July 15, 2019

The Sweet Torture of Kitchen Life

I’ve just come home from work. I’m covered in burns and cuts to the point where the heat from my shower stung so much I had to turn off the hot water halfway through. I have so many scars on my hands, so many broken nails, that my manicurist regularly scolds me. I’m fueled by espresso and adrenaline and haven’t eaten anything since yesterday. Did I even eat dinner last night? Despite some shockingly expensive insoles, my legs ache so much I could ice myself until tomorrow and do yoga religiously, but nothing can undo the damage of 14 straight hours on my feet. I think for most people, this might sound torturous, but for a chef, it’s just a typical day.

You may wonder why anyone would do it. What would possess a sane person to get up at 5 a.m. to pick herbs in the dark and risk a snake bite (yes, that happened), drive to work in the rain on bumpy and dangerous roads and then spend the day brutalizing her body? The best way I can describe it is as an addiction like running or smoking.

But it also seems like a requirement; like breathing and sleeping, the action of a hot kitchen with its pleasurable intensity, its flames and sparks, its relentless physical push and pull is intoxicating. When you are 20 orders deep, headphones on, smoking oil and woks in the air, backed up against continuous deadlines that come within seconds of one another, you find a place deep inside of you, a sweet torture that creates a temporary vacuum in the air and electrifies it.

Like a fly, you circle the web of your nemesis. You try to come as close as you can by stepping around an edge without falling in because the memory of the last time you got eaten alive still stings. Unfortunately, the only way around your predicament is preparation so exhaustive and precise that running a marathon seems like a walk on the beach. Add to that the fact that your fate depends on the consciousness and the physical and mental acuity of others. You can be on track with your orders, but if your co-chefs are not on their game, you will go down in flames alongside them, inevitably and cataclysmically like a Sunfish sailboat in a perfect storm.

Like your favorite lover, chefs will decant a seduction onto your plate and the better we get to know you, we will chase what you like until you catch on that you’re ours.

Then there are the sounds and smells of a professional kitchen, as musical in and of themselves as a favorite song on a repeat. “Order in!” shouts an expeditor and, like a starter’s pistol at the beginning of a race, the body reacts viscerally. You know you’re on, and for another hour or two, you will become so enmeshed, so deep in the weeds, so deliciously absorbed, you will barely feel it when you pull focaccia out of a 600-degree oven with your bare hands. When your mezzaluna falls apart, its handle still slick from olive oil, because you have so forcefully pushed it into the rosemary and garlic-scented crust, unless the sight of blood gushing forth from your hand stops you, it will barely register.

And then there are your customers. The way they look at you when you’ve remembered — without being reminded — that they hate cilantro. Or the way a child will run up to hug you with stars in their eyes because they still remember that time you presented them with a sprinkle-laden Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake. The flash of adoration you see when you watch someone take a bite of warm challah that you’ve braided and adorned with your prayers. The look that says you’ve stirred a memory — of a grandmother or a wife or an aunt far away — its innocence so pure it makes you buzz as though you’ve drunk a glass of champagne too quickly.

Absorbed in the act of icing a cake, I often look up to find my customers silently watching me, completely engrossed in my task and with looks of appreciation so intense that sometimes it makes me blush. My greatest pleasure is making customers one-bite spoon treats when I am finishing off a dessert and have leftover bits. Some cake crumbs, a swath of cream and a drizzle of dulce de leche piled onto a spoon and handed to someone having a tough day may as well be a life preserver thrown out to the drowning — so simple, yet so powerful.

In my mind there is a Rolodex: Michelle hates sweet potatoes; extra onions for Carmelita; Jenny likes her eggs soft; JoJo doesn’t want oil in her salad dressing. My only talent — that of remembering people’s likes and dislikes when it comes to food — has paid off in my kitchen life. Like typing — a skill that seemed so pointless once — has become one of my greatest advantages. Seemingly insignificant details about hundreds of people’s preferences flash through my mind all day, and along with those details, a connection to that person that remains long after they have gone. Not adding chile to Meghan’s food but making Kevin’s food extra spicy may not seem like a very big deal in the scheme of life but it’s the very essence and language of a kitchen.

Somehow, all the bruises and failures of kitchen life evaporate when I present someone with a cake, buttercream flowers strewn about in shades of their favorite color, and they burst into tears of joy. People know when you are giving them a piece of yourself and when your heart is in the game. But unlike a revealing “tell” in a game of poker, in the kitchen, when you have shown your hand, you are left without the option to fold. Chefs will go all in every single time. Like your favorite lover, we will decant a seduction onto your plate and the better we get to know you, we will chase what you like until you catch on that you’re ours.

The seemingly relentless disappointments that go hand in hand with the pursuit of anything this demanding is not for the easily discouraged. Since life naturally ebbs and flows in swirls of sorrow, delight and impermanence, one solution to disheartenment is to try to catch a wave of joy and ride it as far as you can.

