Macrobiotic principles fit Sukkot meals

Lee Gross, 31, and Ben Newman grew up together in New York. Both loved Hebrew school and dreamed of going to rabbinical school. Twenty years later, their spiritual journeys took them on different professional paths. Newman is a rabbi. Gross is executive chef of M Café de Chaya on Melrose.

However, they are linked by a common belief in the macrobiotic principle that a peaceful, mindful and purposeful existence begins with eating a diet of whole, organic foods that are seasonally appropriate. The seasonal aspect of contemporary macrobiotic cuisine seems to fit Sukkot perfectly, because it is a harvest holiday focused on food and hospitality and is set in an temporary exterior dwelling.

According to Newman, who serves as a consultant to M Café de Chaya and is a Reconstructionist rabbi in Scarsdale, N.Y, “The foods that we eat on Sukkot and the vegetables that we use to decorate the sukkah are traditionally seasonal and local, which mirrors the macrobiotic philosophy. Just as macrobiotics tries to help us remember where our food comes from and to be conscious of what we put in our body, so, too, does the celebration of Jewish agriculturally based holidays, such as Sukkot.”

Remembering his Hebrew school days, chef Gross noted that the Torah not only commands us to have a sukkah roofed with organic materials but also mandates that each sukkah meal must include at least two ounces of grains. All other foods — meat, fruit, vegetables, beverages, etc. — do not constitute a meal and may be combined outside the sukkah. Whole grains are one of the key ingredients of Gross’ menu at M Café de Chaya.

Gross’ voyage to Melrose Avenue parallels his curiosity for spiritual meaning in life. After receiving traditional culinary training the University of Providence, Gross was readying himself to become a chef at five-star restaurants. He worked with notables such as Daniel Bruce at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Philippe Jeanty at Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley, and the famed Al Forno restaurant in Providence, under the tutelage of George Germon and Johanne Killeen.

While these jobs satisfied his passion for food and haute cuisine, Gross’ goal was to combine his social ideals and personal ethics. He began studying the relationship between food, health and the environment at an intensive macrobiotics program at he Kushi Institute, from which he made the commitment to build a new cuisine inspired both by his classical training and ecological and health imperatives.

After meeting in 2001 with celebrity macrobiotic counselor Mina Dobic, Gross became Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal chef. As he traveled the globe, he incorporated dishes from Spain, Italy, Japan, India and England into his repertoire. He also further developed French patisserie items that do not contain refined sugars, eggs or dairy but taste just as good.

The concept of M Café de Chaya was born after a chance encounter in Japan with the Tsunoda family. The family has owned Chaya restaurants in Japan for more than 30 years. Shigefumi Tachibe, executive chef and owner of Chaya U.S., recruited Gross to develop M Café de Chaya, which opened in May 2005.

Located on Melrose Avenue, just west of La Brea Avenue, glass encasings display appetizing and beautiful dishes ranging from traditional bento boxes, paninis (with tofu mozzarella) and French-inspired tarts and patisseries. My personal favorite is the daily selection of salads (particularly the celeri remoulade), sushi and edamame croque-en-bouche (small potato shell bites filled with edamame). Diners can sit at small tables or a large communal table. The atmosphere is both trendy and comfortable.

While the restaurant does not use red meat or dairy, it is not kosher and, in the macrobiotic tradition, serves both fish and shellfish.

However, Gross gave me a few recipes that can be prepared in a kosher kitchen.
Both Newman and Gross describe M Café de Chaya as “eco-kashrut” for “down-to-earth Judaism.” They both add that there need to be more health-conscious elements to kosher cuisine than just not mixing meat and milk and avoiding pork and shellfish.

Wild Scottish smoked salmon Benedict with soy Hollandaise

Recipe by Lee Gross, adapted by