When he talks about his childhood and the place that gastronomy occupied there, Udi’s answer is quite amusing. Indeed, he recognizes that his mother was not a great cook, on the other hand, he remembers that at the age of two, he had disguised himself as a cook for the Jewish Purim festival. Perhaps it was already an evocative sign of this passion that has driven him for several years now. It was during his military service in the army that Udi really discovered the pleasure of cooking. He was able to taste new products and his daily challenge was to be able to do something good with any available food items.
Over the years, Udi has grown and evolved by being immersed in the world of tourism. In particular, he opened a holiday village, where the restaurant offered Bedouin-inspired dishes. It was also full every night! Udi is also very involved in the political life of his country Israel, as well as in research, consulting, and branding. It is precisely by doing research that he discovered the World Food Travel Association, with which he has been affiliated for more than 10 years. In addition to the professional aspect of the relationship, Udi particularly appreciates the exchanges he has with the other ambassadors every month. This allows him to keep abreast of gastronomy tourism trends in the world, but also and above all to create strong and sincere friendships with people who, like him, are passionate about gastronomy tourism.
While Israel is mainly known for its religious tourism, Udi has been moving heaven and earth for many years, to convince the government to invest in gastronomy tourism. Indeed, the country has a lot to offer because of its geographical location, in particular. Israel enjoys a relatively warm climate throughout the year, and the country has created very advanced irrigation systems allowing the cultivation of tomatoes, citrus and other fruits and vegetables – in the desert! Israeli cuisine is also influenced by the culinary cultures of neighboring countries, as well as those of the many immigrants who have settled there. Israeli dishes are like a mosaic of flavors, with a spice from here, a cooking technique from over there, and a way of serving from yet another place. Of course, the country has several typical dishes such as hamin and sabich. While hamin is a religious dish that has become extremely popular even with tourists, sabich is a “street food” dish made from pita bread and roasted eggplant.
In love with his country and passionate about gastronomy, Udi’s vision is for culinary tourism to become a priority for all Israeli tourism industry stakeholders, because he knows the ultimate economic and sociocultural power that it wields. Through his role as an ambassador to the WFTA and as the national coordinator of the Slow Food Chef Alliance, Udi knows that tourists want authentic experiences, with close contact with local residents. Visitors to Israel want to make trips that satisfy travelers’ needs for experience and authenticity. For Udi, even if the tourist gives himself the means to live a journey rich in encounters and discoveries, it is important that the actors of tourism and food work together, hand in hand, to exchange information and knowledge, in order to offer holistic experiences. Restaurateurs must also be transparent about the origin of the products they cook. Thanks to the availability of an extensive selection of fruits and vegetables, Israel is also an ideal destination for vegetarians.
Yet for some reason, the Israeli government does not want to invest in gastronomy tourism, perhaps because they see that it is actually very present in the country. This is a common oversight by governments that don’t think they need to invest in gastronomy because they argue, that everyone is already doing it. However, they fail to realize that gastronomy is popular everywhere else too, so the entire world is Israel’s competition.
Indeed, there are many local initiatives that consist for example of offering gourmet itineraries to discover the national cuisine, offering visits to typical markets, etc. There are also festivals that are organized like the Israeli Cooking Festival, and So French So Food which celebrates French cuisine in Israel. There is also a museum dedicated to gastronomy in Tel Aviv, but it focuses more on modernity than on the historical and traditional aspects of Israeli cuisine. Udi himself has developed cooking classes that allow tourists to discover Israel’s best products and bring them back home after their stay. It is ultimately tourists and professionals who participate in the promotion of gastronomic tourism on a national, regional and international scale.
Lastly, Udi identifies 3 challenges for Israeli gastronomy tourism. First, it needs significant investment in branding because Israeli food products are quite good, but little known. For example, food manufacturers need to work on packaging, user experience and more, to be appeal to appeal to visitors. Next, Israel needs to outline and promote food regions. Israel is a small country, and tourists think that they will taste the same thing from one region to another while each smaller region has its own products and its ways of cooking. We must therefore not hesitate to encourage the smaller regions in Israel to create an identity of their own. Finally, Udi believes that if the country manages to combine history, archaeology and cuisine, then Israel will become a great nation of tourism.
And we happen to agree!