Like the fly, it’s instinctual for us to try to avoid the web. But in the kitchen, as in life, perhaps the only thing that may keep us from the silky clutches of the spider is a fierce trajectory toward our passion.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Los Angeles’ top Jewish chefs under 40

What do the young Jewish star chefs in Los Angeles have in common? For those on the cutting edge of the city’s food scene, it’s not the laws of kashrut. Instead, for each of the 10 chefs and teams profiled here, all under age 40, the foundation of their cooking is seasonality, sustainability and a strong sense of place. Their styles and philosophy can be traced back to the temple of  Berkeley’s Alice Waters, who is not Jewish, as well as some leading local godmothers of L.A. cooking, such as Nancy Silverton, Evan Kleiman, Suzanne Tracht and Susan Feniger, who certainly are. 

Many of these younger chefs spent their formative years training with marquee names in iconic restaurants, like Campanile, Michael’s and Spago. Others have made their names via big-time reality TV food shows, while the rest have forged independent, idiosyncratic and often surprising paths. 

Most of the chefs we’ve included are Los Angeles natives who at some point left their hometown to develop their skills and knowledge in other cities, some overseas, but we’ve also highlighted a selection of transplants from the East Coast, as well as other parts of California, who’ve found inspiration and success in Los Angeles. All of these chefs benefited from supportive families, education and access, and almost all have an ownership stake in their current businesses.

They all come from Jewish families, and although mostly secular, their cultural and religious identities, along with formative food experiences, continue to influence what shows up on the tables of their popular and critically lauded restaurants. (Most of their establishments are among Jonathan Gold’s recent 101 Best Restaurants list in the Los Angeles Times.) 

And come major holidays, they might even reinterpret traditional Jewish foods in ways their bubbes never imagined.

Eric Greenspan
The Foundry on Melrose and The Roof on Wilshire

Equal parts extroverted, easygoing, precise and book smart, Eric Greenspan is that guy you went to Sunday school with. Come major holidays, he’s one of the local chefs who regularly puts his version of Ashkenazic favorites on the menu at The Foundry on Melrose (which is under renovation, until August). Meanwhile, Greenspan’s latke bites have proven popular enough to always be available at Foundry. His semi-regular fried chicken nights attracted regulars who shattered stereotypes of caloric decadence-fearing Angelenos.

Greenspan graduated from Calabasas High School, has degrees from UC Berkeley and Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu, and was named executive chef at Patina before moving to the erstwhile Meson G on Melrose (Hatfield’s now occupies the space). Greenspan said he doesn’t actively practice the Conservative traditions he was raised with, but he said he likes “to raise the flag of Judaism as often as possible.” Last February, for instance, he teamed up with chef Roberto Treviño for El Ñosh, a Jewish-Latin fusion pop-up concept during the South Beach Food and Wine Festival in Miami. And his haimish side really shines in his transcendent grilled cheese sandwiches, which became the inspiration for “The Melt Master: A Grilled Cheese Adventure Show,” on Tasted, a food channel show on YouTube. Now The Foundation Hospitality Group (which he formed with partner Jay Perrin and Jim Hustead, and which also operates the Beverly Hills-adjacent Roof on Wilshire, atop Hotel Wilshire) is turning a small space next to The Foundry into a sandwich emporium, dubbed Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese and slated to open in July. 

The Foundry on Melrose
7465 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 651-0915  –  thefoundryonmelrose.com

The Roof on Wilshire Hotel
6317 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 852-6002  –  theroofonwilshire.com

Giselle Wellman
Petrossian Café

Preparing Shabbat dinner “was the highlight of the week,” said Giselle Wellman, 28, about her early devotion as a teenager in San Diego to cooking for her extended clan. It didn’t occur to her that it was unusual for someone her age to plan her activities around preparing a large family meal on Friday nights. Nor did she automatically assume she was destined for a career commanding the stoves. 

“There are a lot of chefs in my family, but I was committed to the idea that we go to school, and we become doctors and lawyers,” the now-executive chef at the luxurious Petrossian caviar boutique and restaurant in West Hollywood explained. “Cooking was a hobby until the day my mom came home with an application for a nearby culinary school.” Not satisfied with her choices nearby, Wellman moved to Mexico City, where most of her family has been based since fleeing Eastern Europe during World War II, and she lived there with her grandmother while attending Le Cordon Bleu. Fluent in English and Spanish, Wellman speaks fondly of her family’s cultural hybrid traditions, such as adding a squeeze of lime to chicken matzah ball soup. 

A beautiful, simple salad with butter lettuce, shaved egg, mixed fresh herbs, crème fraîche dressing and a sprinkling of, yes, caviar, showcases Wellman’s deft hand when it comes to restrained indulgence. She satisfies the smoked fish fanatics and the ladies-who-lunch crowd, but Wellman also knows her way around a lamb pita sandwich. And if you’ve ever wondered what caviar tastes like atop a perfectly fried latke, Wellman is the chef to enlighten you. 

