Cafe Asif with a view of the local deli
Photo: Amit Geron

Welcome to Asif: Culinary Institute of Israel

A letter from our founder Naama Shefi

By Naama Shefi |

As founder of both Asif and the Jewish Food Society, I have dedicated my career to exploring the complex relationship of food and identity. 

I grew up on a small kibbutz in central Israel where all meals were eaten in a communal dining hall. Day after day, the dishes were simple and perfunctory. From an early age I knew that I wanted more from food than sustenance.

Naama Shefi, CEO & Founder of Asif
Photo: Matan Choufan

On the kibbutz there were just 14 cars for 600 members. To take a car meant that you were going somewhere important like a doctor’s appointment or to visit relatives. But I begged my parents to reserve a car so we could explore the country’s culinary diversity. I wanted to get to know the rich flavor of lamb in the neighboring Arab town Kfar Kassem, to find comfort in the smell of a hearty soup in the Yemenite Quarter in Tel Aviv, and taste schmaltz herring in Petach Tikvah. It wasn’t just about trying out new dishes, it was about connecting with people and cultures beyond the kibbutz. Food became a medium for identity exploration. 

Inside Asif: Culinary Institute of Israel
Photo: Amit Geron

Fifteen years ago, I moved to New York City — at a defining moment for Israeli cooking. Drawing on rich influences from across the Jewish Diaspora, regional Levantine and local Palestinian traditions, and a unique terroir, creative Israeli chefs were starting to develop an extraordinary kitchen that was attracting attention both domestically and internationally. 

In 2020, the pandemic halted the world, it forced me to think in a different way about community and the role food plays in it. I began to envision a place dedicated to nurturing Israel’s diverse food culture, where one could explore, create, engage in open, sometimes difficult conversation — and also eat. 

Today, that vision is Asif: Culinary Institute of Israel, a creative space online and in Tel Aviv in the home of our partner Start-Up Nation Central. We invite you to join us. Explore our library, a collection of more than 1500 books, carefully selected with the guidance of culinary experts such as author Claudia Roden, Dr. Johnny Mansur, TV personality Gil Hovav, and chef Michael Solomonov. Visit our gallery and its inaugural installation about the late First Lady of Israel Nechama Rivlin, curated by acclaimed journalist Ronit Vered. On the Asif Journal, you can also read various articles on topics ranging from exciting new food-tech companies to heirloom herbs growing on our rooftop garden. Or, hop over to our recipe page for dishes like Jaffa-style sayadieh and Erez Komarovsky’s za’atar and olive oil buns.  

Inside Asif: Culinary Institute of Israel
Photo: Amit Geron

If you’re local or visiting Tel Aviv, we hope you will stop by for a tour or an aperitivo of local cheese and wine at Cafe Asif, which is operated by our partners the Jaffa-based Puaa group. During your visit, you can also pick up artisanal jams, olive oil, and bread at their local deli. Most importantly, we hope you will join us in conversation and community. Everyone is welcome here.

See you soon!

Naama Shefi 

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