This Sunday night, rising star chef and member of the tribe Micah Wexler will face off against Master Chef Bobby Flay on The Food Network’s “Iron Chef”. We caught up with the popular L.A.-based chef to get some cooking and restaurant advice, a recipe for pomegranate brisket and to find out if he really will appear on “The Bachelor”.
How did the “Iron Chef” team find you?
The producer came into Mezze, my first restaurant, and really liked the food. He asked to meet me and then asked if I’d ever considered doing the show. When I was younger, I imagined it, but I hadn’t thought the opportunity would come about at this point in my career. He came back 6 or 7 times and then he invited me to be on it.
What is the penalty for telling us about the show before it airs?
A million dollars. In fact, they make everyone who is in the audience sign a non-disclosure agreement. When my episode was taped, my sister Miri was in the audience, and like everyone else, she had to sign an NDA. Shortly after, I talked to my mother and she knew all this stuff about what happened and I called up Miri and said, “Didn’t you sign one of those papers they passed out?” And she said, “Yes.” And I said, “Didn’t you read it?**!” And she said, “No.” I made sure neither of them said anything to anyone else.
Do you have any advice for Bobby Flay?
He’s done well for himself, so he should be the one giving me advice.
In the fall of 2008, we re-launched the food bank at my synagogue, Valley Beth Shalom. The economy had started to crash, and the synagogue responded, in part, by reinvesting in this project to help San Fernando Valley residents who needed a hand. Little did I know that within a few weeks, our little food bank would grow to reach hundreds of families a month–including members of my own community. During the Great Recession and subsequent (albeit slow) recovery, I spoke with congregants who told me their stories: Before the recession, they were successful in business and had “done everything right,” but the bank later took their home. They needed a little extra food each month to bridge the gap between their paycheck and bills.
It’s times of social and economic upheaval when we recognize our own vulnerability, despite our hard work and planning. One day we have it all, and the next–perhaps, nothing.
For our children, Purim is the silliest day of the Jewish year. In fact, it also celebrates life’s unpredictability. The Book of Esther, for example, showcases sudden reversals of fortune: At one moment, the Jewish community faces annihilation by genocide, and the next—the King of Persia executes our would-be killers. Or in the words of the Megillah, our lives were “turned inside out from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to a day of celebration.” (Esther 9:22)
Since being aurally haunted by hundreds of toy noise makers during one Purim celebration in my childhood, Purim has been banned from my top 10 list of favorite holidays (making way for more quiet and civilized holidays where you soberly eat matzo ball soup with your family). In my wimpy eyes its only point of redemption is hamantaschen. This year, I have reinterpreted the triangle cookies two ways — one sweet and Asian inspired and the other savory and filled with delicious rich cheese.
My favorite varieties of classic hamantaschen can be found at a few hidden deli counters in New York and in care packages from the mother of a dear college friend, Brian. When we were in college, Brian’s apartment was good for three things: throwing wild patio parties, eating spray can cheese, and hosting impromptu hamantaschen eating parties as soon as his Purim care package arrived. His mother’s hamantaschen were soft, doughy, slightly smashed from the shipping process, and swimming in powdered sugar (perfect for the morning after those legendary patio parties). So when I decided to make hamantaschen this year — with a personal twist — the obvious starting point was tapping Brian’s mom for her recipe.
One of these recipes draws on my Asian heritage and uses black sesame seeds in place of the traditional poppy seed filling. Black sesames are common in Asian cooking and have a smokier and nuttier flavor than their white counterparts. The other is an homage to my cheese and spinach obsessions and is as perfect for an appetizer or party hors d’oeuvre as it is sacrilege.
One of my favorite things about Jewish holidays is their vivid food symbolism. On Purim, this typically translates into triangular foods, like hamantaschen and kreplach, which represent Haman’s hat, pockets or ears, depending on who you ask. And, while Purim the is one of the few Jewish holidays that encourages drinking, that symbolism has yet to make its way into beverages. So this year, I’m getting in the spirit by concocting some holiday-inspired cocktails to serve up to my friends.
There are varying interpretations on exactly how drunk one should get on Purim, but the general idea is to get drunk enough that you cannot tell the difference between the hero Mordechai and his nemesis Haman. The Book of Esther even commences with a 180-day drinking festival. The biblical drink of choice would be wine, but it’s high time that Purim swills got a modern facelift.