Petrossian Café
321 N. Robertson Blvd.  –  West Hollywood
(310) 271-0576  –  petrossian.com/boutique-west-hollywood-boutique-and-restaurant-6.html

Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Ilan Hall
The Gorbals 

When Long Island-bred, Culinary Institute of America-trained Ilan Hall came to Los Angeles from New York to invest his winnings from Season 2 of “Top Chef,” his location of choice — downtown — reflected the optimism of a new arrival. Opening a restaurant in the lower level of the once lustrous, now scrappy Alexandria Hotel in the Historic Core of the city pinned heavy hopes on the neighborhood’s renaissance. Hall’s bet paid off, and his meat-intensive, cultural mash-up cooking style has drawn customers to the increasingly vibrant intersection of Fifth and Spring streets since opening in 2009. Improvising from his Jerusalem-born mother’s heritage as well as that of his Scottish father, Hall, 31, makes food that is deeply personal. (The restaurant takes its name from Glasgow’s historically Jewish neighborhood where Hall’s father comes from.) “My mom, who doesn’t cook, made really good sandwiches. She made me a hummus and ham sandwich, and it was really marvelous. It was those two ingredients made to be together. That’s where it all began,” Hall told Orit Arfa, writing for jewishjournal.com in 2009. 

His in-your-face iconoclastic bacon-wrapped matzah balls might be what got people talking, but the Gorbals has evolved into one of the area’s staple late-night pubs, where folks can order reasonably priced dishes of welsh rarebit, homemade latkes, tongue confit, and Persian cucumbers tossed with crispy garbanzos and sumac. 

The Gorbals
501 S. Spring St.  –  Los Angeles
(213) 488-3408  –  thegorbalsla.com

Photo by Dylan Ho

Karen Hatfield
Hatfield’s and The Sycamore Kitchen

Chef Karen Hatfield and her husband, Quinn Hatfield, are as close as you get to a fabled L.A. storybook romance. Pacific Palisades-raised Karen, 37, met Quinn while working on the line at Spago, where she was a pastry chef and he was rising through the ranks of Wolfgang Puck’s legendary kitchen. Their first eponymous restaurant occupied an elegantly modest space on Beverly Boulevard, a few blocks east of Fairfax, before they ambitiously decamped to Melrose, near Highland, in the building originally occupied by chef Alain Giraud’s nouvelle cuisine institution, Citrus. The Hatfields’ exacting style fits the site’s pedigree and history. The couple also owns The Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea, a neighborhood utility player where locals drop in for coffee, sandwiches, salads and rustic pastries, including Karen’s notoriously delicious twist on an Old World treat: the salted-caramel babka roll.

6703 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 935-2977  –  hatfieldsrestaurant.com

The Sycamore Kitchen
143 S. La Brea Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 939-0151  –  thesycamorekitchen.com

Photo by Jessica Ritz

Jessica Koslow

Good thing Jessica Koslow got her alternative career plans out of the way. The Long Beach-bred master food preserver, 32, earned her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a master’s degree in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown before getting on the culinary track in Atlanta, where she started cooking at the lauded restaurant Bacchanalia under the mentorship of chef Anne Quatrano. Koslow moved to New York, and then was transferred home to Los Angeles while producing online content for “American Idol,” when she started delving more deeply into food preservation and baking. In the interim, she returned to Atlanta for a bit to help Quatrano open another restaurant. Back in L.A., Koslow began making and selling small batches of delicately flavored jams (Pakistani mulberry, Thai basil), and when her production needs exceeded capacity in the commercial kitchen space she borrowed, she found her own place on Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood to create Sqirl, her micro café, which attracts diners willing to consume $5 coffee and brioche toast piled with market greens, preserved lemon and slivered beets topped with an egg while sitting on a stretch of sidewalk that can hardly be described as glamorous.

Koslow still makes the popular jams, and she constantly returns to Jewish pickling; hulking dark brown ceramic fermenting crocks full of caraway-laced sauerkraut and kosher dill pickles can always be spotted somewhere around the kitchen at Sqirl. She maintains a discerning eye for top, peak-season ingredients and zero tolerance for short cuts (current project: mastering beef tongue pastrami). “Jewish food is very comforting. I think of it in terms of the home and family,” Koslow observed. “It’s what I know, and these things resonate.” Because she’s found an ever-expanding audience, the under-construction space next door to Sqirl will contain a provisions shop. 

720 N. Virgil Ave.  No. 4   –  Los Angeles
(213) 394-6526  –  sqirlla.com

Ori Menashe

The Italian-themed Bestia, located inside a converted industrial building in the downtown Arts District, has been buzzing since day one, thanks to chef Ori Menashe’s spectacular house-made, intensely flavored pastas, pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven at the right nanosecond and an extensive selection of his aromatic, expertly handled charcuterie. Salads and other vegetable-focused dishes at Bestia reflect the chef’s passion for Southern California produce, which is equal to his faith in his customers’ willingness to order grilled lamb heart with sprouted arugula. 

The Los Angeles-born, then Israel-raised Menashe, 32, comes from a mostly kosher household. He started flouting the rules upon eating his first cheeseburger when he was around 15. “That’s when I thought I could change my own direction,” he said, noting that he felt freer to explore traditions and ingredients outside of his family’s kosher home. He’s cooked in L.A. kitchens ranging from a café in Kosher Corridor, to Angelini Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, before the omnipresent restaurateur Bill Chait (also the man behind Sotto; see below) came calling. Menashe’s wife, Genevieve Gergis, is Bestia’s acclaimed pastry chef. His Israeli upbringing, in combination with his parents’ Georgian and Moroccan roots, enriches his professional toolkit. Said Menashe: “A lot of my flavor profile is because of my dad,” who still owns a restaurant in Israel. “He’s really talented.”

