Sharing everyday meals was an essential aspect of spiritual life on the Israeli kibbutz where Shoham Yaniv grew up. “Everything was done collectively and shared,” said Yaniv, who assisted his mother in managing the kitchen, which often had to fill the plates of 500 communal workers with traditional Jewish meals. Now he’s filling Santa Barbara’s gap in really good Jewish food with his business, Sababa Catering, whose motto is, “It’s all good.”
“I don’t look to compete with the big catering companies in town,” said Yaniv last week. “I try to keep to my niche because that’s generally who likes my food, but my arms are open to everybody.”
However involved Yaniv may be in the kitchen, he does not call himself a chef, or even a cook. He prefers to label himself more as a maker of good food. “I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I want people to be happy with my food and have a good time.”
He carries this attitude into the kitchen, as well. “I always cook barefoot. I got that from being a little kid running around with no shoes,” he said. “I guess my heart is still in Israel.”
Here are some favorites from Yaniv’s menu, which he will present in Oak Park on May 3 at the Santa Barbara Jewish Festival.
Hot Pastrami or Corned Beef on Rye: It’s served with organic dill coleslaw, a kosher pickle, and Russian dressing; but Yaniv warned, “There’s no Katz Deli in Israel, and you would never find something called a Jewish deli. Israel is a rich melting pot, and the food is cherry-picked from many different places.”
Middle Eastern Vegetarian Plate: This is offered as Israeli salad, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, and Moroccan carrot salad. “The really neat thing about Israeli cooking is that it’s really just fresh ingredients,” said Yaniv, who’s known at the Farmers Markets for shopping in nothing more than a pair of board shorts.
Fresh Hummus Platter: It’s topped with zatar and olive oil and served with pita chips. He explained, “It’s the simple things, when done well, that can be the most delicious.”