Pravasi Bharatiya Samman 2023 awardee Reena Pushkarna has an intriguing feather in her cap. The Indian chef’s restaurant in Tel Aviv, Tandoori, was the place where Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu met his wife, Sara. And a few years later, it was the venue for an informal peace dialogue between Israel and Palestine. Pushkarna shoulders her varied roles as a restaurateur, entrepreneur and member of the diaspora enthusiastically, showcasing Indian cuisine and culture, melding local fresh produce with Indian spices, and furthering ties between India and Israel. Excerpts from an interview with Pravasi Indians:
How does it feel to be one of the 27 Pravasi Bharatiya Samman 2023 awardees? You were awarded in the Business and Community Welfare category…
I am truly honoured and humbled to be among the 27 individuals recognised with the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman 2023 by H.E. the President of India, Mrs Draupadi Murmu, at the 17th edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Indore in January this year. The award is validation of the hard work and dedication that I have put into my business and community service, and it is encouragement to continue making a positive impact in society. It is also recognition of the role of the Indian diaspora in contributing to the growth and development of the country, and I am proud to be a part of this global community.
I believe that entrepreneurship is not just about building successful businesses but also about giving back to the community and making a positive difference in people’s lives. Through my work, I have always striven to create opportunities for others, support local communities, and promote the culture and heritage of India. Receiving the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman is a reminder of the responsibility that comes with being an entrepreneur and a member of the Indian diaspora. I will continue to work towards creating a better future for all and contributing to the growth and development of my country.
You started your restaurant, Tandoori, in Tel Aviv in 1983, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first met Sara, now his wife. Also, you hosted a dinner for Prime Minister Modi in July 2017 at the Israeli premier’s residence…
As the founder of Tandoori, the restaurant where Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, first met, and as the host of a dinner for Prime Minister Modi at the Israeli premier’s residence, it is indeed an honour to have played a role in these high-profile meetings. To be at the centre of such important events is a testament to the hard work and dedication that we have put into my business and to the relationships that we have built over the years. It is a proud moment for me as an entrepreneur and as an Indian to have played a small part in the diplomatic relations between India and Israel.
I believe that food and hospitality can bring people together, and it is heartening to see that my restaurant has been a witness to some historic moments. It is a reminder that as entrepreneurs we have a role to play in promoting cross-cultural understanding and building bridges between nations. Overall, it is a great feeling to have contributed to these meetings, and I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. I hope that my restaurant will continue to serve as a meeting point for people from all walks of life and that it will continue to play a role in fostering positive relations between India and Israel.
As a celebrity chef, fondly called ‘Curry Queen,’ you have won this prestigious Indian award which shows how the power of food and culture brings people together.
As someone who has dedicated her life to promoting Indian cuisine and culture, I am extremely honoured and humbled to have won this award that in this instance has recognised the power of food and culture in bringing people together. Receiving this award is not just a personal achievement, it is also a recognition of the role that food and culture play in building bridges between nations and promoting cross-cultural understanding. Through my work, I have always tried to showcase the diversity and richness of Indian cuisine and to promote the use of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
I believe that food has the power to connect people and to transcend cultural boundaries. It is a universal language that can bring people together, and it is heartening to see that my work has been recognised for its contribution to this cause. Overall, winning this award has been a validation of my life’s work, and it is a reminder that there is still much work to be done in promoting the culinary traditions of India and in fostering greater understanding and appreciation of different cultures around the world.
Tandoori was also the venue for informal peace talks between Israel and Palestine during the 1990s. Your two restaurants, Tandoori in Tel Aviv and Kohinoor in Jerusalem, which specialise in Indian cuisine, have been in the limelight. Would you like to dwell on your journey as a restaurateur in Israel?
My journey in Israel has been a fascinating one, marked by numerous highlights and historic moments. Tandoori and Kohinoor have played a significant role in promoting Indian cuisine and culture in the region and have been witness to some significant events.
One of the most memorable moments in the history of Tandoori was when it served as the venue for an informal peace initiative between Israel and Palestine during the 1990s. It was a remarkable experience to see how food and hospitality could help bring people together and pave the way for meaningful dialogue.
Over the years, my restaurants have also been recognised for their outstanding cuisine and service, and they have become a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. I am proud to have been part of the culinary landscape in Israel and to have played a small part in promoting cultural exchange and understanding. One of the unique aspects of my restaurants is the use of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients that are blended with traditional Indian spices and flavours. This has helped to create a distinct identity for Indian cuisine in the region and has also helped to showcase the diversity and richness of Indian culinary traditions.
Overall, my journey as a chef in Israel has been an incredible one, marked by many highs and lows. Through it all, I have remained committed to promoting Indian cuisine and culture, and I am grateful for the opportunities to do so. I hope that my restaurants will continue to serve as a meeting place for people from all walks of life and that they will continue to play a role in promoting cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.