Old Macdonald Had a Farm

Michal Zamrany returned from Havat HaTavlinim, where she ate, among other things, ''a dish of stuffed appetizers which constitutes a celebration of taste. Excellent, excellent, excellent…''

E-I-E-I-O… And on this farm he had a fine restaurant with a pleasure-filled menu. Michal Zamrany returned from Havat HaTavlinim, where she ate, among other things, ''a dish of stuffed appetizers which constitutes a celebration of taste. On the one side – an eggplant stuffed with a delightful mixture of salty cheeses, sweet raisins and pine seeds, in a creamy sauce. On the other side – triangle-shaped baked phyllos (filo) served hot and stuffed with cheese, with a dominant taste of zaatar (a spice popular in the middle-east) and a mild level of spiciness. Excellent, excellent, excellent…''

This morning we went off to pet kangaroos. ''Gan-guru'' (''gan'' being the Hebrew word for ''garden'')’ located in the Kibbutz of Beit-Alpha is seemingly meant to cater to children. However, we too truly enjoyed feeding and petting the domesticated pack of kangaroos, which has grown accustomed to the company of humans. Our vacation is coming to an end. Five days of sensory-overload have gone by, and we have decided to devote the final day to pure enjoyment. So after some time with the kangaroo, the hedge maze in the yard, and the mind-challenging games scattered on the floor, we chose to treat ourselves to one more unforgettable experience. The restaurant at Havat HaTavlinim (the Herb Farm) is located a mere 10 minutes of drive-time from there, and when it comes to all things culinary is said to be the best-of-the-best of Emek Yizrael (Jezreel Valley) restaurants, as well as a place offering a pampering-experience like no other in the region. So we were told. We were told the truth.

We were joined at our table, which faces the Valley, by Oren, the son of Pnina and Joseph Mas. These days, Oren is the acting manager of the restaurant. He starts us off with a speedy geography lesson: Givat Hamora (Hamora Hill) is over this way, the town of Afula is over that way, and, above that hill over there, lies the much-talked-about security barrier. From here, his story naturally flows to that of the Mas family. The family arrived in the region in 1982 after being vacated from their home in Sadot (in the South of Israel), as part of the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. The area on which the Herb Farm stands today was bare back in those days. The Patriarch, Joseph Mas, a farmer and a prospering homesteader in Sadot decided to try and apply his accumulated knowledge from down south to the farming of this northern land. ''It took 12 years of despair for him to get this restaurant off the ground,'' tells Oren, ''and all that you see here – he put together with his own hands. Setting up a phone line, laying out electrical wiring … the caravan in which the kitchen operates today was our home for a number of years. In the first few years we had to use a generator for electricity and bring in water using a tractor. Today it is all real nice here but it took a lot of work.''

After some time, when it looked like the farm would not live up to its financial expectations, the idea of the restaurant arose. Pnina and Joseph Mas took what remained of their funds and traveled to Scotland in order to study herb-farming. They hired Chef Uri Gutman to help them put together the initial menu. Pnina Mas, a vegan by ideology, was declared Chef. She studied the basics, advanced her education in Provence, New York, and London, experimented on her own quite a bit, and slowly-but-surely developed her own style, which is well-reflected in the current menu. The establishment was an instant success. ''We were the first to serve carpaccio or foie gras,'' recalls Oren. ''So, to this day, we are thought of in the valley as being pricey, even though we have a varied menu and worthwhile business specials, and so they come to us only for special occasions. Today, 75% of our clientele comes from the area between Netanya and Rishon LeZiyon (2 coastal towns in central Israel).'' Over time, the Herb Farm took on the hosting of special events. Adja