Since Queen Esther is the heroine of the Purim tale, I wanted to invent a cocktail in her honor. The Esther Cocktail starts with pomegranate juice, since the arils of the fruit are reminiscent of the jewels in Esther’s crown. I added rose water, a common Persian ingredient, as an homage to the setting of the tale. Finally, a date honey and poppy seed rim makes for a nod to hamantaschen, as well as a dramatic presentation.
On a recent Friday afternoon, 32 seventh-graders from San Francisco’s Brandeis Hillel Day School piled into a yellow school bus for a rather unusual field trip. Instead of heading to the zoo or a science museum, they went to the supermarket. With Jewish values on food and sustainability as their guide, students cased the aisles of local Trader Joe’s and Safeway stores to discover what products were available that met their social and environmental standards.
The field trip, conducted with the California office of Hazon, complemented the food curriculum that Samantha Zadikoff’s seventh grade class has been exploring this year. Food, rituals around food, distinctions about what is ‘kosher”, and the implications of who grows our food, where it comes from, what it’s fed, and what’s sprayed on it have been their through-lines to connect daily life with Jewish values.
Take a walking tour of Jewish food in San Francisco with the guys from Wise Sons Deli. Yum. [Serious Eats]
Saveur.com suggests adding white chocolate to your smoky baba ghannouj. An interesting idea. [Saveur]
Passover baking might go down easier if we all tried these chocolate raspberry macaroons. [Serious Eats]
This might be the best veggie Shabbat dinner recipe we’ve heard of in a while — Dan Barber’s cauliflower steak. [Food 52]
But, if you prefer chicken, here’s an excellent tutuorial on how to know when your bird is done. [Food 52]
I scream, you scream… In Israel, it was the Israeli business daily Calcalist screaming this week about just how much ice cream Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been licking on the people’s dime (sorry, shekel). The paper reported that Bibi had asked for and received a NIS 10,000 ($2,700) budget from the government to keep his residence supplied with high-end ice cream at every hour of the day and night.
Having depleted an NIS 3,000 ($813) budget for frozen treats by May last year, this time around the prime minister’s residence made sure to ask for a whole lot more cash to fund Bibi’s habit. The official request repeatedly mentioned that the money was for ice cream “on the personal taste and desire of the prime minister,” from a gelateria located near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood.
On my first day back in the “World of People Who Can Eat Out,” I found myself at a table full of homemade food. It was Shabbat, and my hosts had transformed a box of local produce into tangy carrot-ginger soup, mashed potatoes with roasted red turnips, and vibrant purple coleslaw.
Even after 31 days without sit-down restaurants, take-out food, or even coffee to go, I wouldn’t have traded that for a Michelin-rated tasting menu.
Locally-sourced veggie dishes weren’t my only reminders of how good home cooking can be. During that month, I rediscovered several general categories and specific dishes that I had once loved but abandoned over the years. Many of them sync nicely with a locavore lifestyle.
As a high school student , my son, Neil, was diagnosed with mental illness. He lives with schizophrenia every day. As a student, he was an outstanding athlete at Manhasset High school. He excelled in lacrosse, basketball and track. But, starting in his junior year, things changed for Neil and for our entire family.
In the spring of his sophomore year, Neil was being recruited by several division 1 lacrosse schools. At the same time, he started exhibiting signs of mental illness. As his father, I couldn’t understand what I was seeing, and it pained me to watch his seemingly perfect life begin to unravel. Neil battled his mental illness for several years, and was hospitalized at North Shore Hospital in 1995. He escaped from their mental ward, and hitch-hiked 1,500 miles to Florida. We had no idea where he was until he showed up on my brother’s door steps. This is one example of what it means to live with a child with mental illness.
Eleven years later, all spent in and out of several hospitals, I reunited with Neil’s former lacrosse coach at a party. I informed Coach Rule of Neil’s diagnosis, and to my surprise he asked to visit Neil in the hospital. During his years in the hospital, Neil had very few visitors, and I was both shocked and honored that his coach wanted to visit him. During his visit, he said to my son, “you are a member of the lacrosse community, a respected member, and we will never forget you”. Coach Rule asked to share Neil’s story with his 7th and 8th grade classes. That was the beginning of a slow climb back for Neil.
In this week’s edition of the Forward, Ingredients columnist Leah Koenig writes about the Shabbat traditions of the Ethiopian Jewish community. Savor the recipes below.
