In 1994, Jerusalem chef Johnny Goric cooked a lunch and dinner for Yassar Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, during their peacemaking talks. He was also, more recently, the chef to King Abdullah II of Jordan.
But besides feeding kings and some of the world’s most influential leaders, he is also cooking in the name of peace. Goric is one of 25 Israeli and Palestinian chefs who belong to the organization, Chefs for Peace.
The chefs, all of the highest calibre in the region, have prepared gala dinners for special events around the world in Australia, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Singapore, and the United States.
They represent all three monotheistic faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; and hope through building menus, they can put bygones aside, and use food as a bridge for peace.
“Food by itself is a symphony played by many people,” Goric tells ISRAEL21c. “Whenever it comes to food, peace must be there. And when you eat in Israel – you eat all kinds of Mediterranean cuisine – humus, falafel, fish and seafood.
“Everything is here, food has no borders,” adds Goric, who works at the fancy Jerusalem-based YMCA. He is Assyrian and speaks “the language of Jesus,” he says.
Chefs for Peace was founded in 2001 by Kevork Alemian, a chef who works in hotel management at Jerusalem’s luxury American Colony Hotel. The idea for the group started during a culinary trip to Italy, where two Palestinians and two Jews were asked to cook together.
“I watched these four cooks working together in the kitchen and it popped into my mind that we should do something together,” says Alemian.
He returned home and founded Chefs for Peace. Among the Jewish members is world-renowned Chef Moshe Basson, from Jerusalem’s Eucalyptus restaurant.
As an Armenian Christian, Alemian, who lives in the Old City of Jerusalem, often finds himself caught in the crossfire of the Middle East struggles. He agrees that his background makes him an ideal ambassador to bring Jews and Muslims together.
“I am an optimistic person,” says Alemian, when asked if peace will ever come to this region. “I hope that one day it will come, it has to,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
He jokes about the fact that in the kitchen, the chefs who are “supposedly” enemies, in fact, have the most dangerous weapons at their disposal. “The knives are very sharp. But we don’t use them on each other. We cook for peace. We don’t talk politics, just on food and friendship,” says Alemian.
The last major event for Chefs for Peace took place at the Terre Madre slow food festival in Turin, in 2006. But the group is currently planning a local event, expected to happen in the next few months.
“We try not to take sides,” says Alemian. “We create our own menus – our chefs sit together and cook together using local ingredients from Israel.”
Some of the favorite local ingredients he mentions include za’atar (a mixture of oregano, thyme, sesame and salt), sage, olive oil and tahina.
The chefs as peacemakers, he notes, are currently available to cater parties anywhere around the world, and would even offer their services for weddings, if it could help the peace process.
And knowing that US President George W. Bush is expected to return to Israel in May to celebrate the State’s 60th Birthday, Alemian says that Chefs for Peace would very much like to be able to feed him and his entourage a meal.
“If it would happen, that would be fantastic,” he exclaims.
[This story first appeared on ISRAEL21c – www.israel21c.org]