Review: Arab Israeli chef makes sumptuous culinary activism in ‘Breaking Bread’

A woman at a kitchen table with a teacup and a plate of cookies.
Nof Atamna-Ismaeel in the documentary “Breaking Bread.”
(Cohen Media Group)

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It may not be so quixotic as to suggest the Middle East conflict could be resolved over a plate of creamy hummus, but the vibrant culinary documentary “Breaking Bread” nevertheless makes a mouthwatering case for dinner table diplomacy.

With personable microbiologist-turned-celebrity chef Nof Atamna-Ismaeel serving as exuberant tour guide (she was the first Palestinian Muslim Arab to win Israel’s “MasterChef” competition), the film’s centerpiece is her three-day A-Sham festival, an annual gathering of paired Jewish and Arab Israeli chefs who collaborate on special menu items served at 35 Haifa eateries.


Among them: Shlomi Meir, whose 60-year-old Eastern European restaurant was founded by his late grandfather, and Ali Khattib, whose specialties honor his grandmother’s Syrian heritage, with both sharing a passionate appetite for discovering new flavors and techniques as well as the firm belief that there’s no room for politics in the kitchen.

Given those cramped prep spaces, it’s enough of a challenge to turn out the sheer variety of items on display, but Los Angeles-based Beth Elise Hawk, making her directorial debut, ensures cinematographer Ofer Ben Yehuda is poised to capture every delectable entrée, from mussakhan (Palestinian roasted sumac chicken atop a bed of caramelized onions) to Atamna-Ismaeel’s manti (delicate lamb dumplings), with alluring, food porn precision.

And that’s not counting the various manifestations of hummus, which proves as versatile as Bubba Gump shrimp.

Although the indefatigable Atamna-Ismaeel concedes that there are places in Israel that are not as culturally enlightened as cosmopolitan Haifa, she has adopted the late Anthony Bourdain’s contention that “food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s a start” as her life’s mission, one dish at a time.

‘Breaking Bread’

In English and Hebrew with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 4, Landmark Nuart, Los Angeles