2121 E. Seventh Place  –  Los Angeles
(213) 514-5724  –  bestiala.com

Photo by Emily Hart Roth

Zoe Nathan
Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Milo & Olive and Sweet Rose Creamery

Westside restaurant power couple Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb met in the kitchen of Rustic Canyon, the Wilshire Boulevard restaurant Loeb founded and had named in honor of his beloved Santa Monica neighborhood. They’ve since married and had a son, Milo, all while continuing to make their mark among a receptive community. Chef Nathan, 31, who spent time at Mario Batali’s Lupa in New York and San Francisco’s seminal Tartine Bakery, keeps expanding her pastry and savory repertoires, from wood-fired pizzas at Milo & Olive to small-batch ice creams at Sweet Rose Creamery, to sandwiches at casual café Huckleberry, which she co-owns with entrepreneur Loeb. Despite this breadth, Nathan primarily identifies as a pastry chef and baker. The couple’s businesses are a natural extension of their values and worldview. “Zoe and I are much more culturally religious than actually practicing religious, but ultimately food is our religion as much as anything,” Loeb, 38, explained. During the holidays, Nathan notes that “brisket is a mainstay on the menu at Huck, and my flavors in a lot of my food are a play of salty and sweet.” Also of note: Now helming the Rustic Canyon kitchen is Executive Chef Jeremy Fox, a 2008 Food & Wine Best New Chef and 2009 Bon Appetit Best Chef (and Member of the Tribe), who brings the deeply seasonal, highly refined, gorgeously composed style he developed at Manresa in Los Gatos and Ubuntu in Napa. 

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 393-7050  –  rusticcanyonwinebar.com

Huckleberry Cafe
1014 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 451-2311  –  huckleberrycafe.com

Milo & Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 453-6776  –  miloandolive.com

Sweet Rose Creamery
225 26th St. No. 51  –  Santa Monica
(310) 260-2663  –  sweetrosecreamery.com

Photo by Sean Murphy

Zach Pollack

Zach Pollack, 29, who along with Steve Samson, runs Sotto Italian restaurant on West Pico, near Beverly Drive, grew up “quite Reform” in Westwood. His mother was born in Germany to refugees who immigrated to the United States “in the aftermath of the Holocaust,” Pollack said. “We took Jewish cultural traditions seriously,” he noted, and religious practice less so, although he did have a bar mitzvah. 

Pollack’s formative professional conversion can be traced to his junior year abroad in Florence, Italy; after graduating from Brown University, he returned to Italy to fully develop his passion for its cooking. (Samson was raised in an interfaith family that didn’t regularly observe Jewish rituals.) The duo brings a seriousness of purpose and commitment to quality to a block not previously known for culinary accomplishment. That was until Sotto and its upstairs neighbor, chef Ricardo Zarate’s Picca Peruvian cantina, transformed their eclectic colonial townhouse building into a dining destination. At lunch and dinner, the cozy subterranean room is packed with diners sharing hearty plates of grilled meatballs with bitter greens, deliciously funky blistered pizzas, traditional Italian dishes that use quintessentially West Coast ingredients such as Fresno chilies and formidable protein dishes paired with seasonal vegetables. 

9575 W. Pico Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(310) 277-0210  –  sottorestaurant.com

Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Microsoft

Jon Shook
Animal, Son of a Gun and Trois Mec

Jon Shook and his business partner, Vinny Dotolo, opened their first restaurant in the heart of the Fairfax District among the delis, Judaica shops and skater hangouts. But if you expect Animal to share anything in common with its next-door neighbor and landlord, the kosher icon Schwartz Bakery and Café, let us disabuse you of any such notions immediately. (Their lease agreement actually includes a non-kosher clause.) “It’s kind of random that we ended up on Fairfax,” Shook remarked, “but it’s been interesting.” Both Florida natives, Dotolo and Shook, 32, were among the city’s first ambassadors of the nose-to-tail philosophy and approach. And yet despite Shook’s love of a “Jewish-grandma-style brisket,” they’re far from being a one-trick pony extreme-meat shtick. The Shook/Dotolo brand has thrived with their seafood-focused Son of a Gun on Third Street, near La Cienega, which also happens to serve a crave-inducing fried chicken sandwich, along with the stellar petite lobster roll and raw seafood dishes infused with unexpected flavors. 

They’ve also opened Trois Mec (the name roughly translates as “three dudes”), a partnership with celebrated French chef Ludo Lefebvre, who is arguably best known for his series of highly in-demand pop-up dinners called LudoBites. This collaborative project is tucked within a former Raffalo’s strip mall pizza shop catty-corner from Silverton’s Mozza, and immediately attracted accolades for the inventive prix fixe menu that changes almost daily. The restaurant’s system, requiring advance purchase of a meal in lieu of making a traditional reservation, much like a cultural event, also got attention. Any resulting criticism hasn’t impacted the bottom line — Trois Mec’s 24 seats remain  among the hottest tickets in town. The most recent news out of the Shook/Dotolo camp is a vague plan announced via Instagram to take over the Damiano’s space on Fairfax; it helps that they own the building.  

