Football chef with a recipe for cup glory

Golan Israeli gets a kick from cooking for top Israeli clubs.

By Anthea Gerrie, August 20, 2009
Nice silverware: Golan Israeli travels to Europe with Maccabi Haifa

Nice silverware: Golan Israeli travels to Europe with Maccabi Haifa

He is a Tel Aviv hotel chef not a striker, but two Israeli football clubs regard Golan Israeli as their secret weapon.

The 35-year-old’s hummus and kosher steaks are regarded as indispensable by two of Israel’s top teams — Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Netanya — and he even travels abroad with them to Europe.

“I hope their games won’t be at the same time, but if they are, I will have to go with one of them, and probably send one of my sous-chefs with the other.” The conflict never arises when the teams play each other. “I stay away from both teams and watch the game on TV,” says Israeli.

Current champions Maccabi Haifa consider Israeli’s own base, the Moriah Plaza Tel Aviv, formerly known as the Sheraton Moriah, their official “home” hotel, checking in the day before every game in the centre or south of the country. Their pre-match menus are put entirely in the hands of Israeli, who has built a reputation at the hotel for his international fare thanks to a stint cooking at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.

But foreign muck is the last thing either of his team wants when they travel abroad: “They ask me to cook for them because they really miss the authentic taste of home,” he explains.

“The Israeli palate demands dominant flavours that are often missing in Europe, and in order to play a good game it’s very important to the players to be able to eat the food they’re used to getting every day at home.

“In Israel you can get that style of food when you’re not in your own house, but in European hotels it’s unknown.”

Being a hotel veteran, Israeli finds it no problem to whip up meals for the full team contingent of 36 which ticks all the boxes for coaches as well as tickling the tastebuds of the players: “I have to give them food rich in carbohydrates but low in fat, which is a challenge,” he explains.

“They love meat, and I love cooking it. They ask for entrecote steak all the time. But they’re not allowed beef before a game, because it takes too much energy to digest, so I have to turn them on to alternatives; my favourite is slow-cooked lamb osso buco.

“I also cook chicken, lots of vegetables and I make an huge amount of salad.”

But vegetarianism is not an option for football players, it seems: “With all the energy they expend, carbohydrates and even fish are not enough. I always take kosher meat and chicken abroad so that even the most observant players can have it every night.”

Golan also carries the ingredients for his special home-made hummus. Raw tahini goes into the soaked chick-pea puree, along with plenty of garlic and other ingredients. It also makes a base for tasty salad dressing.

Like every Jewish boy who can cook, Golan credits his mother with fuelling his inspiration: “She cooks really excellent and tasty food.

“When I decided to turn my hobby into a profession, I studied at the Dan hotel school and also took courses in France, Switzerland, the USA and Asia.

“But it’s hard to beat Israeli food — I don’t know where else you get that same combination of super-fresh ingredients, a spicy edge but at the same time a taste of home cooking. And that’s what the boys want before the kick-off.”

Last updated: 4:31pm, August 20 2009