By Judith Sudilovsky
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — When Casa Nova head Chef Elias Akroush, 33, learned that Pope Francis would be lunching with five Palestinian families at the pilgrim guesthouse where he directs the kitchen, he knew he would turn to his best friend, pastry chef Peter Korfiatis, 48, to help him with the dessert.
Both men are Catholic, and while this is the first time Akroush will serve a pope, Kortiatis also prepared a desert for St. John Paul II during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The two friends started working together May 24 to prepare the meal that will feed 70 people and fit the customary request of the pope: that the food be simple and representative of the local cuisine.
Akroush said he wanted to make a special meal for “the best pope,” with fresh local produce highlighting the areas’ herbs and cheeses.
The two men finalized the menu two weeks ago: a first course of cracked wheat patties stuffed with cheese and herbs, a farmer’s salad of tomatoes, onions, the traditional za’atar herb spice blend, olive oil, and figs stuffed with ground beef, pine nuts, almonds and walnuts. A date sauce will be served on the side.
The second course will consist of penne pasta with a tomato sauce as per the pope’s request, then Akroush will serve the Argentine pope a beef fillet with grilled vegetables and herbs and a baked potato.
“This is all that we farm in Palestine,” he said. “I am not afraid of serving him meat. I know he is very humble.”
Dessert will be homemade baklava rolls prepared by Korfiatis with crisp filo dough stuffed with walnuts, pistachios, cinnamon, rosewater, sugar and honey, then soaked in a special syrup of water, honey and lemon. On the side there will be three different flavors of his friend’s homemade Italian gelato ice creams: chocolate, pure milk, and a special pistachio flavor Akroush developed with a master ice cream maker from Italy.
“For me it is a big honor to make the dessert plate for Pope Francis,” Korfiatis said. “It is a very unique day for a cook, and it is a very unique person visiting us.”
Korfiatis said he hoped he would have the chance to shake the pontiff’s hand.
Akroush said he was not nervous preparing the meal. The only difficulty, he said, was having to keep things simple.
“Everything is under control. Though it will be difficult, it will be done with love and pleasure. It is a way for the pope to know how much we care for him and how much we love him,” said Akroush.