An Israeli celebrity chef is accused of stepping out of line after serving Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dessert out of a metal shoe during a formal dinner with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.
Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, were guests of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, at their residence when chef Moshe Segev served chocolates in faux footwear.
Many saw the shoes’ use as serving dishes, though perhaps avant-garde, as being in extremely poor taste, since it’s a popular Japanese custom to remove shoes before entering homes, temples and certain restaurants for sanitary reasons.
“There’s no culture in the world in which you put shoes on the table,” Israel’s daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot quoted an unidentified Japanese diplomat as saying, according to a translation by The Washington Post. “What was the distinguished chef thinking? If it was humor, we don’t think it is funny; we were offended on behalf of our prime minister.”
Yediot Aharonot also quoted an unidentified senior Israeli official as calling the object’s choice “insensitive.”
“There is nothing lowlier than a shoe in Japanese culture. Not only do they not wear shoes at home, you also won’t find shoes in their offices. This is disrespect of the first order,” the paper said.
Segev showcased his work on Instagram, and some commenters branded his use of the ersatz brogues “disgusting” “uneducated” and “ignorant.”
He chose the shoes from British interior design company Tom Dixon Studio, which describes them on its website as cast aluminum and suggests employing them as doorstops.
A spokesperson for Segev defended the dessert in question in an emailed statement to HuffPost on Wednesday.
“The dessert was served inside a sculpture by international artist Tom Dixon, whose works are displayed in major museums around the world and for the first time was displayed in Israel at a meal,” the statement said. “The two prime ministers and their wives were very enthusiastic about the meal and the dessert in particular, applauded and cheered the chef. The Japanese prime minister even went so far as to invite the chef to cook in Japan.”
Segev is known to give an artistic flair to his culinary work.
A year ago, he created edible chesspieces as part of the dessert for the Netanyahus, President Donald Trump and Melania Trump during a formal dinner. Those pieces were served on plates that featured the two leaders’ silhouettes.
Whether Segev knew about the taboo involving shoes at a dinner table is not known. His restaurant did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Other photos posted to his Instagram page in March raise questions about his understanding of cultural appropriation, with him and his wife shown partying in a Native American–style costumes, with him in a feathered headdress.
This story has been updated with a comment from a Segev spokesperson.