Almost every review of Auckland's much-loved Israeli restaurant, Ima Cuisine, references the translation of its Hebrew name (it means 'mother' in English), discussing how much sense it makes in the context of owner and head chef Yael Shochat. It's hard to discuss Yael without reverting to the cliché, and indeed on Monday and Tuesday night, the stunning Miele Center Auckland quickly felt like her home kitchen, as though the 14 assembled guests were members of extended family invited for an informal but passionate chat about Yael's food.
Yael's approach to cuisine is unpretentious but devout. She's originally from Israel but has lived in London, and travelled extensively to remain inspired - not just by exotic dishes and ingredients - but by the culture in which they're embedded.
She's animated when discussing the political significance of dishes too without getting too deep into sensitive topics, but her thoughts were englightening and added to the feeling of attending a family dinner party. Each course was demonstrated by Yael and then served with matching Opawa wines - some at the kitchen bench and others at the dining table. It was a great chance to ask Yael any question that came to mind, and learn how Miele ovens and cooking appliances could make preparing this kind of menu an absolute doddle.
From start to finish these were two fantastic evenings with perfect food. Dish Food Editor Claire Aldous even went as far as to say Yael's lamb dish was one of the best she'd ever tasted, and that she couldn't eat enough dessert (Yael's deservedly famous Kanafeh - a cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup). Guests left with recipe cards covered in scribbles with tips of where to buy the best Israeli cooking equipment and produce, hopefully inspired to recreate the menu at home!
Eggplant dips and fresh pita
served with Nautilus Cuvee Brut NV
Spiced chickpea falafel balls in baby cos leaves with labneh and taboulli
served with Opawa Pinot Gris 2014
Slow-cooked Lebanese lamb with Arab rice, spicy tomato salad, Middle Eastern slaw, grilled carrot salad
served with Opawa Pinot Noir 2013
Yael’s famous Knafeh served with fresh mint tea