I watched these three cooks -one Christian, one Muslim, and one Jewish – working in perfect harmony in the kitchen where cooperation and communication are essential. It was very exciting. It suddenly popped into my mind that we should do something together on a sustained basis. I realized that since all people have to eat, including chefs, why not cook and eat what we make together – but without any talk of politics. I felt it could work. We started by preparing meals for ourselves, and then the idea took shape as we began to cook for others,” says Kevork Alemian, the founder of Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in the Holy City of Jerusalem in November 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and coexistence through food.
‘Eating is a political act’ claims Michael Pollan, a known food activist and journalist. This statement usually takes shape in the socio-economic side of politics. Eating and cooking have a significant effect on financial and environmental issues. In the last years we saw various chefs taking steps outside of their kitchens and working for a better world through food. Celebrity chefs such as Ferran Adrià, René Redzepi, Dan Baber, Jose Andres and others were involved with several great projects concerning local cooking, sustainability, biodiversity and culinary heritage preservation. Many other chefs throughout the world are working everyday in their restaurants for these same values.
In recent years, these actions taken by chefs show that their role as chefs doesn’t start and end in the kitchen behind the closed doors that separates them from the dining room. Chefs of our times have a significant effect on people’s opinions and eating habits, but can they play this political role on a wider scale? Chefs for Peace aim through their cooking to demonstrate this exact idea. In events organized and held by Chefs for Peace the goal is to bring cooks to the kitchen and diners to the tables with indifference to politics, religion, nationality or skin color. Food, as a basic need and a great pleasure to human beings, is a great bridge between different people and a powerful tool to connect them. Cooking is an excellent way for mutual acceptance and learning. The kitchen, were knife and fire are used to create and not to destroy – unlike the battlefield – is the greatest place to bring harmony and to promote co-existence.
Chefs for Peace bring us the image of the chef’s role as creators and non-violent figures. It shares the story and identity of the person cooking. After telling this story always comes the question, ‘’Do you really think that you, as chefs, can bring peace?’’ Well, of course not. Like any other chef cannot change global food politics from his restaurant, peace is a very complicated achievement that is built through a long process on the negotiation table much like other global political decisions. Living in peace starts in the people, just as with the will to eat local, healthy and good food. We are working on opening people’s minds and hearts for the idea that we can live and eat together; we are raising awareness of our dream to solve this conflict and live in peace together in our much-divided city of Jerusalem.
I was a teenager when my mother went on this trip to Italy; she was one of the Jewish chefs to take part in the Slow Food Festival that was held in Positano, Italy. I remember that they came back with the idea to create Chefs for Peace association and it seemed magical. As a child, who grew up in the city of Jerusalem, it was only natural that food would bond the divided people of the city. As the years passed by this small group, grew to a non-profit organization that holds events throughout the world. From time to time I joined them to cook in various events in Israel and I’m reminded the good and very special energy every time.
While I was a student in the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, I had the opportunity to organize in collaboration with Slow Food a meal cooked by Chefs for Peace as part of special meal held during the ‘Salone del Gusto’ 2010 Edition in Turin, Italy. The result is always amazing; after dining and seeing these chefs step outside the kitchen – coming from what are supposed to be conflicting cultures – gives an extra value to the meal; It opens people’s minds not only to the taste and appearance of the food but also to its background and to the people who cooked it. It makes people stand up for peace and not take part in the conflict – a conflict that belongs to politicians and extremists.
In the last summer we had to stop our routine, work and creation for the sake of war. Suddenly our life changed dramatically and we found ourselves with no work, no one to cook for and nobody to feed. The noises of the kitchen has transformed into noises of alarms and missiles dropping by. In this extreme situation we decided to have an open dinner cooked by Chefs for Peace in our garden. We had our fears that not enough people will show up because of the situation, that people wouldn’t agree with this statement during days of war and that our dinner will be interrupted by a group of extremists. Nevertheless, we decided to make this dinner happen in order to maintain our sanity, the will to cook and to express the wish for a normal life.
On the 27th of July we held one of the most successful dinners held by Chefs for Peace in my kitchen (‘Luiza Catering’) located in ‘Abu Gosh’, an Arabic village in the suburbs of Jerusalem. The village of Abu Gosh is a living symbol of coexistence. For many years the village sustained a very good relationship with other neighboring Jewish communities; there are some Jewish and Christians residents in the village, as well. So, it was only natural to hold our dinner in that location. We organized everything within a few days, and a couple of days before the event we were already booked with 200 reservations and a lot of interest from the media. We couldn’t believe it. In an open kitchen in the middle of the garden, all the chefs coming from unimaginably different backgrounds, gathered together to perform a dinner composed of 13 different small dishes. The good vibes were indescribable and during this time it was especially illuminating.
Oddly enough when times are harder in our small beautiful land our bond is getting stronger. When the conflict made by extremist disrupts our lives, our work is to make our voice of sanity be heard; we do it by cooking and hosting friends and strangers to share a meal. We hope that in the future we will have more cooperation from our politicians. We will continue with our mission until the day comes in which a cooking session with a Jewish, Muslim and a Christian chef will be a normal day to day thing and not something to write about in a magazine or the newspaper.