435 N. Fairfax Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9225  –  animalrestaurant.com

Son of a Gun
8370 W. Third St.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9033  –  sonofagunrestaurant.com

Trois Mec
716 N. Highland Ave.  –  Los Angeles

Photo by Cathy Chaplin/GastronomyBlog.com

The Residency at Umamicatessen

“I didn’t set out to say I want to be the modern Jewish chef,” Micah Wexler, 30, explained at Reboot’s “Who’s Your Bubbie?” panel at the Skirball last November. “These were the flavors I grew up around, [and they] started to manifest more and more.” So it additionally stung when Wexler, who has staged in some of Europe’s most famous kitchens, was getting into the groove of revisiting the Ashkenazic culinary canon at his pan-Mediterranean Mezze restaurant on La Cienega then had to close down suddenly due to construction next door. 

Losing that venue as a home base for his Old World-meets-New, market-driven dishes, including chopped chicken livers with apple mostarda, farm egg shakshouka, soujouk sausage with muhammara and veal jus, and smoked sablefish with lebne, has by no means kept him out of the L.A. food scene, however. Wexler is currently in the midst of his second stint at Umamicatessen’s Residency project downtown, cooking multicourse dinners in an open kitchen surrounded by customers seated at his counter for a very specific experience. The configuration makes for a social, interactive Saturday night, as does the conceit. For the current “Dead Chefs” theme, continuing through July, Wexler turns to the canon to cook recipes from a different historical culinary giant for each of the 10 weeks, starting with Marie-Antoine Careme and concluding with Julia Child. 

“To Live and Dine in L.A.,” Wexler’s previous, inaugural session of the program, took a specific geographical approach, with nights dedicated to saluting the best of Pico Boulevard and exploring the diverse heritage Boyle Heights, among other communities. Wexler might have made an Israeli cheese-stuffed borek in reference to Eilat Market, but not one you’d typically expect. (Hint: Bacon was involved.)

A graduate of Milken Community High School, Wexler and his business partner (and fellow Cornell University alum) Mike Kassar, are setting their sights on settling down again, in a new locale, in the coming months.  

The Residency at Umamicatessen
852 Broadway  –  Los Angeles
(213) 413-8626 – umami.com/umamicatessen

Gourmet Memories

Rosh Hashanah is filled with promise of many kinds — the prospect of a fresh start for the year to come, the opportunity to celebrate with friends and family, and the thrill of enjoying delicious food whose ingredients express the potential for sweet things ahead. For four of Los Angeles’ top Jewish chefs, the holiday also offers up the chance to share their recollections — and recipes — from a lifetime spent preparing and enjoying great meals. Tradition inspires their daily work and also the dishes they’ve chosen to share

Nicki B. Reiss: Private Chef

Just back from six weeks as private chef to “American Idol” founder Simon Fuller in the south of France, Nicki B. Reiss already had the Jewish New Year on the brain.

“It’s always a major event in our family,” said Reiss, 30. “I know wherever I am in the world, I am always going home for Rosh Hashanah.”

Reiss, who had her bat mitzvah at Stephen S. Wise Temple, grew up in a food-centric Jewish household, with a “fabulous-cook” mother and a father who owned several commercial bakeries. “But don’t get the wrong idea — the pastries were so bad, I had to go to school just to learn to make them better,” she said, laughing.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York in 1996, she did stints in San Francisco, New York and the Bahamas with top chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Jean Georges Vongerichten. Then she headed back to Los Angeles in 2001, where she cultivated a celeb-heavy client roster that includes Mariah Carey and Billy Bob Thornton.

Still, that doesn’t get her out of cooking at home.

“Ever since she was in culinary school, we would literally get her off the plane and put her in the kitchen,” said her sister, Shaynee. “We wouldn’t even let her sit down before we sent her to work.”

After temple, Reiss’ extended family — parents, grandparents, cousins, pets — gather at her parents’ Encino home for a crowd-pleasing meal, often starring her mother’s kugel.

“It has everything bad in it, all the things you’re not supposed to eat,” said Reiss admiringly of the noodle dish filled with sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, brown sugar — and even Cocoa Krispies.

This year, Reiss will be making the sweet-and-savory glazed short ribs described below, and maybe the walnut-apple cake that is a family favorite. She also prepares lighter salads and soups for balance.

Simple, creative presentation completes the picture. Reiss drapes a central buffet table with pieces of color-coordinated fabric, then creates a dramatic platform for serving platters by covering boxes with more fabric. Centerpieces can include vases filled with dried branches, floating candles — even tiny crabapples suspended in water.

“Fresh flowers in small bud vases, colored glass pieces and marbles hidden into the folds of the fabric all add a personal touch,” she said. “It looks great and people love it.”

Her short ribs are a twist on the traditional style that results in a flavor that balances contrast between spicy and sweet. She loves to serve it with mashed potatoes or whipped parsnips. Or perhaps sticky rice and sautéed spinach topped off with apple rings.

