ISRAELI chef Roy Ner has eaten at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Milan and has had white truffles costing $8000 grated directly onto his plate in Palma, but his favourite place in the world to eat is the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
“What really makes me the happiest is going to the markets and finding the stand that’s been cooking the same thing for 30 years,” Ner told The AJN.
“It excites me and reminds me where I come from, and why I’m doing what I’m doing. Eating in Jerusalem fills my heart just as much as eating at a Michelin restaurant. To harness that feeling and that history behind cuisine is what we try to do every day.”
Ner is set to bring that sense of history to SBS cooking show The Chef’s Line which pits home cooks against professional chefs to prepare dishes from their own heritage.
His approach to food stems from a fascinating family tree – his maternal ancestors survived the Spanish Inquisition and migrated to north Africa before settling in Israel, while his paternal ancestry is Greek.
The SBS series, which premiered last week, features a variety of chefs. In the first week of May, Ner will bring his Middle Eastern cuisine to the screen.
Over the course of a week, the home cooks engage in a series of culinary challenges against Ner’s apprentice chef, his chef de partie and sous chef – and if they survive the escalating challenges against Ner himself.
“The aim is not to showcase flamboyant characters, but to really celebrate the food and emphasise the food,” says Ner. “How will home cooks address difficult situations and how will they act in a pressured environment?”
Expect to see mouthwatering baklava, an interpretation of Ner’s grandmother’s beetroot salad and a twist on the Jerusalem Mix that he has dubbed Old City Mix.
If any of those dishes tickle your fancy, you can always drop into Ner’s restaurant Nour – which means “light” in Arabic – in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills and try them for yourself.
“The food behind Nour is 3000 years in the making,” Ner explains. “It’s informed by stories of old cities, new cities, cultures, markets, ingredients … It’s an understanding of old flavours coming into a modern environment.”
And the mix of culture goes beyond the food to the staff as well – Israeli-born Ner works with a team that is comprised of a Palestinian sous chef, a kitchen hand from Ramla and a junior sous chef who is Iranian-English.
Ner loves working with such a diverse group, and says with a laugh that the only problem was that it took them more than a month to agree on the hummus recipe.
“It’s a lot of fun because there are different touches and approaches as each individual comes from similar but different background,” says Ner. “It’s my job to harness everyone’s energy and ideas and upbringing into the food and onto the plate.”
Ner has several new projects in the pipeline – he is in talks with celebrity chef Maeve O’Meara to do a food safari in Israel and is looking at developing a Nour pop up.
“We want to do something a big younger and more chic – less refined than the restaurant and a bit more approachable. There is a great possibility that you will see us in Melbourne towards the end of the year.”
In regards to the Israeli food safari, negotiations are ongoing, but Ner is determined to unlock the culinary secrets of Jerusalem and bring them to the rest of the world.
“I want to go beyond Jerusalem,” he says. “Like any other cuisine, every city in Israel has its own famous dish. I want to find them and show them off.
“I feel that Jerusalem and Israeli cuisine is not taboo any more, like it was six or seven years ago. Now people are asking for it, and I feel that it’s an obligation for me as a chef to bring it to them.”
Roy Ner will be on The Chef’s Line on SBS TV from May 1-5 at 6pm.