroad cannot yet take part in live events, they’ll be able to access events and find resources – yes, including recipes! — through the website.

Shefi, the Israeli founder of Jewish Food Society, explains that the name Asif “encapsulates our mission. In Hebrew, asif means harvest, but it also denotes a gathering of people, curation and collection. It’s not just our name; it stands for what’s important to us,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

“Through its collaboration with Start-Up Nation Central, Asif will explore Israeli technological innovation that changes the way we produce and consume food,” she adds.

“The center’s staff will work closely with the agriculture and food technology communities in Israel and will make solutions accessible to the public.”