As someone who watches cooking shows, I often wonder what happens to the competition finalists and winners. Beth Elise Hawk’s (The Au Pair, Eye Candy) latest documentary, Breaking Bread, answers that question about microbiologist Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Israeli-Arab to win Israel’s MasterChef.
Dr. Atamna-Ismaeel went on to found the A-Sham Arabic Food Festival. There in Haifa, Israel, Arabs and Jews collaborate and cook together. The peaceful gatherings are a stark contrast of the tension and violence of the West Bank.
Director and producer Beth Elise Hawk joined me on a conference call to discuss the documentary, which opened in Los Angeles and New York on February 4, with more locations to follow. This labor of love took about two years to make, from scouting and researching to the end product. It features recipes from Shlomi Meir, Ali Khattib, Osama Dalal, Ilan Ferron, and Salah Cordi.
Putting a Documentary Together
Hawk estimates that she came out of filming with at least 60 hours of footage to whittle down. “Making a documentary is such an interesting process because it gets written in the editing room, not beforehand,” she said.
There was a lot of excellent footage that couldn’t make it to the final cut of the documentary. “Somewhere out there, there’s a couple of funny scenes with Shlomi that I remember, which got cut because there wasn’t enough time to show all the gems.”
During this passion project, Hawk also enjoyed bringing in the musical expertise of Omar El-Deeb. “He came up with the idea of tying in ouds throughout to give it the Arabic sound. I said we need to bring in Eastern European Ashkenazi sounds, which was in the violin.”
And the Verdict, Judge…?
With the diverse cohort of chefs, I wondered what her experiences were with the food, which look delicious onscreen. As one might guess, the chefs delivered. “It was all beyond delicious. There was so much magic in the film. One of the pieces was to meet all these amazing people and taste all their food.”
In the near future, Hawk aspires to creating companion materials to Breaking Bread, including a cookbook so that viewers can put their aprons on and test their culinary skills. She had an opportunity to do that herself recently after Salah sent her a recipe for katayef, a dish perhaps best described as a folded pancake. “Somehow at the first try, I converted it and made the pancake batter. It bubbled and looked exactly like in the movie when I watched him make it. I was so excited!”
Hummus Has No Borders
Another mouthwatering dish on display throughout the documentary was hummus, which was used to introduce new segments. Hummus was plated in various ways, topped off with a diverse set of ingredients at different points, including a Greek salad, and bangers and mash. The inspiration for the visual artistry came from Dr. Atamna-Ismaeel. “She was so surprised that hummus migrated all the way to a football game in the United States, to be right next to guacamole, salsa and cheese dips. She feels hummus can coexist with whatever topping you choose to put on it.”
One team Breaking Bread focuses on is the collaboration between Shlomi Meir and Ali Khattib. Meir can trace his family to Eastern Europe and cites the influence of his grandfather, while Khattib speaks proudly of his Syrian roots and his grandmother. Both share a passion for cooking and culture that melds wonderfully in their dialogue and their final dish. “You couldn’t tell who was who because there were no labels once you put them together…I am blown away that it happened authentically and with ease. “
According to Hawk, Breaking Bread provides one answer to starting conversations for peace. “People are, no pun intended, hungry for a positive message. It’s an authentic story with a positive message.”
“I’m all about the commonality, not the division. There’s plenty of division out there, and this is not a film about division.”
After watching the trailer, visit the Breaking Bread website for more information and to book your movie tickets.