Spicy Honey Glazed Short Ribs With Fried Apple Rings

2 tablespoons grape seed or neutral oil

5 pounds beef short ribs, preferably organic (ask your butcher to trim them of sinew and fat)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 shallots, peeled and sliced

8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced ginger, peeled and sliced

4 tablespoons honey

4 pieces star anise

4 1-inch pieces ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

4 cinnamon sticks

1 tablespoon white peppercorns

6 Fresh Thai chilis, sliced and seeded (leave the seeds in if you like it extra spicy)

1 bunch parsley stems, leaves reserved

1 bunch cilantro stems, leaves reserved

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1/3 cup low sodium tamari sauce

3 cups water

Fried Apple Rings (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Heat oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven over high heat. Season ribs with kosher salt and black pepper. In batches, add ribs to pot and sear on all sides, making sure not to overcrowd. Remove the ribs to a sheet tray or cookie sheet. To the same pot, add shallots, garlic, ginger, honey, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, chilis, parsley stems and cilantro stems. Stirring until liquid develops a nice golden color, about seven minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine, tamari and water. Add the ribs back to the pot and bring to a slight boil. Then cover with the lid or foil. Bake for about two and a half hours or until falling off the bones. Remove the ribs from the braising liquid, keeping liquid warm over very low heat. Skim the excess fat off the top of the liquid and discard. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a saucepot and reduce liquid by one-third. Return the short ribs and coat them with the sauce; bake for 10 minutes or until heated through. Chop up some parsley and cilantro leaves to sprinkle over the dish.

Makes four servings.

Fried “Apple” Rings

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 large egg

1 cup panko or dry breadcrumbs

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 large granny smith apple, cored and cut into 8 rings

1 cup canola oil, for frying

Preheat oven to 325 F. Put flour, eggs and panko or breadcrumbs into three separate dishes. Mix a pinch of salt and pepper into each of the three dishes. Add the cinnamon to the panko dish. Dredge each piece of apple into the flour mixture and shake off the excess. Then dip the apple into the egg, make sure it is completely coated, and allow the excess egg to drip back into the pan. Then roll it in the panko. Set on baking sheet. Add oil to a sauté pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add the rings, two or three at a time, and fry until golden brown, about two minutes per side. Drain on a paper towel. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve with short ribs.

Serves four.

Upside-Down Walnut Apple Cake

1/3 pound (about 1 cup) walnuts

1 cup sugar

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup apple sauce

1 tablespoon Calvados or other apple liqueur (optional)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

Walnut Butter

3/4 cup butter

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed well

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Melt the butter. Remove from the heat and whisk in the brown sugar and the nuts. Store in the refrigerator.

Yield about two cups

2 Rome or McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Lightly toast the nuts on a cookie sheet, about eight minutes, and let them cool completely. In a food processor, grind the nuts with the sugar until very fine. Using a mixer, cream the butter, then add the sugar mixture. Beat until fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until incorporated. Add the sour cream and vanilla. Mix in the apple puree and apple liqueur. Stir in the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt to make a smooth batter. To bake, cover the bottom of the cake pan with some of the warmed walnut butter (to warm, microwave approximately 30 seconds). Sprinkle the apple pieces over the walnut butter, then spoon the batter over the apples.

Bake until just set, about 35-40 minutes. Keep warm in a low oven and invert into a serving plate at the last minute.

Serves 12-14.

Suzanne Tracht: Jar

On Rosh Hashanah eve, the reservations tend to skew a little earlier than normal at Jar, chef Suzanne Tracht’s perennially popular restaurant on Beverly Boulevard.

“We always get a huge pre-temple crowd on New Year’s,” Tracht said. “The food is real comfort fare, similar to what many of my Jewish customers grew up eating.”

Her haute-yet-haimish fare includes her take on succulent pot roast, crispy veal cutlet, fork-tender braised lamb shank, silky mashed potatoes and luscious house-made applesauce.

“We sort of know who’s there for the holiday,” she said.

As a child in Phoenix, Rosh Hashanah meant “being able to take off from school.” The downside was “never-ending services with my parents.” The payoff came after temple when Tracht and her family would head home for a traditional feast: Brisket with rich gravy, kasha varnishkes, matzah ball soup, and several varieties of moist honey cake.

“My mom loves to bake, so there would always be an apple kugel,” Tracht said.

These days, Tracht’s focus has to be on cooking for people outside the family. Her restaurant’s name — Jar — a self-effacing acronym for “Just Another Restaurant,” belies the eatery’s reputation for tough-to-get tables, not to mention its top Zagat rating. Still, on Rosh Hashanah she makes the time to put together a festive luncheon for her two children, Max, 12, and Ida, 11, and a group of friends and relatives.

“I love cooking at home, especially on holidays,” Tracht said. “It’s all about being with family. I usually incorporate sweet potatoes for a sweet new year, then some braised meat for continuity’s sake.” And, of course, apples and honey.

