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The executive chef at Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is known for his untraditional approach to Israeli cuisine—and his kosher Hanukkah wine pairings are no different.

Lane Nieset
December 15, 2017

During the Festival of Lights, oil may be the shining star of the meal, but the night wouldn’t be complete without another element rooted just as steeply in tradition: wine. Don’t think that keeping kosher means you’re limited to super sweet vino like Manischewitz. “Most people think that kosher wine is hard to find and tastes different than regular wine, but this is completely untrue,” says executive chef, Itzik Barak. “There’s a lot of great wine in Israel and excellent Kosher wines have been available for centuries. Wine is a very holy substance in the Jewish religion and that's why it needs to be kosher.”

Before taking the helm at the five-star Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel in 2014, the master chef cut his teeth in the culinary world the hard way: in his grandmother's kitchen. In addition to cooking at some of the finest kitchens across his home country, Jerusalem-born Barak has teamed up with chefs like Yos to craft menus that mix up tradition. In honor of Hanukkah, the duo share five of their favorite Israeli dishes that will add a new spin to your holiday spread—plus the perfect kosher wines to pair with each plate. 

Sweet Potato Latkes with Pulled BBQ Brisket Paired with Binyamina Cave 3L 2012

With every dish that I make during Hanukkah, you get a sense of the holiday because they’re served alongside latkes,” Barak explains. “We make a lot of latkes from all types of potatoes, zucchini and even celery root and combine them with fish and meat.” In this case, Barak is adding a Southern spin to one of the most traditional meat dishes served during Hanukkah: brisket. With this dish, Barak recommends a red wine hailing from the vineyards of the Upper Galilee, the Binyamina Cave 3L 2012, since “the dryness of this wine pairs well with the sweetness of the potato latke.” 

Fried Chicken Thighs with Za’atar Waffles Paired with Yatir Forest 2012

During Hanukkah, dishes fried in oil are a reminder of the small amount of sacred oil that miraculously burned for eight days in Jerusalem’s Second Temple. Fried food doesn’t have to be limited to classics like latkes and doughnuts, though. Embrace another fried duo favorite—chicken and waffles—adding an Israeli touch with za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix. The deep crimson Yatir Forest 2012, the winery’s flagship wine, “really allows diners to experience the taste of the spice from the za’atar used in the waffles,” Barak says.

Veal Schnitzel Paired with Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2003

Wiener schnitzel may be a Viennese specialty, but the fried dish made its way over to Israel in the early 19th century with Jewish immigrants who switched up veal for a more affordable and widespread option: chicken. Chicken schnitzel has not only become an Israeli staple, it’s also made its way stateside on menus of award-winning eateries like New Orleans’ Shaya. If you’re sticking with tradition, Barak recommends the Domaine du Castel Grand Vin, an Israeli red made in similar fashion as French Bordeaux, with deep, complex notes that bring out the flavor of the breaded veal.

Black Truffle-infused Potato Latkes with Cranberry Apple Sauce Paired with Jezreel Valley Chardonnay 2014

Even plain potato latkes are anything but boring in Barak’s kitchen as the chef introduces decadent infusions like black truffle. As for a wine that plays up the fruitiness of the cranberry apple sauce while still letting the richness of the black truffle shine through the starchy latkes, chef Barak recommends a classic dry Chardonnay like Jezreel Valley, crafted from handpicked grapes harvested on Jerusalem’s hills.

Sufganiyot with Raspberry Jelly Topped with Candied Maple Lamb "Bacon" Paired with Psâgot Rosé 2016

Sufganiyot, Israeli jelly-filled doughnuts, are usually doused in powdered sugar, but Barak replaces the typical topping with a kosher version of candied bacon. And just when you thought rosé season was fini, Chef Barak brings back this summertime staple, transforming it into the ultimate dessert wine to pour alongside these gastronomic goodies. 

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