It was early in the morning and the culinary students had rolled up their sleeves. The plan was to have the visiting French students bake challah, while their Israeli hosts would bake traditional French baguettes — a last-minute switch from the original intention to have each group bake what was familiar to them.
The bread-baking competition was part of the recent week-long French culinary event — dubbed “So French So Good” — during which students from Ecole Hôtelière de Paris toured Israel and learned about Israeli hospitality. And, of course, they cooked, often with students from the Tadmor School for Hotel Management, which hosted the competition.
For this breakfast-time competition, each group had a leader. Israel Tourism Minister Uzi Landau coached the French students through the creation of challah, while Patrick Maisonnave, the French ambassador to Israel, worked with the Israeli students on their baguette.
“At the beginning, it was supposed to be a competition — with a smile — to add some salt to the day,” said Michel Hartbrot, a teacher at the Ecole Hôtelière de Paris who oversees the school’s international relations.
But the students changed the game.
“From the first five minutes, they decided to work together, naturally,” Hartbrot said.
Once the bread was out of the oven, some of the judges preferred the baguette, but Guillaume Gomez, chef to French President François Hollande, most enjoyed the French students’ version of challah. The students agreed to a draw. Their breads were served at a breakfast prepared by Tadmor students for both groups of students, their teachers and other guests.
The week of culinary cooperation is one of several projects organized since the tourism ministries in both Israel and France signed an agreement two years ago to encourage more interaction between the countries, said Mina Ganem, director of professional training in tourism at the Israel’s Tourism Ministry.
“We want to offer to our students a real opportunity to open their minds to each culture,” Hartbrot said. “It’s very important to us to explain to them the world is open to them.”
As for the breads, the students had their own opinions. Nina Kodama, 20, who was born in Japan but has spent most of her life in France, is in her first year of studies at the Ecole Hôtelière de Paris and said she thought the challah turned out best.
“Not everyone spoke English,” she said, describing the camaraderie between the groups of students. “We used a lot of signs and talked with our eyes.”
She plans to try the new dishes she learned to make this week at home, and to pass on new cooking tips to her classmates and teachers who didn’t come to Israel.
Although not every student at Tadmor or in the French group directly participated in the competition, they enjoyed the interaction throughout the week — and the bread that made its way onto the tables.
Ornit Ovadya, a chef at Tadmor for seven years and a former student there, has worked with the French students throughout the week, teaching them how to make Israeli and Mediterranean food and overseeing the joint efforts of the students from both countries.
“They worked really nicely together,” she said. “They saw some different habits and different styles of working.”
And does she think the French students will take the cooking tips they learned from their Israeli guests back to Paris?
“Yes — I don’t think,” Hartbrot said. “I’m sure. I’m really sure.”