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Delhi food has been recommended strongly: Israeli chef Chef Gil de Picciotto

In the city for the Israeli National Day celebrations, Chef Gil de Picciotto talks about the parallels between Israeli and Indian food, his love for food innovation and his journey from fighter pilot to chef.

more-lifestyle Updated: May 12, 2019 09:37 IST
Aditya Dogra
Aditya Dogra
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Delhi food has been recommended strongly: Israeli chef Chef Gil de Picciotto
Delhi food has been recommended strongly: Israeli chef Chef Gil de Picciotto(Avigail C.J. Spira/Official Twitter handle)
         

From soaring the skies as an Israeli fighter pilot to sautéing vegetables for a delicious Shakshuka, Israeli chef Gil de Picciotto’s journey has been nothing less than a fiction novel. After all, it isn’t easy imagining that one man would serve two roles, both so distinct, in a single lifetime. But, the chef, food technologist and an entrepreneur feels this was destined. In town for the grand Israeli National Day celebrations that took place on May 8, the chef talked to us about his journey, the parallels between Indian and Israeli food and more.

Ask him how his tryst with food began, and Gil immediately says that food was a family thing for him. “My grandparents come from Syria, Egypt, Romania and Germany, so you can imagine what kind of cuisine we had at home. My family loved to cook and there was always something going on in the kitchen, we had our family dinners and Shabbat dinners and everyone would bring the dishes they were proud of to it. My father, my mother, everyone cooked and each of them had their own flair, and maybe because of that I wanted to bring my own too. I was about 11 when I cooked my first dishes in my mother’s kitchen; they were basic but the process felt really good to me. For many years after that, I didn’t really do anything about it. I had my army service, my education, but the love for food came back to me and I wanted to do something with it. And, once I finished my army service, I could’ve chosen to be an engineer or do something in economics but I followed my heart and went to culinary school,” he says.

And the next thing that he says tells us that Jewish moms are not very different from our Indian moms. He says, “A Jewish mother needs to have a certain certification for her son — be it a doctor, an engineer or more. Once I was a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, I did not need any more certification and I had proven myself. I served the military on reserve duty until I was 42, but that did not work for my creative part since pilots are not required to be creative but precise. So, I think the other side of me was yearning for creativity and I found that in the kitchen. “

But, creating wonders in the kitchen wasn’t enough for Gil, he wanted to do more in the culinary world and soon found himself dabbling with food science and nutrition so he could come up with innovations. He cam up with FoodLabs Ltd. where he could fuse his love for food and technology and turned his ideas into foodtech startups that would give the world healthy , delicious and safe food. “In a perfect world, the perfect culinary person would be a great chef who has a hold over the various culinary styles, a food scientist who understands the process behind the dish and thus can innovate with it and a nutritionist who understands what impact the food has on the body. Unfortunately, the academy divides this into three professions. So, I trained in Israel, France and the USA to learn the most I could in culinary techniques. I became a chef and got creative with the process and ingredients, but with that I also understood that with science one can be more creative. Now there are textures, tastes, the fusion of ingredients and flavours all in a small bite which I call ‘wild innovation’, and the flip side to that is ‘subtle innovation’ that works with food products where you create something for a consumer keeping in mind its shelf life, taste, health factors and more. This subtle innovation is what held my interest, and for the last 12 years, that is what I have been doing. To do something no one has done, to surprise the consumer and to create wonders despite limitations is what gets me going,” he says.

 

On his maiden visit to India, the chef plans to explore whatever Indian food he can, and feels that there are several parallels that the country’s food has with Israeli offerings. “It is my first time in India and I am very happy to be here. I’ve had some Indian food, but I’ve known Indian flavours from back in Israel too. I like the flavours, the spices, the colours, the fragrances, everything. The spices I have got here from Israel have also originated in India. I absolutely love spicy food so Indian food works for me, but I am still looking to have more and will be heading to Old Delhi to try out some street delicacies, on recommendation from people. There are many parallels between Israeli and Indian food be it colours or flavours and I feel both are melting pots for various cultures that results in some great combinations. But, if I have to make it simple, it is happy food,” he says, and takes out a notebook to ask us about a few places where he could go to try out food and buy spices.

What also has the chef intrigued are the Israeli communities in Delhi, especially the ones in Paharganj (referred to as the Main Bazaar by some). “I really want to see what Israel is like in this mirror. I would love to explore these spots and maybe have some food from there too. This one is a short trip, but I would love to be back for longer so I can cherish more,” says Gil.

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First Published: May 12, 2019 09:36 IST

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