Efrat Lichtenstadt isn’t a chef, but the art of food and its preparation, styling and description — written, photographed and filmed — are this Jerusalemite’s stock in trade.
Lichtenstadt, who has a weekly food column in Hebrew newspaper Makor Rishon, a blog with 74,000 followers and an extremely active feed on Instagram for her 55,500 followers, reached a personal pinnacle of the local food world as one of the chefs included in “The White Chef” the annual Shavuot recipe magazine created by Israeli dairy giant Tnuva.
“Oh my God, I’m taking part this year in the Shavuot booklet of Tnuva!! emoji emoji,” wrote Lichtenstadt on Facebook. “I’m sure that just like me, many people wait all year for this booklet, and to think that this year, my recipes are going to reach hundreds of thousands of readers in Israel is just wow, a huge honor.”
Lichtenstadt is front and center in the photo of the seven food bloggers whose recipes are included in the pullout, and her three recipes — layers of pistachio crumble and lemon curd, savory baklava and cheese-stuffed onions — are the very first featured.
In truth, this particular project was easy for Lichtenstadt.
Normally, the blogger decides what she’s cooking most mornings, gathers the ingredients, gets cooking on the small, but sturdy stove in her home kitchen, and then photographs it all — sometimes with her own series of stop-motion shots that are the highlight of social media — on her dining room table, using one of the hundreds of table linens and dishes that she collects, and which are neatly stacked in a separate room of their own in her Baka, Jerusalem apartment.
“Who else would buy this but a food stylist?” said Lichtenstadt, fingering a particularly fetching little ceramic bowl with a gold-dipped edge.
That may be true, but more importantly, Lichtenstadt will use that dish at some point; she always does.
It all began for the native Jerusalemite when she was home with her first child, (she now has three), and began cooking her way through Yotam Ottolenghi’s first cookbook, “Ottolenghi: The Cookbook” (2008) with Sami Tamimi.
“Look at this,” said Lichtenstadt, taking the volume from a living room shelf of cookbooks arranged by color, which is only because her wallpapered living room is often part of her set for shoots. “The recipes were great, although the photographs and styling were completely old-fashioned.”
The book, however, represented a crucial turning point for Lichtenstadt, a Bezalel Academy graduate who had worked as a graphic designer and then clothing designer with her own Tel Aviv boutique prior to parenthood.
She had shuttered the store before giving birth, and Lichtenstadt wasn’t quite sure what was next in her professional life.
So she began cooking while home with her year-old baby, and as the daughter of a mother who is also a good cook, she had a natural feel for food and ingredients. Lichtenstadt named her nascent food blog, “So What Do You Do All Day?” fending off all the well-meaning but nosy questions from those around her.
The blog succeeded beyond her wildest expectations, and now has nearly 74,000 followers, jump-starting a career that she’d never intended to create.
“I always had a camera in my hand, I was the family photographer,” she said. “And I love aesthetics and writing.”
She also got a book out in those first months, selling 40,000 cookbooks of “The Sweet Book” (Keter), written with her friend Natalie Levin, which they sold mostly through Facebook.
“I’m completely a result of Facebook, and Instagram,” said Lichtenstadt.
What Lichtenstadt is able to do is create recipes that work for most home cooks, whether it’s simple, family-friendly soups in the winter, flower-embedded sugar cookies, or no-bake summer pies (I tasted a particularly delectable slice of chocolate-sesame pie during the interview).
She is a wholly Israeli cook, cooking some beef and poultry, lots of fruit and vegetables, grains, plenty of cheese, and with a healthy understanding of the desire to use less dairy and how to offer that all up in an easy, straightforward manner.
Her photos are picture-perfect, carefully curated collages of the food in question, settled on a crisp tea towel with utensils at the ready, and a funny, easygoing tone in her descriptions and instructions, making readers feel like Lichtenstadt is their friend, sister or next-door neighbor.
She’s taken her skills to another level entirely on Instagram, where a one-time accidental use of stop-motion technology on her camera, when the shutter flies, taking dozens of images of the cooking process, inadvertently taught Lichtenstadt how to use it for her demonstration videos.
“From that moment, I couldn’t stop filming movies,” she said.
Between the stop-motion videos, and her Instagram stories, where an entire recipe is shared with stills, clever captions and just the right number of emojis, Lichtenstadt is now one of Israel’s top food bloggers with a zest for what she’s doing and where it all may lead. Whenever you see those neat red fingernails, you know that it’s Lichtenstadt’s hands in the recipe.
Now she’s hired along with photographer Shlomo Arbib to create videos for food manufacturers Osem, Tnuva and all of their sister companies, doing “the simplest and most complicated things” in these 12-second videos, said Lichtenstadt.
“Complicated isn’t good, easy is good,” explained Lichtenstadt. “The video has to be sweet, it explains what to do.”
The pair often create three of those videos in a day’s work, and are moving beyond food companies, to stop-motion videos for an array of Israeli clients.
Lichtenstadt also has a new book coming out this summer, made up of her recipes featured in her weekly Makor Rishon column.
She’s not the only foodie in the family. Her husband, Assaf Rizi, is the owner of the Adom restaurant group with his brother Noam Rizi, and they currently own Adom in The First Station complex, Cafe Asia in the Cinematheque and a catering company.
The two married foodies, however, don’t cross into one another’s professional lives all that much. Beyond tasting her food, Rizi doesn’t get involved in Lichtenstadt’s career, and while she photographs his restaurants for him, she doesn’t get involved beyond that.
“Assaf is always with the kids, because I’m always in the kitchen,” said Lichtenstadt. “You’re always working, because the kitchen is here.”
Stuffed Onions and Cheeses
Around 45 minutes preparation time
Circular baking dish 24-26 centimeters
3 large onions
2 leaves of Swiss chard
1 medium onion
oil for frying
½ teaspoon sugar
1 cup Kashkaval cheese
1 container cottage cheese
50 gram grated mozzarella
1 cup cooked rice
⅓ cup golden raisins
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon garlic powder or 1 finely minced garlic
¼ teaspoon baharat
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup water
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon baharat
Warm the oven to 180° Celsius. Oil baking dish.
Fill a big pot with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Peel the onions, carefully peeling each layer of the onion. Cook for 20 minutes on a low, gentle boil, drain and transfer to pan for frying.
Cut away the white veins of the Swiss chard and chop finely, followed by the onion. Heat the oil in a pan, and sauté the onion for 15 minutes, until golden. Add the finely chopped white vein of the Swiss chard, sugar and a little salt and pepper and sauté for another five minutes. Add the choppd leaves of the Swiss chard and sauté for another minute.
Place in a large bowl the Kashkaval cheese, cottage cheese, mozzarella, rice, raisins and spices and mix well. Add the sautéed onions and Swiss chard and mix well.
Place a tablespoon of the filling in each onion layer, and roll up to create a tight, stuffed vegetable. Place in the oiled baking dish.
Mix the sauce ingredients and pour over the stuffed onions in the baking dish. Cover the pan with a cover or aluminum foil and bake for an hour and a half, until soft. Check throughout that there’s enough liquid, adding up to half a cup of water if the pan is dry. Uncover and bake for an additional ten minutes. Serve warm.
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