The Jew And The Carrot

Kosher Meets Sichuan at Boston's Black Trumpet

By Michael Kaminer

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Boston’s becoming the hotbed of adventurous Jewish cuisine served in pop-up quarters.

Last month, the Forward reported on Kitchen Kibitz, a roving supper club that mashes up Mexican and Asian foods with traditional Jewish staples — think latkes with mole poblano or challah with nori.

Now, a pair of “social entrepreneurs” is launching a monthly pop-up dinner series whose first edition — debuting this Thursday — will feature kosher renditions of lovingly prepared homemade Sichuan delicacies.

Black Trumpet is the brainchild of Gabriel Fine and Mia Scharpie, a Boston couple with a mutual appreciation of both food and what Scharpie called “the rituals of dining.”

Its first edition — at “a high-ceilinged location in Cambridge” — will spotlight a cuisine with an informal but long-standing connection to Jewish palates: Sichuan, the intensely spiced and seasoned food of the southwest Chinese province.

All of Black Trumpet’s food will be kosher, and the pair is preparing every bit by hand, from homemade chili oil in a cucumber salad to a luscious, chicken-fat-based cashew butter served with freshly steamed bao, or stuffed Chinese buns.

“We’ve been test-cooking at home for weeks,” laughs Scharpie, a landscape designer by day who will handle front-of-house duties at Black Trumpet’s sold-out launch dinner. Fine, “the culinary expert,” according to Scharpie, will cook.

Why Sichuan? “It’s just a great cuisine,” Scharpie says. “There’s a lot of amazing spices, a lot of aromatics, and a lot of flavors. Sometimes Sichuan just gets lumped in with Chinese food generally. We wanted to play up the amazing flavors of the regional cuisine.” Though neither of the couple has visited China, Scharpie says Fine became addicted to Sichuan food during his undergraduate years at Bard College, 90 miles north of New York City.

The idea for Black Trumpet mushroomed after the couple hosted Shabbat dinners “whenever we had time,” Scharpie says. Jewish food rituals play a big part in how the pop-up will shape up, too. “We like the ritual of how a meal happens, and how courses come out at different times,” she says. “It’s not about a seder, but more about how the art of bringing people together and hosting meals is a big part of Jewish tradition. You can get hooked on that from Judaism, and it can lend itself to exciting culinary experiences.”

Fine and Scharpie had conceived the dinners as looser, more personal affairs, until the couple applied for and received a $1,000 “Make It Happen” microgrant from the Schusterman Foundation, which focuses on community and social programs. “I don’t think we would have thought of it as formally without the grant,” Scharpie says. “The idea was there, but the grant helped pull it together.”

Set to appear on Black Trumpet’s debut menu: The cucumber salad, “traditional, but hacked a bit” with kale, as Scharpie puts it, in homemade chili oil with candied peanuts; homemade bao filled with bangbang chicken, a peanut-sesame combo, served with the cashew butter based on chicken fat; fragrant stir-fried eggplant, whose many seasonings include Sichuan peppercorns, “an amazing spice that brings out all the flavors”, served with the couple’s own recipe for cardamom-spiced tofu fries; and dan-dan noodles, a classic spicy Sichuan dish that graduated from street food to traditional homemade delicacy.

So is Boston becoming the breeding ground for these adventuresome Jewish culinary labs?

“I don’t know if it’s Boston. I think there’s general interest in food as a full experience, and something more than just what’s on your plate,” Scharpie says. “When you go out to a restaurant, the food could be great, but it’s just you and your people, and the place is there as a backdrop. You can get a lot more experiential punch out of meals than you do out of typical restaurant setup. It’s not specific to Boston or to the Jewish world. People just realizing it’s possible to do that.”

For its next couple of iterations, Black Trumpet will present more Sichuan food. “There’s tons of amazing food you can’t fit in one meal,” Scharpie says. After that, the pair may explore Oaxacan food. “We’ll see where we go.” Boston diners, who snapped up every one of the 24 seats for Black Trumpet’s launch dinner, will be watching closely.

Photo courtesy of Black Trumpet


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