When it comes to honey, Tracht heads to the farmer’s market for hard-to-find varieties such as buckwheat, which she treasures for its dark color and pungent, malt-like flavor. This and other flavors show up in creative dishes at Jar around Rosh Hashanah and all year long. Honey serves as an alluring glaze for autumnal roasted kabocha squash, and as a key ingredient in dipping sauces. And on Mozzarella Mondays — the cheese-centric evenings she co-hosts with good friend Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery and Campanile fame — buricotta cheese (southern Italian fresh mozzarella), is served with oat biscuits, spicy walnuts and honey for a surprising juxtaposition of creamy, savory and sweet. It’s tantalizing proof that for Tracht, breaking with convention is sometimes as important as hewing to it.

Still, she sticks to other traditions: “Now I drag my kids to temple with me on Rosh Hashanah.”

Kabocha Squash With Sage, Leeks and Honey

1 large or 1 1/2 medium kabocha squash (about 3 pounds)

olive oil

kosher salt

1/2 pound (two sticks) unsalted butter

1 1/2 or 2 leeks, washed, with bulb and greens removed

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 tablespoon black pepper

1/4 cup fresh sage leaves (about six to eight leaves)

1 tablespoon honey

Rub the squash generously with olive oil and season well with kosher salt. Pierce three holes in the top of the squash with a sharp object to allow the steam to vent when cooking. Place on a sheet pan and roast in a preheated 350 F. oven for about one hour, or until thoroughly soft and easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, cut open the squash, carefully remove the seeds and discard.

Using a large, flat spoon, scoop out all of the flesh and place in a bowl or container, discarding the remaining skin. Cut the leeks lengthwise and julienne into straw-like strips, about 2 inches in length and set aside. This may be prepared in advance and kept in ice water. Heat the butter in a large heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat until the color reaches brown butter stage.

Add the fresh sage leaves and continue cooking until the sage becomes slightly crisped. Add the julienne of leeks and continue stirring until cooked, about two minutes. Add the salt and pepper and stir to blend. Add the cooked squash and continue to stir over heat to mash the squash and to blend all of the ingredients.

Some large pieces of squash may remain, or they can be mashed with a back of a spoon if a smoother consistency is desired. Spoon the squash into a large serving bowl and drizzle the top lightly with honey just before serving.

This dish can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator; but omit the honey until serving. Reheat slowly on stovetop and add the honey at the end.

Serves six to eight.

Jar Pot Roast

1 short rib, about 3-5 pounds, boned and denuded (ask your butcher for help with this)

4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1 bunch celery, roughly chopped

1/2 bulb garlic, unpeeled

1 bay leaf

1 cup sherry

2 quarts chicken stock

1/2 cup vegetable oil


Optional: Roasted carrots and caramelized onions

Preheat oven to 350 F. In large pan, heat oil to just under the smoking point. Season meat liberally with salt and pepper, then sear both sides in the pan to dark crisp. Remove meat and set aside. Pour oil from pan into heatproof container to cool, and then discard. Using the same pan, add sherry, bring to simmer and reduce by half. Place the carrot, onion and celery in a large braising pan with bay leaf and garlic. Place pot roast on top of vegetable mixture and pour reduced sherry on top of roast. Add enough chicken stock to cover three-fourths of the meat. Cover with foil and place in oven, roasting for three hours.

Remove the pot roast from the oven and cool. Strain the liquid from the vegetables and discard the vegetables from the pot. Place pot roast on serving platter, slice and serve with the liquid. If desired, serve with roasted carrots and caramelized onions.

Serves three to four.

Evan Kleiman: Angeli Caffe

As a child, chef Evan Kleiman looked to Rosh Hashanah as yet another opportunity to satisfy her yen for delicious food.

“I was a little glutton,” Kleiman said. “I always looked for any excuse to celebrate a Jewish holiday.”

Raised by a nonobservant single mother, Kleiman fondly recalled the holiday meals she pent with friends and family.

“It seemed like everyone’s house was a festival of dairy,” she says of the raisin-studded kugels, coffee lashed with cream and a seemingly endless wave of sour cream. “The sense of abundance and happiness are the things I always think of when I recall those New Year’s meals.”

These days, Kleiman is the busy owner of 21-year-old Angeli Caffe — not to mention the host of Sunday morning’s “Good Food” radio show on KCRW and a leader of Los Angeles’ burgeoning slow-food movement. Having to juggle these commitments, Kleiman finds her connection to the Jewish holidays has changed.

“My role these days is to fulfill the holidays for others,” she said. She sees this job as an opportunity to lend her own touch to the milk-and-honey spreads of her Los Angeles youth: “I enjoy doing vegetarian food for Rosh Hashanah because meat meals prevent me from serving dairy.”

As the centerpiece of a sumptuous holiday table, she suggests a plate of three artisanal cheeses, accompanied by small ramekins of sweet chutney, preserves, nuts, dried fruits and other condiments.

“It’s a fun and creative spin on the tradition of serving sweet foods this time of year,” Kleiman said.

Rich ricotta salata (Kleiman favors Fulvi brand ricotta salata for cheese plates) meets its match in Spanish marcona almonds and a drizzle of organic wildflower honey. Nutty, aged Manchego comes alive when paired with slices of sweet membrillo (quince paste). And an Italian Pecorino Romano marries well with the fig jam Kleiman puts up when the fruit is at its best. To reap the tail-end of summer’s bounty, Kleiman suggests an antipasti platter overflowing with fresh vegetables at their peak of freshness, cooked simply to accentuate natural flavors. And while the long days may be ending, the new season brings a favorite ingredient — chestnuts. In this crepe recipe, rich chestnut flour and dark, intense chestnut honey (both found at farmers markets beginning in October) serve as foils to the lightness of the sweetened ricotta.

