Israeli Ambassador of Israel Zvi Vapni and his wife, Linor Vapni, together with Israel’s Honorary Consul in the Visayas, Emily Benedicto Chioson, hosted a glittering diplomatic reception to mark the 63rd anniversary of the state of Israel.
It was held at the Manila Room of the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel, packed with an elegant crowd (never mind if invitations said smart casual, which is an oxymoron). It represented a comprehensive cross-section of Cebu society.
Excellent wines—white and red—from Israel were served, and there was quite a spread of Israeli specialties on the buffet. It had been prepared by chef Michael Katz, flown from Jerusalem for the occasion.
Highlight of the evening was a brief program, which began with the playing of the national anthems of the Philippines and Israel, and toasts for the continued good relations of both nations. The friendship dates back long before the state of Israel was created, when the Philippines gave refuge to Jewish people persecuted by Nazi Germany.
“I love coming to Cebu,” the ambassador said, “for its blue skies, gentle breeze and, most specially, the people.” He has made many friends here, on his numerous visits, especially with the Chamber of Commerce. Trade missions that were mutually beneficial have been made by Cebuanos to Israel.
Ambassador Vapni recognized and thanked the presence of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama. He singled out Francisco Benedicto, until recently the Philippine Ambassador to Beijing, and his wife Leontina Benedicto, Honorary Consul General of Turkey in Cebu.
They are the parents of Israel’s Honorary Consul in Cebu Emily Chioson, for whom the ambassador had glowing terms of praise. The same applied, the ambassador said, to her supportive husband Samuel Chioson, Honorary Consul of Portugal.
Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia was asked to give a message, and she delineated the many instances of mutual friendship between the two countries. She announced the presence of erstwhile Provincial Board Member Agnes Almendras Magpale, who had just been sworn in as Cebu’s vice governor following the untimely death of her predecessor, Greg Sanchez.
Gov. Gwen had words directed to Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama, described by her as “most amiable and handsome.” There was much applause to that, prompting her to remark, rhetorically: “Did you clap so hard because I called Mike ‘handsome?’” The self-effacing mayor just flashed a movie-star smile, and waved a graceful hand.
That set the tone for the rest of the evening as Ambassador and Mme. Vapni glided from one group to another. Meanwhile, the chefs just kept filling up the buffet with more Israeli specialties.
The night before, there had been a “Taste of Israel” launch at the Marco Polo’s Cafe Marco private dining room hosted by Ambassador Vapni, Honorary Consul Emily Chioson and Marco Polo general manager Hans Hauri. It featured contemporary cuisine of Israel in a plated dinner devised by Chef Michael Katz.
He is an internationally renowned chef of the Cordon Bleu category, and currently executive chef with the highly prestigious Group Adom in Jerusalem. They are responsible for Israel’s best restaurants, featured regularly in international gourmet magazines.
There were words of welcome from Hans Hauri who in turn was highly praised by Ambassador Vapni before he asked everyone to raise one’s glass in a toast to the 63rd anniversary of Israel. Chef Michael Katz also spoke, saying that coming to Cebu had been a learning experience for him, gastronomy-wise.
Dinner was then served, efficiently supervised by Stephan Wieprich, the Marco Polo’s food/beverage director. First on the menu was a plate of liver pate crème brulee, tomato mousse, a silver of goat cheese, and black olive croquettes, crisp and warm.
There followed a chilled tomato consomme, marinated sardines, maya-maya carpaccio, roasted grouper, eggplant ravioli and romaine hearts.
Main course was lamb shawarma baked in dough. It rated raves, as did dessert-made at the moment orange marmalade with Tahini ice cream and rose water sabayon.
Chef Katz was called to collect due applause. In his response he said he had a good team, led by the Marco Polo’s executive chef, Luke Gagnon.
We were reminded that Israeli cuisine has been influenced by Jewish immigrants from around the world even before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Since the 1970s an Israeli fusion cuisine has developed. It has adapted various styles like the Mizrahi, the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi.
It incorporates food from the Arab, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Falafel, hummus, shakshouka, couscous and za’atar are now thought to be part of Israeli cuisine. Other influences are the availability of food common to the Mediterranean region like certain fruits and vegetables, dairy products and fish.
The tradition of keeping kosher affects the preparation and availability of certain foods. There are food customs specific to Shabbat and different Jewish holidays, such as challah, gefilte fish, cholent (hamin) and sufganiyot.
New dishes based on agricultural products such as oranges, avocados, and others based on world trends have been introduced into Israel over the years. Chefs trained abroad have brought in elements of other international cuisines.