On October 29, we marked Health and Fitness Month with our first healthy cooking competition. Senior IDF (Zahal) officer: “The IDF (Zahal)’s main job is to support and provide for its soldiers in combat. My job is to impact the health of these soldiers.”

Nine teams from various IDF (Zahal) units throughout Israel joined together to compete in a healthy cooking competition, aimed at bringing healthy food to soldiers and instilling an all-around healthy lifestyle on IDF (Zahal) bases. Each team consisted of three people – a head chef at an IDF (Zahal) base, an IDF (Zahal) chef in reserves and an IDF (Zahal) soldier currently in his or her regular service.

Top Chefs Face Off in First-Ever IDF (Zahal) Cooking Competition

Captain Yafit Edri, who organized the event, explained the process of the competition and her hope to spread healthy cooking habits to IDF (Zahal) bases. “There are two parts to this competition,” Cpt. Edri said. “The creation of the meal, and how it is delivered to the judges.” When asked on how this competition has changed in recent years, Cpt. Edri said: “We have had an IDF (Zahal)-wide cooking competition for nine years, and this is the first time since its inception that its focus is to factor in healthy ingredients.”

Top Chefs Face Off in First-Ever IDF (Zahal) Cooking Competition

The morning of the competition, after teams were given a variety of ingredients for their use, each team had to create a recipe for an appetizer, an entree and a dessert, all of which had to be permitted by the IDF (Zahal)’s head chef and a professional nutritionist, who assisted each team in ensuring that their recipes matched the health requirements of Israel’s military.

When asked about the competition’s ultimate goal, Cpt. Edri responded: “The IDF (Zahal)’s main job is to support and provide for its soldiers in combat. My job is to impact the health of these soldiers, to impact what a soldier gets on his plate and to ensure that he or she is of the highest health standards.”

Top Chefs Face Off in First-Ever IDF (Zahal) Cooking Competition

Captain Simo Cohen, the IDF (Zahal)’s head chef, served as a mentor to all teams, and was also on the panel of judges – which included notable names from top IDF (Zahal) commanders, such as the commander of the Ba’ad 6 Military School, to former winners of Israel’s popular show, Master Chef. “Every command being represented here is performing at a very high standard,” Cpt. Cohen said. “I have a feeling that the margin between first, second and third place winners will be very small.” Echoing Cpt. Edri’s sentiments, Cpt. Cohen explained that the purpose of this competition is to bring it back to the field. “The lessons learned in this competition will have no impact if we use healthy ingredients that are not offered in the kitchens of all IDF (Zahal) bases, which is why we use ingredients that every IDF (Zahal) chef in every IDF (Zahal) base has access to year-round.”

Top Chefs Face Off in First-Ever IDF (Zahal) Cooking Competition

The winning team was the Northern Command, led by Major Yaki Malka, head chef at a base in Israel’s north. The winning team’s meals were: Bakala fish on a bed of tahini and lettuce for an appetizer; an entree featuring stuffed chicken breast with a wine and beet sauce on couscous; and, for dessert, carrot cake with glazed apples.

Top Chefs Face Off in First-Ever IDF (Zahal) Cooking Competition

First place team: Northern Command

When asked about the day’s events, Maj. Malka’s response was simply: “interesting, demanding, tiring – but we learned a lot.” As head chef, Maj. Malka ensures everyone in his kitchen is working together and satisfied, even spending time together outside of the kitchen. “The workers in my kitchen are very intertwined,” Maj. Malka said. “From Shabbat dinners to vacations, our families spend a lot of time together. We make sure the kitchen is not just a place of work but also a place of warmth.”

As the first of its kind, this competition proved to be an important step forward for IDF (Zahal) soldiers across Israel. Cpt. Edri emphasized that, when IDF (Zahal) bases make healthy food, the result will be healthy soldiers. “As you can see, people are working on this as we speak. It is a long process, but we are headed in the right direction.”

Top Chefs Face Off in First-Ever IDF (Zahal) Cooking Competition