Joseph Korson: Using food as a tool for social change

Meet the Israeli chef who is on a mission to uncover and preserve Israel's diverse culinary heritage.
Israeli chef and activist Joseph Korson

Israeli chef and activist Joseph Korson is on a mission to promote culinary heritage and bring people together through food. With his passion for preserving cultural traditions and his extensive culinary background, Korson is working hard to establish Israeli cuisine as a global culinary contender.

Born and raised in Jerusalem, Korson’s journey to becoming a celebrated chef and food activist began in his mother’s restaurant.

From there, he honed his skills in some of the U.K.’s most prestigious kitchens, working alongside culinary legends like Raymond Blanc and Heston Blumenthal, before returning to Israel to take on the role of personal chef to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Korson’s love for food, however, extends far beyond just creating delicious dishes. He believes that food has the power to connect people and bring about social change. 

One of the aspects of Jewish culinary heritage that Korson is particularly passionate about is the lost food culture of the Holocaust. In the chaos and devastation of World War II, some families managed to save their family cookbooks, which were passed down from generation to generation.

Today, these cookbooks are stored in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem where they serve as a powerful reminder of communities that perished.

Pages of a cookbook kept at Yad Vashem

“They have an archive of cookbooks that people took with them to the camps. Now you imagine that they have minutes to take their most prized possessions, and they take their family cookbooks, handwritten, this is part of it, this lost knowledge,” Korson explained.

For Korson, these cookbooks are more than just a link to a lost culture and a way of life. Everyone who came to Israel has a food story.

“This lost knowledge, you know where we came from, this whole history of all these cultures that came here,” he explained. “Their stories are tied up in their food, and by telling their food stories, we’re telling their journey into Israel.”

By preserving this knowledge, Korson hopes to tell the stories of the people behind the food, and in doing so, connect people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Korson hopes to not only preserve their legacy but also to inspire a new generation of Israelis to connect with their roots and learn about the rich cultural heritage of their country.

As he explains: “Social activism is where food is my tool to bring people together. There are 74 cultures in Israel, and we know very little of our culinary identity.”

Korson’s mission is to uncover and preserve Israel’s diverse culinary heritage, which he believes has the potential to rival the best cuisines in the world. 

“Israel has that potential to be a nation of great cuisine rivaling France, rivaling Spain, rivaling the best in the world,” he explained. “The beauty of it is that it’s a truthful expression of the people.” 

For Korson, the true identity of Israeli cuisine lies in the dishes that are cooked in homes across the country, passed down from generation to generation. It’s through these dishes that the stories and traditions of Israel’s diverse population are preserved and celebrated.

Korson’s works with the Culinary Heritage Project, a non-profit organization that aims to collect and preserve culinary heritage. He believes that by bringing people together around food, we can bridge cultural divides and build a more inclusive society.

“Food is a language that everybody speaks, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what language you speak, what religion you follow, everybody eats.” 

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