Two deserted prefabricated apartment buildings located in the center of this desert town that overlooks the Ramon Crater in the Negev were refurbished by the Isrotel hotel chain as part of an effort to enhance tourism in the area. Apartments were converted into hotel rooms and suites, with an emphasis on tasteful decor. The entrance foyers and areas surrounding the original buildings were rebuilt to form the public area and the 'back' of the hotel. Golden yellow Mitzpe marble floors, wooden pillars and reception desk, wrought iron furniture, a waterfall and a fireplace combine to give a serene friendly atmosphere.
The breakfast buffet includes ful [Egyptian] beans served with techina, lemon and pita, sachleb, home baked bread, and homemade fruit and vegetable preserves, and on Shabbat, jachnun. Patiently prepared couscous, (semolina grains) light and airy, each grain separated from the others, served with chicken and mixed vegetables features regularly in the dinner buffet. And all orchestrated by Joe, working alongside and just as hard as the other cooks, his sharp eyes watching over the kitchen and buffet, making sure that the standard of excellence is kept up daily.
Joe, no newcomer to the desert, started off his culinary career traveling around Colorado and Arizona after college. To get by, he washed dishes and prepared salads. Then he entered the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY where he received an associate degree in Culinary Arts in 1984. Joe then returned to Arizona to do his apprenticeship and went on to work in Bermuda and in Palm Beach, Fl.
The call to Israel was always there. Joe went to a Jewish day school in Buffalo NY till 7th grade and visited Israel with his grandmother when he was 11. In 1987, he decided to do a stint at the King David in Jerusalem, studied Hebrew at a kibbutz ulpan and from there he wandered southward into the desert. This time, to Eilat where he worked for five years at the King Solomon and the Sonesta Hotels.
Some six years ago, Joe was asked to come to the Ramon Inn where the management was determined to bring in top professionals from larger hotels. So Joe, his Jerusalem-born wife who is an educational psychologist, and their two daughters, now in junior high school, moved up north as far as the Central Negev. In his spare time, Joe jogs or rides his mountain bike through the desert.
In addition to the traditional indoor food service, a visitor to this geological wonder in the Negev can enjoy crater catering . A meal to order, planned to the last detail. Perhaps a gala dinner for 800 in the Ramon Crater, with shoulders of mutton on spits, spicy stuffed vegetables, or maybe a romantic sunset supper for two served by a waiter in Beduin dress standing by ready to pour wine or serve the next course, on the wall of the Nabatean city of Ein Saharonim. Another option is refreshing strong sweet tea in a Beduin tent at the end of a day's jeep trip along the Spice Route, followed by heaps of steamy rice crowned with chunks of roast mutton served on a tasa , a large copper tray, around which you sit with two or three friends on cushions or mattresses and eat Beduin-style, with your hands.
Planning and executing these customized meals in and around the Ramon Crater has become a specialty that Joe and the rest of the management of the Ramon Inn have developed. It allows flexibility in the planning of desert tours and an unmatched culinary experience for any visitor to the desert.
by Frank Zabow