Last year a Spanish friend of mine invited me and some other friends for lunch at the Notre Dame, https://www.notredamecenter.org/, a well known place in Jerusalem. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that our group was directed to a restaurant hall behind the main entrance and not, as I expected, to one of the two restaurants I knew at Notre Dame, Allegro or Wine Bar.
This is how I discovered that Notre Dame has a school for chefs called PPHS (Professional Promotion Hospitality Section), http://notredamepphs.org/, where Muslim and Christian students train side by side to become chefs who will work in the restaurant itself or in other structures in the tourism field.
This is how it works: a student is assigned a table, and he has to take care of the guests accompanying them through the meal and making sure they are thoroughly satisfied with the experience. The student who took care of our table was a lovely and extremely kind girl, who started out by asking us what we wanted to drink: orange juice or water? Wine is obviously banned!
She then proceeded to take us through the meal, which is composed by three courses: appetizers, a main course and dessert. She explained in details how the dishes were prepared, what are the ingredients, and any other fact or anecdote linked to them. We were attentive and focused because we knew at the end we would be required to fill up a questionnaire about the meal.
This is indeed an important part of the experience. Students can learn from clients’ feedback and critiques, because the comments of the guests touch upon every aspect of the meal: accuracy of the service, food, food quality, presentation of the dishes, balance between flavours, and professionalism of the student.
There is no other postgraduate centre in Jerusalem offering this kind of training. The concept is fascinating because the cost of the meal is kept low (35 nis, about 8 euros) so as to encourage a wide variety of clients to try the experience. This in turn translates into a solid feedback that includes many different tastes.
Though I guess it is not always easy to be neutral and strict in the feedback, which sometimes must include a bit of critique, the idea is that the learning process that starts in the kitchen finds its complement in a professional relationship with the guests. It is therefore important to point out as much as possible in which areas the students need improving.
I find it very interesting that the students can train themselves preparing their dishes as if they were professional chefs, and that they can test themselves with a real public. It is a win-win situation because guests can taste (almost always) delicious recipes at a very low cost.
You can build peace at a table, too. Food is an extraordinary channel of communication and to share identities. It does not only represent a powerful symbol of belonging, but also an efficient way to get in contact with others. Food and table favour socialization and mutual understanding much more than spoken words do. In this place of conflict, we must use anything that can give us hope.