Chestnut Crepes With Ricotta and Chestnut Honey

Chestnut Crepes

1 cup milk

2 eggs

1?4 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chestnut flour

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons melted butter plus more for pan

Ricotta filling

Chestnut honey

Ricotta Filling

1 cup ricotta

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup candied chestnuts, minced

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Puree ricotta and sugar together in food processor with steel blade until very smooth. Place in small bowl. Add chestnuts and lemon zest. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a blender, combine milk, eggs and vanilla. Blend well. Add remaining ingredients. Blend for one minute. Refrigerate batter for at least two hours, or up to two days. When ready to cook, heat a small nonstick skillet or seasoned crepe pan over medium-high heat. Rub pan with paper towel dipped in melted butter. Pour just enough batter in pan to form a thin layer.

Quickly rotate the pan to form a round thin crepe. Cook until crepe is golden, about two minutes. Turn crepe and cook briefly, about 30 seconds. Turn out of pan and repeat with remaining batter. Stack crepes until finished. When ready to serve, fill each crepe with about 2 tablespoons of the Ricotta filling. Either roll crepes or fold like a handkerchief. Lay filled crepes next to one another on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Briefly bake just to warm, about five minutes in 375 F. oven.

Serve crepes drizzled with warmed chestnut honey or your favorite variety of honey.

Roger Hayot: Authentic Cafe

For Roger Hayot, chef/owner of Authentic Café in the Fairfax district, family tradition is literally built in: His father, Abner, ran his kosher butcher shop, Shalom Kosher Meats, on the very same spot where Hayot opened his Beverly Boulevard restaurant in 1986.

“The holidays were always a very busy time for my dad,” said Hayot, who helped behind the counter cutting, packing and wrapping. “But one of the fringe benefits was that we always had the best meat for our family.”

The Moroccan side of the Hayot clan began westward migration en masse in 1977. By time Roger arrived in 1979, his grandmother, Hanina, and four of her six children all lived on the same block in Hollywood. Living with his grandmother during his first nine months in Los Angeles, he got a first-hand glimpse of authentic Moroccan Jewish cooking.

“Absolutely everything was homemade,” he said. Perhaps sensing a culinary kindred spirit, Hanina would often enlist him as a pre-dawn sous chef before Rosh Hashanah and other holidays.

“Some mornings she would wake me at 5 a.m. to grind almonds,” he said.

With a minimum of 20 relatives crowded around the table, festival meals were multicourse affairs.

“My grandmother’s house was full of great scents, sights and colors,” Hayot said. “The smell of cumin, cinnamon, saffron, and garlic would hit you the minute you walked through the door.”

To start, she served a lavish spread of homemade salads in ceramic dishes, followed by garlic- and herb-studded Merguez sausage from the butcher shop. The main course was usually a fragrant roast of lamb and couscous. Though apples and honey — an Ashkenazi custom — were typically absent, there was plenty of sweet food: flaky, eggy pastry fritters drizzled in warm honey; dried fruits integrated into stewed meat dishes; tea with mint and sugar.

The task of recreating his late grandmother’s specialties now falls on one of Hayot’s aunts.

“I look forward to those meals because I don’t get to eat Moroccan food that much otherwise” he said.

The recipe he provided to The Journal pays a nod to Hanina’s honey-drizzled, filo dough-based desserts, while incorporating a favorite fruit, bananas.

Bananas in Filo

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup honey

4 slightly under-ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1/4 cup brandy or cognac

4 sheets filo dough

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

powdered sugar for dusting

Heat a large, heavy, nonreactive sauté or frying pan over a medium heat. Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter in the pan, but do not let it brown. Add the honey and whisk the mixture until smooth. Let the mixture bubble for about 20 minutes. Place the bananas in the pan and stir with a wooden spoon until all the pieces are coated with the butter mixture. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring the bananas until the mixture bubbles, about two minutes. Add the brandy and continue to cook over medium heat for 40 seconds to evaporate the alcohol (the flavor of the brandy will remain).

Place this mixture in a large bowl in a single layer, and let it cool to room temperature. This can be prepared ahead and refrigerated, covered, for up to one day. If you are planning to bake the pastries immediately, preheat the oven to 350 F; otherwise, do so 15 minutes before baking. Place one filo sheet on a flat work surface, covering the remaining sheets, first with waxed paper, then a damp towel, to prevent from drying out. Brush the sheet with melted butter, then, holding the edges of a short end, fold it in half crosswise and brush the top with more butter. Spoon 1/4 of the banana mixture in the center of the dough, then gather the dough up around the filling to form a small bundle, allowing the edges to fall down around the filled part of the dough. Repeat with the remaining three sheets.

Place the pastries at least three inches apart to ensure even browning on a nonstick or foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining butter over the tops, then dust with the powdered sugar. Bake the pastries until they are an even, golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings.