Baking bread as a meetup

The steamy kitchen was filled with the heady scent of baking bread, while giddy young Jewish professionals stood around in pristine white aprons, drinking from tumblers full of rosy pink pomegranate lemonade. 

Some seemed at ease among the electric mixers and cutting boards, while others were more bewildered by the menagerie of ingredients and tools. But what mattered for people like Jeffrey Melnick was that they were out having fun with other Jews their age.

“I chose to do this because I like cooking, and I wanted to meet some other young Jewish adults,” said Melnick, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. “I had searched for things to do on the Internet, found the YALA [Young Adults of Los Angeles] Web site, saw the cooking class, and so I joined it.”

YALA — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ programming arm for young adults — helped organize the Aug. 28 Rosh Hashanah cooking class at Sur La Table at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles, along with Federation’s JCC Without Walls initiative.

Rabbi Alyson Solomon, vice president of special projects at Federation, helps coordinate JCC Without Walls. Its mission is to create Jewish activities for young couples in their 20s and 30s, as well as families with young children, where they live, work and play. In this case, organizers tried to do that by bringing together food, Judaism and culture.

“People are very interested in this sort of thing, and it lets people get in touch with their heritage and spirituality in a more hands-on way than simply going to services,” Solomon said.

The evening commenced with a timely honey tasting with sliced apples. In fact, each participant went home with a jar of artisanal honey, along with a packet of recipes from the class.

Chef Marissa Ayala led the group through the steps of cooking a four-course holiday meal, and demonstrated the baking technique for a rosemary-currant challah as well. The menu included roasted sweet potatoes with fresh figs, baby spinach salad with dates and almonds, pistachio-crusted sea bass and, finally, chocolate and cherry gelato.

Despite the relatively small cooking quarters in Sur La Table’s back room, everyone seemed to work well together — delegating various cooking tasks while chatting about life and food.

Jocelyn Orloff, senior director of YALA, a group focused on young professionals ages 25-40, said the hope was to appeal to a generation looking for something different at this time of year.

“We partnered with JCC Without Walls for this event knowing that there are young adults looking for High Holy Days experiences that are out of the box,” she said. “Finding a way to use cooking and food as an opportunity to learn within the community is great.”

Although this was the first Rosh Hashanah cooking class hosted by JCC Without Walls, it wasn’t the first time it’s drawn people to the kitchen. The group hosted Passover classes at Sur La Table over the past two years.

This particular evening drew 28 people, each of whom signed up early and paid $50 for the class. Participants were a mishmash of area natives and newcomers, including a former Jewish organizational leader from the Bay Area, and a military veteran who recently transplanted to Los Angeles.

“I think the turnout tonight is great,” Solomon said. “I’m excited that we have such a full group of folks. Personally, I’m really interested in where these people are coming from and where are they going after this. Like, how will this be part of their journey? And hopefully, it will maybe inspire them to try something new or think about something differently.”