ON TUESDAY, Janos Wilder launched the latest in his Around the Globe summer tasting menus, landing this month in Jerusalem. To celebrate the launch, Wilder brought together three local religious leaders: Imam Edip Yuksel, Reverend Greg Foraker, and Rabbi Sam Cohon, all of whom have spent time in the city considered holy by the three major Abrahamic religions.
“In the New Testament, the radical thing that Jesus did was in who he invited to the table,” said Reverend Foraker. “He transformed the community around the table.”
“When I planned the summer menus, I had no idea the region would be once again engulfed in violence,” said Wilder. “But as I thought about it, I realized that this particular menu would help emphasize the shared culinary heritage of Muslims, Jews, and Christians. The food of Jerusalem has overlapping layers of religion, culture, and conquest. In many recipes, the ingredients and dishes are harmonious even with many variations stemming from similar sources. Through this, a food culture has developed that accents what the people in Jerusalem have in common, not what sets them apart.”
After nearly 30 years in Tucson fine dining, Wilder opened Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails in 2010 “as a statement of using food to bring us together,” he said. “I started Downtown Kitchen to honor the most recent wave of immigrants to the U.S., so we have plates from Africa, Asian, Latin America, the Middle East. Bringing all these cultures together to the table was the most optimistic statement I could make about America. Our around the globe menus honor that impulse.” In June and July, Wilder took his menu on a trip to Singapore and Charleston, North Carolina; in September, eaters can travel to Lima, Peru for less than $40.
WILDER BASED THE JERUSALEM MENU ON Yotam Ottolengi and Sami Tamamini’s cookbook of the same name. “Is there any such a thing as Jerusalem food?” Ottolengi writes in the introduction to Jerusalem: A Cookbook. “Consider this: there are Greek Orthodox monks in this city; Russian Orthodox priests; Hasidic Jews originating from Poland; non-Orthodox Jews from Tunisia, from Libya, from France or Britain,; there are Sephardic Jews that have been here for generations: there are Palestinian Muslim from the West Bank and many others from the city and well beyond; there are secular Aschkenazic Jews from Romania, Germany, and Lithuania and more recently arrived Sephardim from Morocco, Iraq, Iran or Turkey; there are Christian Arabs and Armenian Orthodox; there are Yemeni Jews and Ethiopian Jews but there are also Ethiopian Copts; there are Jews from Argentina and others from southern India n there are Russian nuns looking after monasteries and a whole neighborhood of Jews from Bukhara (Ubekistan). All of these, and many, many more, create an immense tapestry of cuisines. It is impossible to count the number of cultures and subcultures residing in this city.”
Bringing all these cultures together to the table was the most optimistic statement I could make about America.
Highlights from the Jerusalem menu include a “whirling dervish” appetizer, made with Za’atar and yogurt pureed with beets, toasted hazelnuts, goat cheese, babaganoush, roasted butternut squash, and green peas; roast chicken thighs with oranges, fennel, and Tunisian olives, served on pomegranate molasses scented sweet potato puree; roasted sweet potatoes, fresh figs, fried eggplant, and goat cheese, served with green onions, pomegranates, roasted red grapes, balsamic vinegar, and date syrup. Finish your meal with sweet filo cigars and orange frozen yogurt, with pistachios, honey syrup, and candied almond zest.
The Jerusalem menu runs until September 1. Visit DowntownKitchen.com for the full Around the Globe menu.