The Jew And The Carrot

James Beard Pop-Up Seder Mixes Past and Present Deliciously

By Devra Ferst

  • Print
  • Share Share
Devra Ferst

The sacrificial lamb of the Passover story rarely makes it into the Passover meal other than as a symbol on the Seder plate. But, by serving it as a main course — smoked, smothered in harissa and sprinkled with fresh rosemary — chef Aaron Israel of Mile End Deli enlivened the Passover story for 80 diners at the Seder in the James Beard Foundation pop-up restaurant at Chelsea Market on Tuesday night. The event was one of a number of iterations of the Foundation’s pop-up restaurant, which will host noted chefs for 27 days this spring.

The Passover story, Seder and food are framed in many Jewish circles as things to be reinterpreted each year, by each family or group performing a Seder. Many cooks turn to Sephardic traditions to spice up the standard Ashkenazi staples or even look to other cultures (a co-worker made a Mexican brisket for her Seder this year). But it is rare that cooks look back at Ashkenazi culinary traditions and think how they can reinterpret the Seder classics.

The Beard Seder honored both tradition and innovation through a surprisingly creative and yet familiar meal. Each of the five courses Israel created was inspired by an item on the Seder plate — karpas, haroset, maror, betzah, the egg and zeroah, or the lamb shank. The dishes, which were served communally at long tables, looked deep into tradition for inspiration, bringing modern food sensibilities to the table as well as a handful of ingredients from other traditions.

“Without innovation, you don’t have the right to speak about tradition — and the reverse,” said Mile End’s owner, Noah Bernamoff.

In addition to the lamb, Israel served delicate homemade gefilte fish accompanied by beets, carrots and maror. The second course consisted of roasted asparagus, tossed in a rich shmaltz and mustard vinaigrette, topped with eggs haminados (a Sephardic preparation) and crispy pieces of chicken skin called gribenes. The smoked lamb was accompanied by a Jerusalem artichoke kugel with bits of intensely flavored citrus, instead of the standard potato kugel. Sweetbreads served over lightly pickled cucumbers, preserved lemon and fried pieces of parsley stood in for karpas and haroset’s sweet flavor enhanced a walnut cake for dessert.

Israel also served his rendition of matzo: homemade, light, crisp and more reminiscent of an artisanal cracker than a box of Manischewitz matzo. “I don’t usually come away from a Seder saying those matzos were amazing,” said George Robinson, author of “Essential Judaism,” who led the Seder. This was an exception, he said.

“We want to stay true to traditional foods that [diners] will recognize. We use a bit of a different technique approach with a slightly different thought process,” said Israel. “I think innovation comes down to a subtle slight turn of the knob…. You recognize it but I’ve never seen it before.”

The flavors, especially of rich shmaltz, were familiar to many guests. “I haven’t had such good Jewish food since my grandmother’s” said Diane Harris Brown, Director of Educational and Community Programming of the James Beard Foundation. “In some ways it exceeds hers because it’s more creative,” she added.

Bernamoff whose deli serves traditional Jewish food with a twist said that some of his foods, such as his matzo ball soup (which unfortunately, didn’t make it into the Seder) are inspired by his grandmother.

“We are creating modern traditions, founded on ancestral traditions – this is our approach. Our matzo balls are founded on her recipe.” Bernamoff said that telling his grandmother that her food inspires him to create and be innovative is more of a compliment than copying her recipe.

At the pop-up Israel’s Seder fueled lively conversations about food and its role in retelling the Passover story. His approach befitted the holiday in which we are instructed to reinterpret tradition and claim it as our own. The plates were inspiring and nostalgic, forward looking but with a strong connection to collective Ashkenazi roots and the Passover story.

Mitchell Davis, the vice president of the James Beard Foundation, who originally thought of the Seder, said the Foundation hopes to do more Seders in the future. And it should. This one sold out in 11 minutes.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zeroah, Seder, Mile End Deli, Noah Bernamoff, James Beard Foundation, Passover, Karpas, Aaron Israel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.