‘Chef’ and the redefining of starving artist
Talk about food for the Seoul.
For decades, writer/director/actor Jon Favreau has been a staple in the film world, indie and beyond. All over the map, he appeared alongside Keanu Reeves in The Replacements and in other kooks like Daredevil, then turned around and directed the likes of Elf and Iron Man, leaving no waters uncharted.
But his 1996 breakthrough Swingers is responsible for launching him, alongside Vince Vaughn, into their celebrities today. Ripe with risk and resolve, Swingers is the cult classic that gave Favreau his early street cred. He wrote Chef in just a few weeks, about the same time he took to write Swingers, further mounting evidence that the most candid and sincere creations come from a free-flowing and unedited union of heart and mind.
He can also lasso a stacked cast — with Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. gracing the bill. But that the powerhouses have only minor roles embodies Chef’s courage and refreshing self-esteem, further contributing to its multifaceted authenticity.
Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) is a renegade in the culinary industry, respected for both his expertise and fearlessness in the kitchen. His top-doggedness comes complete with a lovable and loyal staff, and independence the rule of thumb in day-to-day kitchen operations. He makes a decent living as chef de cuisine at a Los Angeles restaurant, serving upscale comfort food to patrons the majority of which are happy to fork over an extra $100 to substitute the green beans for haricots verts. As par for the course, he has an unrealized relationship with his son (Emjay Anthony) and a suggestive one with his hostess (Johansson). He’s divorced to a Miami mami (Sofia Vergara), but she isn’t bitter and they remain friends. Things are fine.
Until the most respected food blogger in the city, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), writes a review as hurtful as his reputation is oxymoronic. He calls out @ChefCarlCasper for his unapologetic neediness manifested in a caviar egg “meant to impress the country club brunch crowd,” and posits that his “dramatic weight gain is best explained by the fact that he must be eating all the food sent back to the kitchen.”
Chefs, as all artists, are a sensitive people. Despite Carl’s intuitive backlash against serving the traditional menu Ramsey is ultimately treated to, which included fan-favorites French onion soup and a filet, rounded out with true-blue chocolate lava cake, he let himself be convinced by the restaurant owner Riva (Hoffman) to “play the hits.”
But Ramsey can’t be bought with uninspired plates of yesteryear, so up went the review and down went Carl. Tweets were catapulted, ganache lava strewn and publicists summoned.
Chef is a movement, an homage to a punk-rock mentality where the only way to create from a true heart without constraints of the corporate stronghold is to burn down the establishment and start again with the ashes. Only when you’re truly lost can you start to find yourself — and Carl’s rude awakening from his safe and half-hearted complacency finds him rubbing his eyes open to a versatile domain without those constraints, with the people who matter most.
Growing up in an Italian and Jewish family, the film industry veteran has early emotional attachments to the romance of food. His inspiration was born from the inherent similarities between the restaurant business and the filmmaking business. If ever there was a clan of artists who lamented the value of commercial success over creative fulfillment as much as filmmakers, it’s the chefs. What begins as a journey of constant discovery and endless opportunity for growth, be it in the kitchen behind a saucepan or on set behind a camera, is traded in for a repetitive, mundane ride on the respective industry’s Lazy Susan. As Carl bemoans his restaurant’s creative rut, citing a menu that hasn’t changed in five years, Riva — the owner, the bank, the one who finances the kitchens and saucepans and sets and cameras — has a responsibility to minimize unnecessary risks. He and most others in his position didn’t get to where they are by fixing what isn’t broken.
So offers Riva, “Be an artist on your own time.”
But all professions are shackled to a bottom line one way or another. For Favreau, the more poignant comparison is both fields’ total dependence, intrinsic and otherwise, on the preferences and whims of others for success.
“All of their (chefs) happiness is linked to other people, same with filmmaking,” he said during a recent Q-and-A at the ArcLight Hollywood theater.
One of the most intimate, vulnerable gestures for an artist is to show their work and ask for feedback. To witness their labors of love stand trial is to withstand a whirlwind of simultaneous thrill and terror; all validation rides on the verdict. Nothing else matters to them except conveying their vision — for them, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, the perceived silence burns the whole forest down.
Facing unfavorable verdicts along the way is inevitable, and overcoming an incinerated ego left in failure’s wake is not an easy or pretty feat, as demonstrated by the fallout of Carl and Ramsey’s physical and cyber food fight. But positive feedback and the feeling of resounding encouragement is a powerful drug, and when it comes, the grind is avenged and pain of the past dissipates into a purple haze.
“I may not have been the best husband, and I’m sorry if I wasn’t the best father to you, but I’m good at this. I get to touch people every day with what I do. And I love it.”
The self-aware yet idealistically hopeful Chef truly is a class-act. Favreau wanted the respect of the chef community, explaining that only a small niche need appreciate the efforts to make those efforts worth it. He knew he couldn’t bluff an art form as specific and honest as cooking, nor did he want to, so he decided to undertake the transformation from passive eater to well, active feeder. And who better to show him the ropes than local culinary royalty Roy Choi, the man behind the elusive, gourmet Korean Kogi truck and one of the founders of the celebrated food truck movement. Choi’s food first entered Favreau’s life on the set of Iron Man 2 — Hollywood foodie Gwyneth Paltrow had called in the Kogi to feed the crew, and Choi showed his taste buds no mercy.
Soon after, Favreau rode along with Choi for a night on the food truck circuit, a night Choi, who joined Favreau at ArcLight, described as practice rounds of drop off the money, pick up the laundry a la The Sopranos. He’d taken a bite, and the bite bit him. He decided the film was a go. Choi then sent him to an accelerated French cooking program and he worked his way up the line, until he could prove to master Choi he was the real deal. Every last crumb, shank, pickled onion and parsley snip pictured was cooked — and eaten — on set.
With Choi acting as chief consultant on all things kitchen — from food prep to line cook lingo (Chef is rated R for language, Favreau was told any movie about cooking that has a PG rating is bullshit), from farmers market etiquette to a chef’s tattoos, the movie captures the rich culture behind the seasonings. John Leguizmo as Martin, Sancho Panza to Carl’s Quixote, is a deliciously executed side dish, and Bobby Cannavale brings a toned-down though no less-welcomed version of Cannavalian flair.
So few movies have the attentiveness required to convey the heart of our day to day. Chef devotes itself fully to that attentiveness. Visibly excited to get back to his Swingers roots, in Favreau’s case, sticking to the traditional menu doesn’t disappoint.
Yeshiva boy to barbecue sauce master
On a Saturday evening in downtown Los Angeles, as the somewhat surreal hush started to descend on Broadway following the weekend daytime hustle, diners gathered around an open kitchen at Umamicatessen, the flagship outpost of the reigning champ of nouveau burger chains.
For a few months this year, the counter at the rear of the retro-modern space housed a program dubbed “The Residency,” a rotation of guest chefs. Or, in current foodie lingo, pop-up dinners. On this night, Sharone Hakman, smiling and full of confidence, was running the show for a multicourse, grilled food-intensive meal dubbed BBQ Elevated. Neither a restaurant chef nor a member of the ranks of the many well-established catering machines in this town, Hakman falls somewhere in the range of food entrepreneur and media personality. He’s been a contestant on Fox’s “MasterChef” amateur cooking competition show and has parlayed this exposure into other TV appearances. Most notably, his barbecue sauces — the line is produced in Southern California — are stocked on the shelves in both niche specialty shops and major grocery stores in almost all 50 states. Hakman’s model-quality good looks and social ease certainly help bolster his brand, too.
Not exactly the course this former financial planner and yeshiva student had in mind, but at this point, the U.S.-born Hakman can’t imagine anything different. “I had my moments when I was wearing tefillin, and I had my moments when I was eating bacon cheeseburgers,” he recalls of straddling the Orthodox and mainstream secular worlds while growing up in L.A.’s Mid-City, where he still lives. Hakman’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors from Poland, and his parents are from Israel, where he spent every summer as a child.
While in the trenches of the financial world, which was “not my passion,” Hakman, 32, would “come home from work stressed out. I’d start cooking in the kitchen, and it started growing on me.” He sensed this particular skill set might be the beginning of something more serious than a hobby. So, in 2009, Hakman took a leave of absence from his job and made arrangements to spend several months in Israel, followed by a stint in Italy apprenticing in restaurant kitchens to develop his culinary skills. The pending arrival of his first child (he and his wife now have a 3 1/2-year-old and a 1-year-old) scrambled some of those plans, but Hakman nevertheless took the time off as an opportunity for a reboot.
After a month in Israel, Hakman officially resigned from his job at the beginning of 2010. He began to mine “an entrepreneurial spirit that I never tapped into” and got to work on business plans related to food, while reflecting on a continual source of inspiration — his grandmother.
“She was that bubbe who never left the kitchen,” he said. As for his favorite family traditions, “Shabbat was always special. There was something about my grandmother making the gefilte fish from scratch, and smelling the matzah ball soup, and feeling that comfort.” Comfort, he believes, is a quality too often missing from restaurant dining experiences in Los Angeles. “So many restaurants are cutting edge, but I never want to come back,” he said. “What’s that X-factor as to why? It all comes down to comfort. It’s what you want to come back to. That was the best lesson my grandmother taught me.”
Now, with TV gigs and a growing barbecue sauce empire to manage, Hakman also operates a catering service on the side, all while thinking about next steps and opportunities. His “MasterChef” performance helped convince him that leaving the safety of his corporate job was the right move, further proving to himself that “I have what it takes” to work professionally in food.
Hakman hasn’t set his sights on creating a restaurant yet, but says, “Pop-ups are a great way for me to have fun with what I want to do at that moment.” At his Umamicatessen diners, his twist on barbecue ranged from subtle touches to assertive textures and bold flavors. The meal progressed from a delicate salad combining watermelon, feta, grilled haloumi cheese, radish and Thai basil, building to a grand finale of a formidable, succulent beef rib that had been smoked for more than eight hours and paired with one of his signature Hak’s BBQ sauces. Dessert was his made-from-scratch riff on s’mores.
When it comes to Thanksgivukkah — the Chanukah/Thanksgiving overlap that has portmanteau fans all abuzz and which won’t occur again until the year 79811, Hakman has big plans for his L.A.-based family. If you’re looking for ways to combine meat from a large bird with fried carb-based casings, try Hakman’s turkey balls, rolled in Japanese-style Panko breadcrumbs and served with purple potatoes, shiitake mushrooms and Kiddush-wine jus. While latkes and mashed potatoes might duke it out for a place on the table or peacefully coexist, Hakman suggests another alternative — his roasted carrot puree recipe.
So what does Hakman most look forward to? “Safta’s sufganiyot,” he says of his grandmother’s jelly doughnuts. “She makes them from scratch and fries them à la minute. They are dangerous.”
Sounds like holiday temptation and reward of the best kind.
PANKO-CRUSTED TURKEY BALLS WITH PURPLE POTATOES, SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS AND KIDDUSH-WINE JUS
This is a great way to use your Thanksgivukkah leftovers for the next seven nights of Chanukah.
1 cup turkey drippings (refrigerate so the fat
separates and hardens, and then remove)
1 cup sweet Kiddush wine
Salt and pepper
1 pound shredded or pulled turkey (dark meat)
1 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 cup small shiitake mushrooms
4 to 5 purple potatoes, quartered
4 cups grapeseed oil for deep-frying
Rosemary sprigs (for garnish)
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Heat turkey drippings on low and allow to reduce by half. Do the same for the wine. Once both have reduced, combine the two liquids and allow to reduce by a quarter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Roll the pulled turkey meat into 3/4-inch. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for about an hour so they firm up and are easier to work with.
Coat the turkey balls with the flour, then the beaten egg, then the breadcrumbs. Place in refrigerator again until the coating adheres.
Toss mushrooms and potatoes in small amount of oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until tender.
Deep-fry turkey balls in oil heated to 350 F until golden brown. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange turkey balls on a platter with mushrooms and potatoes. Drizzle with the wine jus and garnish with rosemary sprigs.
Makes 4 servings.
CARROT AND CHAMOMILE PURÉE
4 cups sliced carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup broth
2 chamomile teabags
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Toss carrots in olive oil; add salt, pepper and sugar. Roast in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until tender. Don’t allow carrots to brown too much.
Heat broth, add teabags, and simmer for at least an hour.
Transfer carrots and tea-infused broth into a food processor or blender. Process until mixture reaches an airy consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Makes 4 servings.
The Challah King of Beverly Hills
The first time Chris Brugler ever made challah, it was for Shabbat dinner at the private home where he had just been hired as a personal chef. The Beverly Hills family assumed that everyone knew how to make challah. Brugler, a blue-eyed Catholic boy from Pennsylvania who had discovered his vocation cooking in a home for retired nuns, did not. He went to the Internet and found pictures of the 8-foot-long loaves popular for big bar mitzvah celebrations. He tried to convince his employer to order bakery challah, just for the first dinner, but the boss insisted it was not Shabbat without a fresh-baked loaf. So Brugler called his mom, who called a Jewish friend, who passed on a family recipe, and the chef went to work making the recipe his own.
He had to learn to braid from the family’s daughters, and an early experiment in green challah for St. Patrick’s Day was not well received by his employer’s traditional grandmother. But as weeks went by, Brugler perfected his Friday night offering and introduced other more successful variations. On his days off, when friends of his employer hired him to cater, they regularly asked for his loaves of challah with white chocolate, mission fig or dried cranberry and walnuts. By the next Rosh Hashanah, Brugler found himself with so many orders for round challah that he couldn’t deliver them all. He arranged for buyers to meet him in a Beverly Hills parking lot, where they lined up like customers for something illegal, to get a sweet, round, fresh-baked loaf from the trunk of his car. This was the beginning of the Challah King of Beverly Hills.
It’s been about 2,000 years since bread from the earth and prayer took the place of Temple sacrifices. The ritual bread itself has not always looked like the shiny braided loaves Brugler makes. Until sometime in the 15th century, according to “The World of Jewish Cooking,” most Ashkenazim used weekday rectangular or round loaves for Shabbat. Then Jewish cooks, perhaps bored with the ordinary loaf, took to imitating a popular German braided bread, making it their own. Many Middle Eastern and Sephardic communities still use round, flat bread or plain, rectangular loaves. But the braided loaf is special. It’s easy to understand why it caught on. And why people love the playful variations that Brugler, like cooks for generations before him, tries out.
Brugler earned his professional cooking credentials training with the likes of Paul Bocuse and Joel Antunes. The life of a private chef was less complex, but eventually he began to itch for a little freedom from the home kitchen and left to start his own catering business. He loves working with clients, coming up with menus and the logistics of events large and small, but he has kept the challah business going, too. It gives him a space to have fun experimenting, and it’s a signature item, potentially a business that won’t have him in the kitchen all day long.
While Brugler’s challahs are available at Nate ’n Al of Beverly Hills, online at challahking.com (he has shipped online orders overnight to fans as far away as Texas), and he delivers locally, he knows that challah is best served soft and fresh. To grow his business, he imagines a Challah King challah mix sold all over the country, with an online video that teaches braiding in all its variations. In the Old World, practical housewives prepared a week’s worth of dough on Thursday, then, to save on fuel, baked everything before sundown Friday. History tells us this is the source of the Yiddish memory of houses filled with the smell of baking bread. Today, practical wives and husbands are usually out making a different kind of dough right up until sundown on Friday, and most buy their challah. Those who bake bread regularly may scoff, but for the rest of us, a helpful mix and video would be welcome. And for parents whose endless, unfulfilled resolutions to slow down include baking with a child on a special Shabbat, premeasured ingredients could make it so much more possible.
The rituals of Friday night dinner, like those of Passover, are familiar to even secular Jews. The challah, with its decorated plate, its beautiful cover, its fancy knife or the custom of no knives, is rich in traditions and meaning. There is the portion kept aside and burnt, not on an altar but in the oven, in recognition of the biblical commandment from which challah gets its name. (Bread in Hebrew is lechem, as we say in the blessing, lechem min ha’aretz.) Symbolically, we use two loaves in place of the two sacrifices, salt them like we salted meat or like we shed tears, or because we are wealthy and have salt and loaves to spare and time to rest at the table on the eve of our transition from material life to a taste of the world to come — challah with chocolate or figs or salt and olive oil is certainly the kind of food I imagine eating in the world to come.
And, because there is always room for something new and delicious within our traditions, here’s a recipe from Chris Brugler, the Challah King, just in case you happen to have leftovers. This recipe uses approximately half a loaf of challah.
GRILLED GOAT CHEESE SANDWICHES
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large Vidalia onions, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste
18 ounces goat cheese, softened
5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 loaf mission fig challah, cut in
Place 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. When butter begins to foam, add the sliced onions, salt and pepper to taste, and cook 8 to 10 minutes, or until onions are tender. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the goat cheese, sauteed onions, basil and thyme, mixing until incorporated.
Assemble the sandwiches: Using 8 slices of bread, spread one-fourth of the goat cheese mixture on each of 4 slices; top with remaining 4 bread slices. Spread top of each sandwich with 1/2 tablespoon butter.
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Place the sandwiches, buttered side down, on the heated skillet. Carefully butter the tops of the sandwiches, using 1/2 tablespoon of the remaining butter for each sandwich.
Cook until cheese is slightly melted and bottoms are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Then flip the sandwiches and continue to cook until cheese is thoroughly melted and other side is golden brown.
For appetizers, cut into bite-size pieces.
Makes 4 sandwiches, 8 appetizer servings.
LAX $4.1 billion makeover will include updates to food, concession stands
The number of people in toques and clean white chef coats at the Flight Path Learning Center and Museum at Los Angeles International Airport on the morning of Dec. 5 made it feel like a set for an episode of Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
Press, airport staff and city employees sipping espressos from LAMill Coffee kept glancing off to a side room where pastries from Short Cake, parfaits from the Larder at Tavern and slices of salmon dotted with Petrossian caviar were being staged.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an acknowledged foodie, greeted chefs like Suzanne Goin, Susan Feniger and Michael Voltaggio by name as he made his way to the podium to unveil an enormous slate of planned amenities at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal.
LAX is undergoing a $4.1 billion makeover, its first since the 1984 Olympics. The Tom Bradley International Terminal will absorb $1.5 billion of that and is the largest public works project in the history of the city. The changes range from the big to the subtle, including a new, airy design for the Bradley buildings, better baggage handling machines, and more and wider gates for new generation aircraft.
But the change most likely to be noticed by travelers is the food.
“I’ve always been a little bit embarrassed by LAX,” the mayor admitted in his introductory discussion of money, jobs, expanding economic hubs and the role the airport plays in being the city’s face to the world.
“The Tom Bradley terminal is the first and last place many international travelers see of our great city,” the mayor said.
Plans call for more than 60 dining and retail shops. Some of what the terminal’s new concession manager, Westfield, is bringing to the upscale project is what Peter Lowy, co-chief executive of the Westfield Group, described as “iconic shopping.”
International travelers will be able to browse and buy in Bulgari or Coach, get “Sorry I’ve been gone so much” gifts at Sanrio or relax at a mini version of Bliss Spa in the terminal. In searching for the best way to present Los Angeles to visitors, however, Lowy said everyone involved focused on “the flavor of the city captured through food.”
Until recently, the terminal might have been known as the best place to eat among not-very-good options at LAX. In its ticketing area there is a Pink’s Hot Dogs stand, and its food court includes Daily Grill and Daily Grill Express, along with the usual fast-food suspects.
While Pink’s will remain open in its location, arriving and departing travelers on the other side of security will be able to dine at Umami Burger, get pizza from 800 Degrees or bite into one of Voltaggio’s famous sandwiches from ink.sack. Others may try Short Cake’s pastries while enjoying a cup of joe from LAMill or Coffee Bean (the latter is completely kosher).
Charcuterie, cheese and more will be on offer at Goin and Caroline Styne’s Larder at Tavern. Marmalade Café will be serving what is now known across the country as California cuisine. Luckyfish will be serving sushi fresh from Japan, while Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s Border Grill will bring Mexican to the mix. Cantina Laredo, the steakhouse III Forks and Franco-Japanese Chaya will offer fine dining.
For those in a hurry, there will be Pinkberry and more. Should you need a drink to soothe your travel-jangled nerves, Vino Volo, Drink.LA and a new version of Starbucks will be among those offering beer, wine and cocktails. Travelers will be able to find sweets at Vanilla Bake Shop and See’s Candies, too.
For locals like Jamie Thompson, a Realtor and foodie, the possibilities are exciting.
“One of the first things I think about when I travel abroad is food,” Thompson said, adding that she anticipates a similar shift in focus to fresher, healthier, locally sourced options in the domestic terminals as well.
Fresh is important to business traveler Gene Kleid, too. People who live far from the airport — as she does in Simi Valley — often end up eating meals at airports before and between flights. Knowing when she travels for business that there are many on-the-road meals ahead of her, she said she is grateful for the trend toward variety in both international and domestic terminals.
At the close of the morning event, when servers finally began to circulate among the guests, distributing croissants, french toast and mimosas, the mayor and other officials gathered with all the chefs for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and photo op. The banner unfurled in front of them bore each of the new tenants’ logos and declared boldly that all this delicious food and more would be available to travelers by the spring of 2013.
In the audience, the chefs’ business partners and employees gasped; they have a mountain of unsolved menu challenges ahead of them. And before they can even start to think about that, there’s an even bigger question — how to make their meals when kitchens on the far side of security checkpoints can’t use knives.
A young chef’s guide to the Rosh Hashanah meal
Considering the history of the Jewish people, the fact that Jews are still celebrating the High Holy Days today is a miracle in itself. Strong traditions and lasting rituals have enabled Jews to survive the most threatening periods of history. With the freedoms we have as modern American Jews, it makes sense that we use these same traditions and rituals to enjoy holidays to the fullest. As a chef and registered foodie, the best way I know to relish in the upcoming holidays is by making really delicious food. My plan for this year is to make a multi-course feast that pays homage to great Jewish eating traditions while at the same time represents me and my life as a Jewish chef in Los Angeles.
Watching friends and family nod their heads and smile as they eat the food you have prepared is unbelievably soul-satisfying. It is a great feeling to know that the meal you cooked has enriched the High Holy Day experience for those you love. Great food is part of the equation in making a great meal, but the experience is made complete when you also have time to enjoy the company of friends and family. In order to accomplish this, I turn to the motto of my alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, which states, “Preparation is everything.” Creating a strategy and timeline for a feast at home for guests will enable you as the cook to make great food and eat it too. Mise en place is a cooking term that means “to put into place.” It is what every chef must learn in order to master the craft of cooking. Mise en place represents the prep work done in advance of a meal and the strategy for serving it. If you are going to make the High Holy Day meal of a lifetime and still enjoy eating it, you must first focus on making a prep plan as to when the components of the meal will be made, and a strategy for how to serve the meal. This is what I will discuss as I go through my menu for the holidays.
My first course is Olive Oil Poached Sardine Fillets and Fried Heads With Lemon and Parsley Chips. Serving the fish heads, or the “rosh,” for the holidays has traditionally been a symbol for the fact that we have reached the head of the year, and also the head of life, rather than the tail. Some Jews serve whole fish so there will be a head on the table during dinner. Using this tradition as inspiration, I decided to serve fried sardine heads along with the fillets. Even though this is the first course, it should be last in the prep schedule. Ideally, purchase the fish as close to serving the meal as possible, so that it is at its freshest. The sardines should be cleaned and cooked shortly before serving. Last, they should be eaten immediately after cooking to maximize flavor.
The next course is Chilled Honey-Cucumber Soup. My wife and I own the M.O. Eggrolls food truck in Los Angeles. We are coming to the end of our first summer in business, and it has been a fantastic adventure. Along with the excitement and joy of running our truck comes the fact that we have been hot since April. Between the cooking equipment and the warm California sunshine, our truck heats up. This year, while I am relaxing and enjoying our High Holy Day feast, I want to eat something cool. Cucumber is a cooling ingredient and when paired with honey in a soup takes on a familiar homey sweetness that many Jews would associate with Rosh Hashanah. Along with being tasty, this chilled soup relieves a tremendous amount of stress, because everything can be made the day before, and to serve, it is simply poured into bowls and garnished.
Most chefs begin their careers working “the line.” This refers to the line of equipment in restaurant kitchens, where cooks are divided by stations and are responsible for cooking different items on the restaurant’s menu. Typically, stations are divided by the equipment each cook is responsible for, such as grill, sauté, fry, etc. This is the training ground for all chefs. You must prepare a variety of dishes as quickly as possible, while maintaining the highest-quality standards. The only way to survive the line is with impeccable mise en place.
Approaching a family meal at home as a line cook will enable you to cook a great meal and then have time to enjoy the company of your friends and family. For the main course, I am serving Apples and Honey Chicken along with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and a Warm Kale-and-Fennel Slaw. Braised chicken is ideal for serving large groups hot food that is tender, moist and flavorful. I prepare all of the ingredients for the chicken the day before. The day of the dinner, I begin to cook the chicken in the early afternoon and let it cook slowly until I am ready to serve it.
The ingredients for the slaw are also prepared the day before, and I create a kit for the dressing. Kitting a recipe is a pillar of the Culinary Institute of America’s curriculum. It means that I have the ingredients for a recipe portioned and organized so that I can quickly assemble the dish when needed. By kitting the dressing, I am able to easily prepare the slaw near the time of serving it without stress. The last component of the entrée is the smashed sweet potatoes. Mashed preparations, like potatoes or squash, can be held in a heat-resistant bowl, covered in plastic wrap on top of a double boiler for long periods of time without compromising its quality. I prepare the sweet potatoes before my family and friends arrive and hold them over a double boiler until I am ready to serve them. Limiting the number of steps I have to take after family has arrived allows me time during the meal to sit with them and enjoy the food and their company.
After a great feast, I prefer a dessert that is petite and pairs well with fine coffee and schnapps. This year I am serving Honey-Olive Oil Cookies with Thyme and Fleur de Sel. The olive oil gives the cookie a biscuit-like texture that pleasantly dries the mouth and creates a craving for something to drink. Relaxing at the end of a holiday meal with the people I love and sharing cookies and schnapps is a tradition that helps me celebrate Jewish life. I hope that you will feel empowered to continue developing your own great Jewish culinary traditions for your friends and family.
I wish you all a delicious and sweet new year. L’shanah tovah!
Kashrut and Mindfulness: Savoring Fresh, Local Fare at La Seine
This is a story about a dream afternoon I spent at La Seine, where chef Alex Reznik is cooking seasonal, farm-to-table, California-Asian … kosher food. The restaurant’s owner, Laurent Masliah, named La Seine for the river at the heart of his hometown, but I can’t help but think it’s intentional that the name also sounds somewhat like La Cienega, the boulevard on which the restaurant is located. Its building is long and low, and its wide, clear-glass front looks out onto the busy street. Guests can sit at the sushi bar to the left, at the traditional bar, in the lounge or, on the other side of two exposed brick divider walls, in the more formal dining area. That room’s palette is earthy and clean, crisp white, elegant but not too formal. Masliah — who, with his eager, open face, greets his guests dressed in khakis and a dark shirt, kippah in place — clearly wants everyone to be comfortable here.
Evenings, the dining room is full of people celebrating — multigenerational family groups, office mates, lovers enjoying tender hanger steaks, lamb and more lamb (bone chop, belly confit) or the day’s fish on black Forbidden Rice. The dining room’s acoustics are terrific; a couple at a table for two can converse even though the large family at the table along the wall all seems to be talking at once. For a person lunching alone, the small patio area out front, screened by a ficus hedge, is perfect on a fall day in Los Angeles. Taking time to eat and time to think about what we are eating is as much a luxury these days as the more discussed “luxury” of good, nutritional food. And the food Reznik is making at La Seine takes time and deserves time.
Lunch begins with a cocktail, suggested by Reznik himself.
“It’s afternoon,” he urges, his eyes bright.
He is out on the floor often, checking in with diners, looking a little like a clever scientist, with his shaved head and short-sleeved white coat. He is full of energy, and he needs to be, as his workdays begin at 11 a.m. and go on well past midnight. On Wednesdays, he and his crew venture out even earlier to the Santa Monica Farmers Market. La Seine is closed on Shabbat, of course, but Reznik seems to struggle a little with the idea of rest. He sleeps in, he takes walks, but he’s happy to be back in the kitchen when the sun goes down on Saturday night.
The cocktail is delicious, as promised — a mix of refreshing plum, quince, Campari, gin and Prosecco to sip as the world hurries by on La Cienega. Plates begin to arrive. The deep, sweet and earthy-tasting heirloom beets with arugula have tiny cumin-spiced French lentils at their center instead of the typical glob of goat cheese. There is no dairy at La Seine, and it isn’t missed. (La Seine’s mashgiach studied cooking in Israel and also acts as a sous-chef.) Reznik, who is a “Top Chef” alum, takes the restrictions as a challenge, along with the issue of cooking “seasonally” in Southern California, where it is hot well into October and the sweet corn, tomatoes and English peas still attract.
My salad is followed by a crudo, paper-thin white slices of snapper in fine salsa, with sweet pink grapefruit, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, and a beautiful half-dozen pieces of sushi, which Reznik calls a playful take on fish tacos. Tiny slivers of ripe avocado and cilantro are tucked in the rice, topped with a bite of tempura halibut and a dollop of spicy aioli. The crispness of the fish and the richness of the aioli are perfect together. Because I am alone, I can eat slowly, taking notes, taking breaths, tasting each flavor, finishing each dish.
Reznik prefers the idea of sushi as an appetizer, followed by a more substantial meal. (One night at the bar, I saw a man happily polish off a yellowtail, spicy big-eye tuna, avocado and tempura roll, braised short ribs, extra fries and a lamb dish. One can eat heartily at La Seine, and it also offers a full kosher wine list watched over by friendly sommelier Adnan Mourani.) When the chef comes out to check on me again, he suggests I try something more … manly … for my next course.
It turns out to be his excellent version of the Vietnamese baguette sandwich, bahn-mi, with heavenly thin, spicy potato chips. The bahn-mi roll is perfectly crusty on the outside, the beef short ribs that take the place of the traditional pork are rich and spicy, perfect with the lime, mint and spicy mayonnaise that softens the inside of the roll. The complexity of these tastes, adapted from the colonial French by Vietnamese cooks and brought to America and interpreted here by a Ukraine-born chef in a kosher restaurant in Los Angeles, says just about everything I love about eating in Los Angeles. I finish my perfect, solitary meal with a lemon soufflé tart, the last refreshing sips of my cocktail and coffee.
The laws of kashrut can be understood as a kind of mindfulness practice: to take time to stop, notice the details — if you are lucky enough, as I was at the start of a new year, to be surrounded by such bounty — to pay attention to the gifts of the earth, the garden and the chef himself.
La Seine is now open for lunch as well as dinner, and, after Shabbat on Saturday nights, there is live entertainment in the lounge. 14 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 358-0922. laseinebg.com.
UPDATE: Chef to try for falafel ball record at Santa Clarita fest
UPDATE: The falafel ball, weighing nearly 52.8 pounds, has been certified as the world’s largest.
The Santa Clarita Valley could become home to the world’s largest falafel ball on
May 15, when local chef Dawn Walker tries to craft and cook a deep-fried chickpea patty that will outweigh the 24-pound falafel ball that set the record a year ago in New York.
Part of the third annual Santa Clarita Valley Jewish Food and Cultural Festival, Walker’s attempt will be documented for the Guinness Book of World Records. If a test run held two weeks before the event is any indication, the ball could end up weighing as much as 50 pounds.
The organizers considered attempting to break other food-related records before settling on the falafel ball. “We thought about a matzah ball,” Sandi Hershenson, the event’s chairperson, said. “That was hundreds of pounds.” The world’s largest rugelach (440 pounds) was also out of reach, Hershenson said.
Temple Beth Ami, Congregation Beth Shalom and the local Chabad are hosting this year’s festival, which will include food vendors, musical performances and a kugel-baking competition. The event coincides with Big Sunday, and attendees will be able to take part in a number of mitzvah projects and community service opportunities.
The festival drew 1,500 people last year, and organizers anticipate an even larger number this year, particularly in light of the cancellation of this year’s Israel Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park.
Attendees will be invited to help mix the chickpeas for Walker’s massive falafel ball, but they won’t get to taste it. “If 2,000 people are all putting their hands in it, I don’t know who would want to eat it at that point,” Hershenson said. The ball will need to be deep fried and baked to ensure it is fully cooked throughout, a requirement of any Guinness competitor.
The event will be held at College of the Canyons and runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Details are available at scvjewishfoodfestival.com.
— Jonah Lowenfeld, Staff Writer
Chicken and Duck Soup
You will need one whole duck for this preparation. Have your butcher separate the breasts and legs from the bird and de-bone the legs. All the leg and breast meat should still have its skin on. Ask your butcher to grind all the meat for you. You will have approximately 1 3/4 pounds of ground duck. Make sure you collect all the bones from the duck for the broth.
2 boneless duck legs with their skins (approximately 3/4 lb.), put through a meat grinder
2 duck breasts with their skins (approximately 1 lb.), put through a meat grinder
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 medium-sized Spanish onion, minced
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 cup matzah cake flour
3 tsp. salt
3 lbs. of chicken back bones
The bones of one de-boned duck with its wings
2 tbs. olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
3 ribs of celery, whole
1 carrot, 1/2-inch-thick pieces
1 head of garlic sliced in half, separating the top from the bottom
1 tbs. turmeric
4 dried Persian limes (lemon omani*), put in a towel and crush the limes open.
1/2 tbs. dried mint
Sea salt to taste
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
Juice from 1 fresh lime
Fresh herbs such as mint, dill and parsley, chopped
Rinse bones with cold water and set aside. In a large stock pot heat olive oil and add the onions, celery, garlic and carrots, and stir while cooking for approximately five minutes until onions become translucent but not brown. Adjust the flame in order to not brown vegetables. Add the turmeric, crushed dried limes and the mint, and continue to sauté for an additional two minutes. Add the chicken backbones, duck bones and enough water to cover the bones by approximately six inches. Bring to a boil and ladle off the coagulated albumin and fat that will rise to the top. Reduce to a low flame and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.
In the meantime, to make the dumplings, mix the ground duck meat with the garlic, onion, cardamom, matzah cake flour and salt. Roll into 1-inch diameter meatballs. Refrigerate until the broth is ready.
When the broth is ready, carefully pour broth through a strainer and into a clean pot. Bring the broth back to a simmer and add the chicken dumplings. Place a lid on to the pot, and let cook for ten minutes or until the dumplings have cooked all the way through.
To serve, place a couple of dumplings into each soup bowl along with some freshly chopped spinach, herbs and, if using, the blanched fava beans. Taste the remaining broth and adjust the saltiness. Add the juice of the fresh lime and ladle the soup into bowls.
New kosher cooking school steps up to the plate — and that’s not chopped liver!
On the first day of class at a new kosher cooking school in Brooklyn, 22-year-old Erica Zimmerman carefully slices raw potatoes into a stainless steel bowl.
Zimmerman, a student at New York University, says she’s always been interested in cooking, but as an observant Jew only wanted a kosher school.
“The only kosher cooking school is in Israel, and I can’t take off a year to go,” she said. “Then I heard about this new school on Facebook, and I jumped at the opportunity.”
Last week, the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts opened in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush. The $4,500, six-week intensive course, run in cooperation with the continuing education department of Kingsborough Community College, is the only professional kosher cooking school in North America.
According to director Jesse Blondel and founder Elka Pinson, it is the only one in the world besides the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, a 5-year-old school in Israel.
Pinson has been dreaming of establishing such a school for years. Last year she took over the top floor of her husband’s housewares shop on Coney Island Avenue and advertised for a chef/teacher on craigslist.
Blondel, a 26-year-old Brooklyn native, responded. The kitchen manager at the Culinary Center of New York, he was seeking a new position. Organizing and directing a new cooking school seemed just the ticket.
“I realized there isn’t any other kosher cooking school, I’m Jewish, and I grew up not far from here,” he says.
Thirteen people showed up for the course, which teaches basic French culinary skills, from making sauces and soup stocks to cooking the perfect omelet, as well as applying kosher laws in a commercial kitchen.
If you keep kosher, Pinson says, you might shell out $40,000 or more to attend the Culinary Institute of America or one of the other prestigious cooking schools, and never be able to taste what you’re learning to cook.
“Then you go home, buy the ingredients, and cook and taste it there, double the work,” she says.
Pinson says that’s the experience of many, if not most, of the chefs working in kosher restaurants in this country. The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts is the first step in changing that, she says, by providing professional training for the kosher cooking crowd.
The center’s six-week course can only cover the basics, but it’s a start.
“We’re on the crest of this new interest,” Pinson says. “Guaranteed in six months somebody else will do it, too. Good luck! It’s a lot of work.”
Try main course hamantashen for a topsy-turvy day!
Chef Nathan prepares savory hamentaschen. Video courtesy ” vspace = ’12’ hspace = ’12’ align = right border = 0 width = 200 alt=””>
I’m sure I don’t have to offer any information on Ahasuerus holding a beauty contest where he chose the secretly Jewish Esther to become his queen, replacing Vashti. Nor do I have to write about Haman, the anti-Semite who plotted to obliterate the Jewish people in the month of Adar. If you’re reading this article, you’ve also read others that get into the dressing up, the megillah reading, the frivolity of the holiday and the purpose and joy in giving.
If you’re the type of person who likes gift giving, especially treats from your kitchen, then you probably look forward to the holiday as much as my family does. I especially enjoy the making of hamantashen. Holiday cookbooks are full of poppy seed, prune, chocolate, and even jelly-filled recipes.
They’re all good, but I like my own unique creations the best.
Did you know that Queen Esther hid her dedication to kashrut by claiming to be a vegetarian? This look into Queen Esther’s palace life is why it’s traditional not to eat meat during Purim. Just wait until you read the calzone-style hamantasch recipe I’ve included below. It’s a great dairy dinner to make for the holiday.
It’s been years since my daughter dressed up during a Purim carnival as Queen Esther and my son as a human grogger. Although we’ve outgrown some holiday traditions, the mainstay for my family at Purim is the giving of shalach manot. What a terrific opportunity to share with your Jewish neighbors and friends a basket full of treats from your heart and home. The megillah instructs us to celebrate the holiday by sending these gifts as an expression of brotherly love and unity.
When we first started setting up Purim baskets, we filled them with the clichéd ensemble of grape juice, candies, fruit and, of course, fresh-from-our-oven hamantashen. The baskets were spruced up with sprinklings of chocolates, homemade jams and preserves.
Over the years, we’ve developed a more interesting and personality-filled basket of mishloach manot. We’ve expanded our baskets’ bounties based on ones that we’ve received. (It’s not illegal to borrow other people’s ideas, ya know!) One year, some good friends gave us mammoth-sized flower-shaped cookies in a brightly painted flowerpot. By the following summer the pot was filled with freshly grown strawberries on my back porch. The next year our friends outdid themselves when they sent oversized coffee mugs filled with holiday treats.
What we’ve used for baskets has evolved from the recycled ones we received in previous years into fancier hand-painted glass bowls. We try to use the opportunity of gift giving as an expression of who we are and what we like, what we enjoy in our home and what we’d like to share with our friends. And not everything has to be homemade. We often fill the baskets with spiced nuts, fruit chutneys, chocolate truffles and wine, along with the one or two items that we’ve baked. The idea behind shalach manot is giving, not necessarily being a slave in the kitchen. So be proud of what’s in your baskets.
Savory Hamantashen From Jeff Nathan's "New Jewish Cuisine." Stuffing 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup onions, chopped 1/2 cup red bell peppers, diced medium 1/2 cup green bell peppers, diced medium 2 small zucchini, diced medium 2 tablespoons chopped garlic kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/2 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped 1/2 cup farmer's cheese 1/2 cup pot cheese 1 cup grated havarti cheese 2 eggs, mixed
In a large sauté pan add the olive oil, onions, peppers, zucchini and garlic. Sauté until onions are translucent. Add salt, pepper, olives and fresh herbs. Stir well. Remove from heat. Place in a large bowl and fold in the cheeses. Stir in the eggs. Adjust seasonings. Set aside and allow to cool.
Dough 2 packages dry yeast 1/2 cup warm water 2 tablespoons honey, divided 1 1/2 cups cool water 2 teaspoons salt 4 tablespoons olive oil 6 cups flour
Preheat oven to 450 F.
In a small bowl combine the yeast, warm water and 1 tablespoon of the honey. Set aside and allow to proof (approximately three to four minutes). In another small bowl mix the remaining honey with the cool water, salt and oil. Put all the flour in a food processor. While the machine is on, add the cool water mix, then the warm water mix. Process until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Remove to a large, well-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise in a warm area until doubled in volume. Punch down dough. Roll out to approximately two 10-inch circles. Fill each with stuffing and pinch into triangles. Brush with olive oil. Bake on cookie sheets sprinkled with corn meal to prevent sticking.
Makes two large savory hamantashen, enough for four to six servings.
Jeff Nathan is executive chef of Abigael’s on Broadway in New York, host of television’s “New Jewish Cuisine” and author of “Adventures in Jewish Cooking” and “Jeff Nathan’s Family Suppers.” His food columns will appear monthly in The Journal.
‘Ace’ holds all the cards when it comes to cakes
You’d think Duff Goldman’s ultimate Rosh Hashanah cake would be, say, a 15-layer honey cake topped with mammoth gates of heaven swinging shut.
Goldman, after all, is the “extreme baker” of the Food Network’s reality series, “The Ace of Cakes.” His concoctions include a 3-foot-tall performing Elvis, a rolling black Jeep Wrangler, a hot-rod engine that spews sparks and a seven-tier “Cat in the Hat” wedding cake.
His show features insane deadlines, aggressive brides, temper tantrums, bleeped-out expletives — and a star who is as likely to wield a blowtorch or a band saw as a rolling pin or cake knife. Critics have said “Ace” is to cake what “Monster Garage” is to cars.
So you’d expect Goldman’s holiday cake to involve Gothic gates or, perhaps, even a Bosch-like depiction of where bad Jews go if they’re not inscribed in the book of life (according to some rabbis).
Goldman takes his heritage seriously — especially his Jewish culinary heritage — so his idea is, well, serious. “I’d do a three-dimensional cake covered with a painting — an indistinct figure emerging from the darkness into the light,” he says in a telephone conversation from his Baltimore apartment. “It would represent how we should embrace the New Year by constantly moving forward.”
No one has ordered such a cake from Goldman, which is why he hasn’t baked it (it could cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours, depending on how many moveable parts are necessary). So in reality, he is more likely to make the honey cake recipe handed down from his great-grandmother, Mommo — as well as her luscious brisket and tsimmis. He still has those recipes, among thousands of others she wrote on index cards in her imperfect English.
“Mommo gave those recipes to my grandmother, and they were passed down to my mother and then to me,” he says proudly.
The Yiddish-speaking Mommo, who died when Duff was around 4, also apparently passed down her artistic and adventurous streaks. “When my great-grandmother was 14, things got pretty hot for the Jews in her part of the Ukraine, so she fled with her two brothers,” he says. “Her brothers ended up in Argentina and became like these Russian-Jewish gauchos.”
Mommo came to the United States and settled near the frontier. She traveled as far west as her money would take her, settling in Wichita, Kan., early in the last century.
Young Duff (ne Jeffrey Adam Goldman), now 31, remembers her as an avid baker, milliner and weaver. “She had this big, scary loom in her tiny little Wichita apartment,” he says of her textile work.
He keenly watched as Mommo prepared to make apple streudel by kneading a small ball of filo dough with her bare hands, until it covered the entire dining room table.
Back home in McLean, Va., Goldman first attempted to “cook” at age 4 by swinging a meat cleaver at some carrots. Several years later, he disdainfully tossed aside the child-safe tool his mother had given him to carve a pumpkin; instead he tried a steak knife and chopped off a finger (the digit was reattached, he reports).
No wonder his mother, Jackie, a stained-glass artist, refused to let him near the knives when she was cooking, although, in his words, “I was always hanging around when she was in the kitchen.”
Young Duff expressed his artsy side by spray painting graffiti on buses, subways and underpasses (he fought back when fellow taggers beat him up). He shaped up after his bar mitzvah, when he began sculpting in metal and snagged his first professional food job — at McDonald’s. “I could make 12 Big Macs in under a minute,” he says.
Thereafter, he worked in a series of restaurants and decided to specialize in cakes.
“I was drawn to pastry chefs because what they were doing was so process-driven and involved so much craft,” he says. “Even as a [youngster] I saw there were things to be studied, to figure out: protein content and freezing temperatures and so forth.”
While attending the University of Maryland, Goldman got a job making corn bread at a famous Baltimore restaurant. He went on to study pastry-making at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, then worked for Food Network celebrity chef Todd English and soon became the executive pastry chef at the Vail Cascade hotel in Colorado. There, he combined his sculpting and baking talents to make his first specialty cakes (power tools, he soon discovered, were just the ticket to create humongous infrastructures).
In 2000, Goldman opened his own Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, with what he describes as a “ragtag team of musicians and artists with experience in architectural modeling, graphic design, sculpture and performance art.”His creations were so jaw-dropping that he soon received national attention, replicating a piece of rare black Wedgewood china for Hillary Clinton, for example. His flavors included green tea and Thai iced coffee, as well as Goldman’s own version of honey cake.
The chef began appearing on Food Network competitions and caught producers’ eyes when he arrived at one contest lugging power tools and wearing a goatee, earrings and steel-tipped punk rocker boots (oh yes, he’s also a musician).”I didn’t read the rules very well, so I pretty much broke every single one,” he says. Goldman moved about his table when he should have stood in one place and spilled too much cornstarch on the floor. “But I made a really awesome cake,” he recalls. His piece de resistance looked like a giant peach tree, with the “cakes” hanging off the branches via fishing wire.
Producers rewarded Goldman with his own show, “Ace of Cakes,” which The New York Times called “‘Monster Garage’ for the culinary set.” “Ace” is typical of these kinds of reality series in that it highlights tension between the protagonists.But none of the stress is concocted, Goldman insists. “Running a bake shop is dramatic, because we have real deadlines,” he says.
Guests nibbling on Grilled Hoisin-Ancho Colorado Lamb Chops, Roasted Garlic and Chicken Risotto and Caramel Sauce Crème Brûlée at Century City’s five-star St. Regis Hotel & Spa might not just want to thank the chef, but also a rabbi.
Foodies may be surprised to learn that these gourmet taste treats were all made in the hotel’s kosher kitchen. In fact, people planning kosher-catered events can enjoy anything from sushi, sashimi and dim sum to mushroom crusted tenderloin of beef prepared in the $1 million state-of-the-art non-dairy facility.
"Almost everything done in a regular kitchen can be done in [a] kosher kitchen," said award-winning executive chef Jesse Llapitan, who left the St. Regis in September 2003 for the Houstonian in Houston.
"Our kosher kitchen was built from scratch in a little-used area behind our small meeting rooms at a cost of $1 million," explained senior catering manager Margot Hummel. "It was newly built for the opening of the 30-story hotel in November 2000 to try to get more business. As a result, we have catered a number of bar mitzvahs, weddings and kosher functions for hundreds of people. The kosher kitchen adheres to the highest quality and strict standards of the Rabbinical Council of California."
"The facility lends itself to a high level of kosher standards from management to wait staff," said Binyomin Lisbon, the rabbi who oversees what could be the most gourmet kosher kitchen in Los Angeles. In fact, he recently led 30 food and beverage department employees in a kosher training session, the fourth one since the facility opened a little more than three years ago.
The small kitchen is located on the third floor close to the banquet kitchen, and there have been times when both prepared and served meals simultaneously. To help eliminate confusion, the kosher china plates have gold rims that distinguish them from the hotel’s regular china. The kosher kitchen also uses its own utensils, stemware and silverware, which are kept under lock and key.
Outside the kitchen doors, which are padlocked and sealed by a rabbi when not in use, there is an entry/exit log to monitor every time the facility is opened. Inside are two ovens — one for meat, and another for fish — along with a stove, deep-fat fryer, grill, fold-down stainless steel worktables, dishwasher, a walk-in refrigerator and the reassuring letter "A" grade issued by the County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services.
"There is no freezer, because we [the kitchen gets] so much of the food fresh," Llapitan explained.
On a recent visit, there is nearly no food at all in the kitchen save olives, cranberry juice cocktail, cherries, margarine and, most appropriately, kosher salt.
"All of [the] food is sealed and wrapped when [it comes] from certified purveyors," said Llapitan, who also cooked at the hotel’s signature restaurant, Encore. "During the whole event, from start to finish, we are accompanied by a rabbi, or a mashgiach, who supervises us to ensure that we come up with what the client is expecting and stay within the guidelines. We don’t open it up or even bring it into the kitchen until the rabbi inspects it, and confirms that it came from a reputable source. It takes a lot more preparation to do a kosher function because of all the logistics."
Llapitan, whose most popular kosher entree is sea bass with soba noodles and baby bok choy, enjoyed planning gourmet kosher menus with clients. He truly believes he’s learned a lot from cooking kosher, since the non-dairy restrictions have forced him to find substitutes to finishing off a dish with butter or a hint of cream. In fact, he makes the kosher crème brûlee from soy milk.
The chef, whose job is to oversee all four of the hotel’s kitchens, admitted that certain food items cause him a lot of extra work.
"Asparagus tips are very, very difficult," he said. "You can’t use them unless you peel them all the way back and wash them so many times in salt water. Some clients really want raspberries for their wedding, so we have to accommodate their needs, even though raspberries are extremely difficult to ensure that they’re kosher. We had an event where we had a rabbi inspect every single raspberry inside and out — including putting his finger inside each one — to make sure that it was kosher. It was time-consuming, but nevertheless, we pulled it off."
The hotel is located at 2055 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. For more information, call (310) 277-6111.
Getting Stuffed on Sukkot
“Have you ever noticed how plump autumn foods are?” asked my 9-year-old daughter two decades ago as we passed a sukkah, a leafy hut, locked behind the gate of a Manhattan synagogue.
“You mean the peppers, pumpkins, eggplants, apples and squash?” I said, staring at a farmers market worth of produce dangling from the sukkah’s flimsy walls.
Outside the synagogue’s iron bars, we looked from afar but could not touch or smell the year’s final harvest, a sight more brilliant than fall foliage in New England. Dwarfed by high rises in a city lined with concrete, we were still attached to Judaism’s agrarian roots.
This scene was a far cry from what I recalled from my childhood. During the 1950s, the sukkah at my suburban synagogue was open all day to people who wanted to step inside. Each evening, the sisterhood women carried steaming pans of stuffed peppers, squash and eggplants to the backyard sukkah, where members of the congregation shared a communal meal. Many of the dishes they prepared entailed stuffing one plump vegetable inside another. Were these women merely paying homage to the garden’s last blast of the season, or was there a deeper, perhaps unconscious meaning to the traditional Sukkot fare they prepared year after year?
“The most common Sukkot dishes are filled foods, particularly stuffed vegetables and pastries, symbolizing the bounty of the harvest,” wrote chef Rabbi Gil Marks in his cookbook, “The World of Jewish Entertaining” (Simon & Schuster, 1998).
Over the centuries, Jewish cooks have gutted and chopped nearly every edible plant species, mixing the pulp with onions, breadcrumbs, matzah meal, meat, spices and assorted vegetables and fruit. They then stuffed these aromatic concoctions inside the vegetables’ cavities, roasting them to create heavenly results.
During the weeklong celebration of Sukkot, people eat their meals in a sukkah, or temporary hut, and holiday recipes call for seasonal produce.
Often migrating throughout their history, Jews both shared and borrowed cooking techniques from local people wherever they settled.
“In the Hellenistic world of Greek and Roman dominance, stuffed foods were prominent features at banquets,” said Corrie Norman, chair of the department of religion and director of the Rome Program at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C. Filling an already full-looking food, such as a fig, was a double way of indicating celebration and abundance. A common sweet throughout the Sephardic Middle East is a nut-filled date.
“Jews picked up on and advanced the significance and artistry of celebratory stuffed foods,” Norman said. “For example in modern Rome, stuffed fried vegetables are associated with Jewish origins.”
This group of recipes is called alla Giudia (in the Jewish style). While this vegetable-stuffing technique has fused with Roman cuisine, its name credits its Jewish origin.
A former “semiprofessional” cook, Norman is currently combining her enduring passion for food with her studies in religion and history. As an affiliate of the Harvard Pluralism Project, she coordinates student research on food, meaning and gender.
“Fruits, vegetables and their harvest are the realities of fertility,” Norman said. “Roundness or fullness also signify fertility, which also means life.”
Throughout time, there has been a link between agriculture and fertility, the harvest and birth. Stuffing one food inside another at the end of the growing season underscores this point.
“Stuffed squash is full and round,” Norman said. “It is full of mysterious, wonderful ingredients, hidden initially but eventually bursting forth.”
She explains that whether most people are aware of it or not, they understand the significance of a symbolic food, such as stuffed cabbage, by its taste and its presence — or absence — on the Sukkot table. They may associate that sweet apple strudel of their youth with their mother or grandmother.
“That form of embodied knowing — often not rational or conscious — is key to sustaining symbolic meaning,” Norman said.
This is one reason why many people continue to prepare family recipes on holidays, when they could more easily order the entire menu from a deli or restaurant, Norman explained.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if a Jewish grandmother, making her stuffed eggplant from scratch, felt that going to all that trouble in a day of convenience foods somehow helped make Sukkot special for her family,” she said. No doubt, after she is gone, her family will savor their memories of her and the special eggplant dish that she prepared, which connects them to their Jewish ancestry and the mystery of the harvest.
This must be why when the season’s first chill penetrates my sweaters, I reach for a booklet of holiday recipes that my grandmother gave me in desperate hope that I’d keep a Jewish home. That autumn of 1968, I was a 20-year-old in miniskirts, indifferent to her concern. I must have hurt her feelings when I left that booklet on her coffee table. But undeterred, she mailed it to me anyway.
Today as withered leaves blow across the sidewalks of New York, I think of my grandmother as I head to the nearest Korean market, where at Sukkot, the onions are their most pungent, the squash bulging and beautiful and the cabbage ranging in color from green to purple. I wish she were still alive so I could tell her that I make the stuffed cabbage and squash recipes from that booklet, which is now wrinkled and yellowing with age.
I remember her as a portly woman with a kind heart who urged her family to eat more than they cared to. Spiritually connected to Sukkot, she was a good Jewish grandmother who insisted that her loved ones leave the table completely satisfied, if not a little stuffed.
Holishkes: Stuffed Cabbage
1 large cabbage
Freeze cabbage overnight. Defrost completely (about 4 hours). Gently pull off leaves from half of the cabbage, about 12. (Save remaining cabbage for soup or other recipes.) Don’t worry if leaves tear. Cut away their course center spines and discard. Cut larger, outer leaves in half.
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 1/2 cups honey
1 cup red wine
4 cloves garlic, minced fine
Salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup raisins
Place all of the sauce ingredients, except the raisins, in a saucepan and bring to a simmer on a medium flame.
Remove from heat and stir in raisins. Reserve.
1/3 cup raw rice
1 pound chopped beef
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon dill, minced
Prepare rice according to directions on package.
Combine first four ingredients in a bowl, mixing well.
Place a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture on cabbage leaves, selecting a spot away from tears and where it nestles well.
Gently roll leaves around stuffing, tucking in edges and sides. Fasten with toothpicks in strategic places.
If stuffing mixture remains, roll it into meatballs.
Coat a large roasting pan with no-stick spray. Place cabbage rolls and meatballs inside, layering if necessary. Pour sauce over the top, making sure it dribbles between all cabbage rolls. Simmer on a low flame for 90 minutes, until sauce thickens slightly and meat is well done. Serve hot. Recipe can be prepared ahead and reheated on a low flame.
About 12 entree-sized portions, plus several meatballs.
Vegetable Curry Stuffed Peppers
2 potatoes, peeled
1 cup walnuts, chopped
8 peppers: Select ones with flat bottoms so they don’t topple during cooking. For eye appeal, choose red, yellow, green and orange peppers.
3 tablespoons cooking oil
3 large onions, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
19-ounce can Cannellini (white kidney beans), drained in colander
4 tomatoes, seeds removed and diced
4 tablespoons parsley, minced
3 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons cumin
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste
no-stick cooking spray
15-ounce can vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine
Cut potatoes into chunks and boil until soft. Drain.
Roast walnuts at 350 F until light brown, about two to three minutes.
With a knife, cut a circle around pepper stems, large enough to insert stuffing. Discard stems. Cut away interior fibers. Rinse with cold water to flush out seeds. Place upside down to drain. Dry skins with paper towels.
In a large pot, heat oil on medium flame. Sauté onions and garlic for one minute. Mix in potatoes, walnuts, beans, tomatoes, parsley and spices. Stir for three minutes.
Coat an ovenproof pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Spoon enough vegetable mixture inside peppers so it bulges into a dome over their tops. Arrange peppers in pan. Gently pour broth and wine into pan, surrounding but not saturating peppers.
Roast for 45-60 minutes, until peppers soften and pucker and vegetables on top turn golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Autumn Harvest Acorn Squash
2 1/2 pounds acorn squash
5 carrots, peeled and coarsely diced
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted for 2 minutes until brown
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup dried cherries
3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray Pyrex baking pan with no-stick spray.
Cut squash in half along one of the grooves on its skin. Remove and discard seeds. Place squash in pan flesh side down and skin side up. Pour water into pan 1/2 inch deep. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until flesh is soft. (While baking, check water level and add more if too much evaporates.)
Meanwhile, steam carrots until soft, about three to five minutes.
When squash is ready, cool for five minutes and remove from pan. Gently scoop out flesh with a spoon, being careful not to rip skin. Place in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mixing well.
Spoon mixture into squash shells and serve immediately.
"Adventures of Jewish Cooking" by Jeffrey Nathan (Clarkson/Potter Publishers, $32.50)
When Jeffrey Nathan auditioned for his first job cooking for the captain of a Navy destroyer somewhere in the middle of the Pacific and substituted vanilla for Worchester sauce in the meatloaf, little did he know his destiny was a 375-seat upscale kosher restaurant in Manhattan’s garment district named Abigael’s.
Twenty-five years, one James Beard nomination for Best National Cooking Series for the PBS show, "New Jewish Cuisine," and a critically acclaimed new book, "Adventures of Jewish Cooking," later, Nathan is still a bit overwhelmed.
It’s a blustery Friday in October as we approach Abigael’s and find the solicitous chef waiting by the door. He’s just returned from Los Angeles, filming his cooking show at the Jewish Television Network, with a brief stop at Kosherfest in Meadowlands, N.J., and a few television appearances in Florida.
Nathan is under strict mandate from his wife and his partners to relax. As he talks about ideas for Chanukah, his eyes dart around the room. Is the Thai-Crusted Chicken at table eight succulent enough? Is the Bison Chili too spicy?
"I can’t help it, I’m excited," says Nathan, sipping a cup of hot coffee, then chasing it with cold water. We’re seated at a corner table of the crowded restaurant, where the burly, immaculately dressed executive chef is co-owner and chief worrier. Nathan is as animated as he is on television.
"It was great! I felt like the kosher Emeril," Nathan enthuses about the reception he got at Kosherfest for his book. When you redefine a cooking style that hasn’t always been billed as haute cuisine, you’re bound to turn a few heads.
"There’s no such thing as strictly Jewish food. Since the Inquisition, Jews have migrated all over the world. They took their traditions with them; they also ate the food indigenous to the area. If we were in Palermo right now, we’d follow Jewish law, but we’d be eating fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and robust olive oil — but probably not with latkes," he says with a laugh.
He plays down the difficulties of the myriad dietary rules and restrictions taken from the Torah, including the necessity for a full time mashgiach (a certified kosher supervisor) in the kitchen.
"I know how hard it is," said executive chef Don Pintabona, of Tribeca Grill in Manhattan. "I went to Israel during the Peace Accord with Chefs for Peace. I had to cook a sauce the kosher way — it took me a day and a night. The mashgiach almost threw me out of the kitchen. Jeff makes it look so easy. He’s the type of chef, if you look at a plate of his food, you see his personality. It’s classic cuisine; it’s also comfort food."
Nathan’s most comforting dish just might be latkes. Not only will he serve all manner of the potato pancake with a variety of toppings at Abigael’s during Chanukah, he has fried and flipped the transcendent Jewish treat at The James Beard Foundation’s Latke Lovers Cook-off and Chanukah dinner for the last several years.
So latkes are partially responsible for Nathan’s success? "I’m not proud," he jokes. "You smell a latke, you’ll buy anything. Who could say no to something that tastes that good?"
Nathan relaxes a minute as he muses about Chanukahs past, then shifts into high gear and brainstorms accessories for the holiday’s shining star — a compote of seasonal fruit and a Latin chimichurri sauce of tangy herbs and spices. "The spiciness of the chimichurri is the perfect foil for latkes," he said. "Then you add the opposite flavor of sweetness from the compote. Sweet, savory and untraditional."
"I keep the latkes simple. Everybody thinks they have to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I use a combination of Russets for strength, Yukon Golds for richness and sweetness. And a few ingredients to bring out the flavor, not disguise it. A perfect latke is light, crispy, cooked all the way through, and above all, delicious."
He laughs good-naturedly. "I love what I do. And the best part, it’s brought me back to my roots. Even when I achieved notoriety as a wild-game chef or when I was invited to cook at The James Beard House, I was the same shlepper as everyone else. Now I’ve achieved everything a chef dreams of. There’s got to be a reason for this."
He pauses, taking it all in. "You don’t think it has just a tiny bit to do with God"?
Anything but Ordinary
"Adventures in Jewish Cooking" by Jeffrey Nathan (Clarkson Potter, $32.50).
When it comes to kosher fine dining, chef Jeffrey Nathan of New York’s Abigael’s restaurants wrote the book. Now, just in time for Rosh Hashana, he’s written "Adventures in Jewish Cooking," a collection of innovative recipes that redefine kosher as a world-class cuisine.
"I want our customers to think of Abigael’s not as a kosher restaurant, but as a great restaurant that happens to be kosher," says the vivacious chef whose PBS television show "New Jewish Cuisine" garnered a James Beard nomination.
And indeed they do. Jewish and non-Jewish diners alike, like Donald Trump and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, return for the adventuresome menu, outstanding service and elegant ambiance.
With "Adventures in Jewish Cooking," Nathan brings his imaginative, updated kosher cooking to the home chef with dishes such as Porcini-Crusted Striped Bass and Port Wine Syrup, Chicken and Veal Pate and Rack of Veal with Wild Mushroom Farfel Dressing.
"Kosher diners are more sophisticated today," he says. "A lot of people are more comfortable with the same things for Shabbat and the holidays, but when they go out to a restaurant, they don’t want Shabbat roasted chicken."
While the recipes reflect Nathan’s imaginative use of fresh ingredients and exotic influences from his travels — Thai and Vietnamese are favorites — he gives more than a nod to his ancestral roots. And rather than being restricted by the kosher laws, he soars to the challenge of updating and recreating traditional dishes.
"It’s not all about innovation," he writes. "I can derive just as much satisfaction from taking a recipe from my heritage and making it the best it can be," like Classic Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls, Sweet Noodle and Fruit Kugel, and Superb Sabbath Cholent.
Nathan grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., and loved to watch his mom cook. "Instead of watching television, I was always potchkeeing around in the kitchen," he recalls.
As a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant, he discovered a passion for cooking by watching the chefs. "They were so fast and just looked like they were having fun, but I didn’t really think of it as a career. All I knew was Julia Child on television."
In the Navy, Nathan became personal chef to the captain and officers, even cooking for Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat. "Not only did I get to travel around the world, but when we’d pull into ports, I was given money to go out and search for ingredients and could then come back and experiment."
After the service, he attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America under the GI Bill. "You can’t beat that. Travel the world, learn a trade, then go to school, all on Uncle Sam. That was one of the smarter things I ever did."
Nathan worked at a number of New York restaurants, including Luchow’s and New Deal, where he distinguished himself with unusual preparations of wild game and exotic meats, creating his now-legendary Venison Chili, which later, as the only kosher entry, took first place in the James Beard National Chili Cook-Off.
"It was a blind tasting, and we were up against a lot of upscale Manhattan restaurants. When the kosher one won, no one could believe it!"
After 20 years of cooking non-kosher, he opened Abigael’s with partner Harvey Reizenman. "Abigael’s was my beshert [destiny]," he writes. "I realized that I had come home, both spiritually and professionally."
"Adventures in Jewish Cooking" showcases that same passion for the new and respect for the old. "I believe in modernization of everything," he says, "but then again, there’s tradition."
Nathan’s holiday menus will inspire you to create new traditions of your own: Banana Sufganiyot Pudding for Chanukah, Savory Hamantaschen With Vegetable-Cheese Stuffing for Purim, and I can’t wait for Pesach to try Matzah Napoleon With White Chocolate Mousse.
For Rosh Hashana, he’s selected Roast Duck with Apple-Golden Raisin Sauce. "I think I may be the world’s No. 1 duck fan," says Nathan, who divulges Abigael’s double-cooking technique that guarantees a crispy skin without sacrificing moistness.
"It’s very important to have sweet for the New Year," he reminds us. "I usually keep desserts pareve, but for a dairy meal I’ll make Honey-Ginger Zabaglione Cream. It’s harder to spell than to make it!"
And how will Nathan celebrate the New Year? "I always make taiglach at home with the kids [Chad, 13, and Jaclyn, 10]," who appear in "Adventures in Jewish Cooking" clad in chef’s coats, helping their dad prepare Chocolate Mousse Flowerpots.
A Hungry Mob
It was a moment that the members of Women’s Department of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Business and Professional Division will never forget: a kitchen full of young women learning about and noshing on the Sicilian culinary stylings of chef Henry Hill.
Yes, that Henry Hill — the former Mafioso who entered the FBI’s witness protection program and helped the Feds root out organized crime.
By night’s end, there was red liquid splattered all over the kitchen. Thankfully, it was just leftover marinara sauce on empty plates from quickly devoured homemade Italian delicacies: chicken marsala with mushrooms, grilled eggplant rollatine, piping hot penne pasta — all kosher.
It was slightly surreal to find a former “wiseguy” giving cooking tips to 50 upstanding young Jewish women, mostly in their 30s. But there’s more to the story. Hill — best known for his Howard Stern appearances and being portrayed by Ray Liotta in Martin Scorcese’s “Goodfellas” — has been struggling to put his underworld past behind him. For 2 1/2 years, Hill, 58, has been a Beit T’Shuvah rehab resident, trying to kick his alcoholism. Hill told the room that he was proudly sober, despite a setback 10 months ago in the progress of his recovery.
The evening’s hostess, Janis Black Goldman, generously opened up her Beverly Hills home for this unique experience.
“You can be here for a good cause and meet old and new friends in a comfortable environment,” said Goldman, the daughter of philanthropists Stanley and Joyce Black. Goldman had suggested Hill to the Women’s Department after she had met the ex-mobster at a Beit T’Shuvah Shabbat event, where she enjoyed a firsthand encounter with his formidable cooking prowess.
“He’s someone in recovery that made a success in his life,” said Goldman’s sister, Jill Zalben. “People today want to see that. He’s teaching us that we can have a life and you can move on.”
Hill told The Circuit of cooking’s therapeutic nature. “It relaxes me where a psychiatrist doesn’t excite me.” His cookbook will be released by Penguin Books in October.
Hill and The Circuit notwithstanding, there was only one other XY-chromosomed guest present — Black family friend Jono Kohan.
Kohan himself comes from a Jewishly active family. His mother, the lively Rhea Kohan, emcees Jewish galas with her dazzling wit. His brother, David Kohan, co-created NBC’s hit sitcom, “Will & Grace.”
“There’s a lot of female energy in the room tonight. I find it very positive to be around,” said Kohan, obviously enjoying this most fortuitous male-to-female ratio.
Also contributing to that female energy: Michele Sackheim, division chair; Harriet Rossetto, Beit T’Shuvah director; Laurie Konhiem, The Federation’s Women’s Campaign chair; Sharon Janks, vice chair liaison; outreach committee members Cynthia Baseman, Andrea Corsun, Sara Essner, Marilyn Sonners, Galia Nitzan and Barbara Zolla; Bobbi Asimow, Women’s Campaign director, and Jody Moss, Women’s Campaign professional staff.
“I couldn’t have done this event without Henry,” said Greer Sanders, division outreach chair. “He planned the whole thing from soup to nuts.”From salad to spumoni is more like it. But you get the picture.
For information on Women’s Business and Professional Division, which will hold its annual banquet at the Four Seasons on May 8, call (323) 761-8275.
More than 500 people honored Abraham Spiegel and Fred Kort at the American Society for Yad Vashem’s first West Coast Tribute Dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. For more than 30 years, Spiegel has been instrumental in helping expand Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the world’s leading Holocaust artifact repository and research center. Holocaust survivor Kort has also contributed greatly to Yad Vashem’s cause. The evening, where “The Young and the Restless” star Eric Braeden was master of ceremonies, featured a message from Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Omert and raised nearly $500,000 for Yad Vashem.
A Dozen Good Eggs
Twelve University of Judaism second-year students took part of the Sid B. Levine Service Learning Program over winter break, working with the elderly, the homeless, the disabled and adults with autism.
A Taste of the Best
Journal food writers Judy Zeidler and Judy Bart Kancigor signed their cookbooks at the delectable Food Fare, sponsored by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Fifty of Los Angeles’ best chefs, restaurants, caterers and wineries gave out tasty samplings of their work, while everything from cookbooks, personal trainers and symphony tickets were bid on during a silent auction. Organizers said that the annual fundraiser, which took place in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, raised more than the $400,000 the event brought in last year.
Generation to Generation
Second-generation Holocaust survivor Ricci Zuckerman visited the students of Hebrew Academy High School in Huntington Beach. The Second Generation group founder responded to an invitation by the school’s Jewish history teacher Helen Kern.
Seder at Spago,et. al.
More and more restaurants put Passover on themenu.
By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer
“I’m a Jewish girl, and my husband’s a Catholic,”says Barbara Lazaroff, who has been married for 15 years to renownedchef Wolfgang Puck.
About 12 years ago, Passover was a lonesome timefor Lazaroff, most of whose Jewish relatives lived out of town. SoSpago regulars nudged her to create a restaurant seder, and she consulted withhubby Wolf (“He said, ‘We can make shrimp.’ I said, ‘I don’t thinkso,'” Lazaroff quips).
The result was the first seder ever held in anupscale Los Angeles eatery, with kosher-style (i.e., not strictlykosher) fare a la Puck’s trendy-interpretive cuisine.
Forget bubbe’s chopped liver and matzofarfel. In recent years, the 250 Spago seder guests have munched onfois gras withkosher red-wine sauce; herbed whitefish gefilte fish; Moroccan lamband, of course, flourless chocolate cake. This year, there’s no setmenu as yet: “Wolf hates to do menus, except a few days beforehand,” Lazaroffsays.
The seder is set for April 11, the second night ofPassover, in the airy, sky-lit dining room at Spago Beverly Hills.The interactive program will be led by Lazaroff, a rabbi and a cantor– the latter two had yet to be selected by press time. The tickets,which will cost around $150 per person, will benefit Mazon: A JewishResponse to Hunger. But don’t just show up, Lazaroff warns. Spago’sseder has so many regulars, it may be tough for newcomers to purchasetickets.
On April 10 and 11 in Santa Monica, GerriGilliland’s nouvelle-American restaurant, Jake & Annie’s, willoffer Passover-style fare amid the fried chicken and meatloaf. The$21.95 price-fixed meal will include entrees such as hot-poachedsalmon and cucumber-dill sauce, minty roasted leg of lamb andapricot-glazed chicken. Chef Jesus Navarro will prepare the recipesfrom Judy Zeidler’s Jewish cookbooks. “Gerri and Judy are friends,”says Jake & Annie’s general manager Gary Allen, “so we try tofollow Judy’s recipes to the T. If her chopped liver calls forschmaltz, we useschmaltz.”
Gilliland’s nouvelle-Irish cafe, Gilliland’s, alsoin Santa Monica, will have some Passover victuals, but the menuwasn’t set as The Journal went to press.
If you crave traditional Passover viands, tryJerry’s Famous Deli, whose eight Los Angeles-area restaurants willoffer an $18.75, four-course meal, with sliced roast brisket, matzokugel and more. Some, but not all, of Jerry’s locations are open 24hours, so check before you set out at 3 a.m. with a yen for roastchicken and macaroons.
For those who require strictly kosher cuisine, ahandful of area restaurants are kashering for Pesach. It’s ameticulous endeavor that requires a blow torch for all that stubbornchametz stuck inthe oven cracks, says Rabbi Nissim Davidi, kashrut administrator forthe Rabbinical Council of California.
Simon’s La Glatt, on Fairfax Avenue, will preparestandard Ashkenazic takeout (stuffed cabbage, tzimmes, kishke) andsit-down meals during the intermediate days of the eight-day holiday.If you want barbecue chicken wings, chicken picata or grilled ahituna, try the Rimini Restaurant at the Beverly Carlton Hotel inBeverly Hills. Rimini is also catering the hotel’s seders on April 10and 11 ($45 per person, plus tax and tip).
Meanwhile, kosher caterer Micheline’s will moveinto the Beverly Grand Hotel to cook for the hotel’s seders on April10 and 11 ($60 plus tax and tip). In the banquet rooms, Micheline’swill become a restaurant for the rest of the holiday, serving upchicken fajitas, grilled rib steaks, and deli sandwiches on homemadePassover rolls. Do the rolls taste like bread? “Sort of,” ownerMicheline Weiss says.
A less-expected seder milieu is the non-kosherrestaurant Cava, at 8384 W. Third St., whose flamboyant chef,Cuban-born Toribio Prado, is known for adventurous, Caribbean andSpanish cuisine. But for the past three years, Prado, also of Cha ChaCha, has been cooking up an anything-but-Ashkenazic sederfeast.
Cuban-born Toribio Prado, above, chef of Cava and Cha ChaCha, says his Jewish grandmother taught him an appreciation forSephardic food, a variety of which will be served at Cava’s sedermeal. At left, grilled lamb, Passover-style.
It was Prado’s Jewish grandmother who taught himan appreciation for Sephardic food, where olive oil subs for theAshkenazic chicken fat, and exotic spices for heavy-on-the-salt. Hisfour-course seder ($55 per person, $30 for children) on April 12 willbe a virtual Sephardic world tour: Moroccan chicken soup with leeks,fava beans and coriander; Indian toasted mango salad with cucumberand fresh mint; Tunisian roast lamb with tarragon and plum-corianderchutney; pan-seared Pacific whitefish with green chili and tomatopuree, almond torte and pomegranate sorbet.
Food mavens Roy and Robin Rose willlead the seder with a historical /archaeological twist; St. Superykosher wines will provide the four cups; and a portion of theproceeds will benefit Vista Del Mar. “Reservations are a must,” saysCava consultant Gerry Furth. “One year, we had 40 people sign up, but80 people showed up!”
For reservations and information, call Spago at(310) 394-3922; Jake & Annie’s, (310) 452-1734; Gilliland’s,(310) 392-3901; Jerry’s Famous Deli, (818) 766-8311 (or phone yourlocal Jerry’s); Simon’s La Glatt, (213) 658-7730; Rimini Restaurant,(310) 552-1056; Micheline’s, (310) 204-5334; The Beverly Grand Hotel,(213) 939-1653; Cava, (213) 658-8898.
Passover Gefilte Fish
By Wolfgang Puck
1 head (about 2 1/2 pounds) green cabbage
2 cups matzo meal
1 quart fish stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium (5 ounces) onion, minced
2 pounds whitefish fillets, such as pike, carp orwhitefish, cut into chunks
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons (6 or 7 sprigs) chopped freshtarragon leaves
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut intojulienne
1 medium leek, white part only, cut intojulienne
1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2) Blanch the head of cabbage in boiling saltedwater, about 5 minutes, then place in a basin of cold water. Removethe whole leaves and cut away the tough core. As you peel off theouter leaves, you may have to return the head of cabbage to theboiling water to soften the inner leaves. Dry on a clean towel andreserve.
3) Place thematzo meal in a small bowl. Coverwith 1 cup of stock and let soak until needed.
4) In a small skillet, heat the olive oil. Overmedium heat, sauté the onion until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Donot brown. Cool.
5) In a wooden bowl or on a chopping board, chopthe fish fine with a chopper or large knife. Add the matzo meal withthe stock, the cooled onions, 3 egg yolks, the chopped parsley andtarragon, 2 teaspoons of salt, white pepper and cayenne, and continueto chop until well-combined. In a clean medium bowl, whisk the eggwhite until firm but not stiff. Stir a little into the fish mixture,then quickly but gently fold in the remaining whites. To test forflavor, bring a little fish stock to a simmer, add a small ball ofthe fish mixture and cook for about 5 minutes. Taste and correctseasoning.
Heat the remaining fish stock and spoon a littleinto an 11-by-17-inch baking pan. Divide the fish mixture into 12portions, about 4 ounces each, and enclose each portion in one or twocabbage leaves. You will find that when the leaves get smaller, youwill have to use two leaves to wrap the fish. As each package isformed, place in the prepared baking pan, seam-side down. This sizepan holds the 12 packages comfortably. Pour the remaining stock overthe fish and top with the julienned carrots and leeks. Cover the panwith foil and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool in the stock andrefrigerate until needed.
Presentation: Placeone package of fish on each of 12 plates, garnishing with some of thejulienned carrots and leeks. Serve with homemade horseradish, whiteor red.
To make white horseradish, finely grate peeledfresh horseradish into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, andrefrigerate until needed.
To make red horseradish, boil 1/2 pound red beetsuntil tender. Peel and then finely grate into a medium bowl. Addabout 1/2 cup grated horseradish, or to taste, and combinethoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.
Two women who don’t hate Pesach: BernieGruenbaum, left, with her daughter, Julie.
Why My Mom Doesn’t Hate Passover
By Julie Gruenbaum Fax,
I always thought women hated Pesach. I guess theimpression came from watching my mother at seder: After weeks ofcleaning and days of cooking, she usually sat at the seder table,exhausted and testy — at least until she downed the second or thirdcup of wine.
But my mom insists that she loves Pesach, andespecially the seder.
Sure, she said, you have to get yourself organizedand plow through the cleaning, but once the house is turned over andall that’s left is the seder, it’s the connection with the past, thechildhood memories and bringing the family together that takes theforeground.
And it turns out that, for many women, that’s thesentiment which lingers well beyond the Brillo pads and manglednails.
But after talking to other women my age, I foundout that I’m not alone in my perception of women’s great animositytoward the festival of freedom. Many of us who have never made aseder but have known the pleasures of scrubbing a two-bedroomapartment tend to see more of the housekeeping horror — and theconsequent sexism — of the holiday.
Of course, my generation has moved apron-lengthsfrom my grandmother’s, when, more often than not, men waltzed intothe holiday with no concept of what went into it.
In fact, a few years ago, when I told mygrandparents that my husband had cleaned and kashered the entire kitchenwhile I was at work the Sunday before Pesach, they didn’t believeme.
The seders themselves have changed as well. WithJewish women and girls educated and interested in our heritage,discussion is no longer confined to the men at the head table — infact, the head table is no longer reserved just for men.
At one seder, when I was about 12, after my cousinand I had brought the bowl and pitcher around to wash all the men’shands, I asked her to hold the bowl for me as I washed mine. That wasa dramatic change from the way things were done “back home, in theold days,” but after some bemused smirks, it didn’t take long for allthe women to hold their hands out.
And, for many years, the men have been the mainservers at our seders, allowing their tired wives to rest.
When I think about my preparations for Pesach lastyear — even with the cleaning and the cooking — I can see my mom’spoint about looking past the drudgery. Despite my intellectualindignation at turning into a seder slave, memories of Pesachs pastonly make me smile. I love the cooking and the excuse to call oldfriends and distant family to check what they meant when they wrote”bake till done” on the recipe card. I relish challenging myself tomake my bagels come out as fluffy as Tante Mina’s (I’m convinced thatshe’s withholding an ingredient, because mine never do), and lookforward to pulling out Amy’s chocolate-chip cookie recipe, written onthe “Things To Do Today” memo with a big frog in the corner.
Then there’s the family seder. Everyonecontributes a dish because we never have fewer than 25 people –extended family, their neighbors and friends, and a Russian familythat just arrived. My grandparents’ dirge-like, but indispensable,Vizhnitzer tunes mingle with our more modern — some would saytwisted — traditions, most stemming from someone’s nursery-schoolmodel seder: a resounding round of “Adir Hu, you know it’s true, Mr.Potato Head I love you!” (please don’t ask); L’shana Ha’ba’s verticalclapping (imagine your hands are sandpaper); and the chest-thumping,ooh-aahing version of “Who Knows One?” that wakes up even thesleeping 4-year-olds.
By “Chad Gad Yu” (there’s that weird Vizhnitzeraccent showing up again), my mother and her sisters, who may havebeen about as lively as wet rags at Kadesh, are usually engaged inuncontrollable, adolescent fits of Yiddish-punctuated laughter. Theyinsist that it has nothing to do with the four cups. I didn’t believethem, until I saw it happen on grape juice alone.
But I guess it makes sense. They, like womenworldwide, have spent the last few weeks physically runningthemselves down. And they’ve spent the past few days encountering thepast and the future, carrying on traditions that, more than anything,keep a family together, keep a family Jewish. Add to that a sederwhere their kids get to show off their Jewish educations, where thenewest additions recite the “Ma Nishtanah” and where the souls ofdeparted loved ones squeeze in at the head of the table, watching andparticipating as always.
Who wouldn’t get drunk on that? Who wouldn’tmuster up every bit of reserved energy to celebrate?
It’s enough to squeeze the life back into a wetrag.
By Rob Eshman, Managing Editor
The goal of Passover is to transmit the lessons ofthe Exodus to our children. The challenge of Passover is to transmitthe lessons of the Exodus to our children. The dinner is long. Mosthaggadot uselanguage that confounds a lot of grown-ups. Add the distractions offamily and friends, and you have several good reasons nothing shortof seat belts will keep children at theseder table.
Elie Gindi’s just-published “Family PassoverHaggadah” may be the solution. A few years back, Gindi, a CenturyCity internist, designed his own haggadah for his family’s seder. Hecut and pasted selections from dozens of liturgies, adding his ownchild-friendly translations and the kind of Passover songs his ownthree children, now aged 12, 9 and 6, brought home from school. Theresults astonished him. “There were 25 adults and 16 children, andnot one kid got up from the table.”
Gindi’s friends suggested he publish his homemadehaggadah, and, two years later, he has. Just like its prototype,Gindi’s version retells the Passover story at a reading levelsuitable for children. The story is substantially shortened too — itruns about 40 minutes before dinner, 10 minutes after.
For adults, the design, which Gindi himself puttogether after teaching himself advanced page layout on his Applecomputer, is a small seder feast in itself. Interspersed with thetext are examples of some of the holiday’s finest artwork, culledfrom more than 200 haggadot and museum collections around the world.Gindi spent the better part of a year acquiring the reprint rights toworks such as Toby Fluek’s “Making Haroset” and Reuven Rubin’s “FirstSeder in Jerusalem.”
High art shares space with more child-appealingillustrations. To illustrate the Ten Plagues, Gindi took his ownphotos (his children appear throughout with the subtlety ofHirschfield’s Ninas) and doctored them Newsweek-style. A snapshot ofSanta Monica Bay, the water ruddied by computer, provides a chillingdepiction of the plague of blood. The text of the haggadah combinesthe child-friendly narration with Gindi’s helpful commentary and aninsightful introduction by Rabbi Lee Bycel. There is a sampling ofSephardic traditions, a Holocaust poem, and several “How To” sectionsto help first-timers negotiate the holiday. Gindi’s wife, USCprofessor of medicine Pamela Schaff, edited the manuscript.
Those who prefer a more traditional haggadah havedismissed Gindi’s as truncated and incomplete. He reduces the longHallelbenediction, for instance, to just three lines. But Gindi said thathis work belongs to a tradition of interpretive haggadot. The test,he said, is whether or not it reaches children.
The book, which retails for $7.95, is now widelyavailable at synagogue and Jewish museum gift shops and Border’sBooks and Music. Proceeds from synagogue sales go to benefit theindividual shuls. A portion of the profits benefit the Los AngelesRetarded Citizens Foundation, and Gindi has donated copies toHadassah, the Westside Jewish Community Center and the JewishFederation, which will give them to major contributors at its April14 Salute to Israel dinner (see Page 12).
“It’s a real charge for me to get it out there andsee it be used,” said Gindi. His father, Moses Gindi, died on thefirst night of Passover in 1965, and, since then, the holiday hasheld a profound significance for him. “My dad was very much intoteaching his children,” Gindi said. “This is a legacy for him and atribute to him.”
For more information and to purchase the”Family Passover Haggadah,” call (310) 476-1565.