The use of spice is very subjective in Ethiopian cuisine, so add or subtract to your liking. You can find berbere at specialty food shops, and order a kosher-certified blend online at teenytinyspice.com.
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
6–7 garlic cloves, grated
1 piece (2-inch) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 ½ pounds chicken legs or thighs (or a combination), skin removed
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon berbere
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1) Place eggs in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring water to a boil over high heat; turn off heat; cover and let stand 20 minutes. Rinse eggs under cold water, peel them and set aside.
2) Meanwhile, add the oil, onions, garlic and ginger to a Dutch oven or large pot set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of water, cover pot with lid and let cook until very soft, 5–6 minutes.
3) Add the chicken and about 2 cups of water; raise heat to medium. Stir in the tomato paste and spices, and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a simmer; cover and cook until sauce thickens, about 35 minutes. If mixture begins to look dry, add more water as needed.
4) Add peeled eggs to pot, and continue to cook until chicken is fully cooked through, an additional 10–15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings; arrange chicken on a piece of injera, or divide onto plates, and spoon sauce over top.
A new stunning Israeli book aims to bridge the space between the ocean and the table. Half cookbook, half artful seafood encyclopedia, the book is a project of famed Tel Aviv port restaurant Mul-Yam (or, Across the Sea).
“Mul-Yam is known for bringing unusual fish to Israel,” the book’s designer Dan Alexander said about the 17-year-old restaurant. “We wanted to show [the owner] Shalom Maharovsky’s obsession in bringing the best raw material. He was the first to bring lobsters, oysters and rare seafood to Israel.” In 2003, Mul-Yam was the first Mediterranean-region restaurant to be added to the elite Les Grandes Tables du Monde group.
The first section of the book, which is also called “Mul-Yam,” contains stunningly artful photographs of a wide selection of domestic and imported fish and edible sea creatures — with their names given in seven languages. Culinary information along with scientific and even mythological anecdotes accompany the photographs. The book’s second part consists of recipes from the restaurant, along with beautiful photographs of the prepared dishes.
“The challenge was to create something people wanted to look at,” Alexander explained. “Creating a catalogue of fish was risky. It could have ended up just a book of dead fish.”
Preparing traditional Jewish deli meats is no easy process. Though a bright red slice of pastrami or dark, moist piece of tongue might look simple by the time it’s served on rye, meats like these have already spent up to several weeks soaking in brine, curing in a chilly walk-in, hanging up to dry or smoking in a precisely-tuned machine.
Noah Bermanoff, chef and co-owner of Mile End Deli in Brooklyn and Mile End Sandwich shop in Manhattan, is intimately familiar with this labor-intensive practice. He’s been serving up exemplary cured and smoked meats at his Brooklyn flagship since 2010.
“It’s not like making a hamburger,” Bermanoff said of his product. “It doesn’t just happen overnight,” he added.
So when Hurricane Sandy wiped out the restaurant’s custom-tailored production kitchen located on Red Hook’s Pier 41 last October, Bermanoff and his team had to make some tough decisions, fast: how were they going to prepare their signature pastrami without a working smoker? Where were they going to hang and cure their meats without access to the kitchen’s 6,500 square feet? How were they going to continue baking bread and bagels now that their oven was destroyed?
When President Obama spoke about climate change in his inaugural speech, it was a small victory for the hard working members of environmental organizations everywhere to finally hear that their agenda was being acknowledged on a large scale. One of these hardworking individuals is Mirele Goldsmith, the director of the Jewish Greening Fellowship (JGF), a program created by UJA-Federation of New York to mobilize the Jewish Community in response to climate change.
With terms like “CSA” (community supported agriculture) and “CFL” (compact fluorescent light bulb) becoming increasingly common, it’s easy to be excited and quickly overwhelmed by climate change and sustainability. In an interview with Mirele, she explained, “It’s hard to think of things to do between changing your light bulb and saving the world; as a community we can make a difference in ways that we can’t as individuals. That is what the Jewish Greening Fellowship is about.”
Ever wondered what a Jewish reggae superstar eats on the road? Matisyahu’s personal chef shares his vegan chulent recipe and more. [What Does Matisyahu Eat?]
Who should regulate kosher and halal food? The Economist chews on a meaty question. [The Economist]
If you didn’t get your fill of fried deliciousness during Hanukkah, Venetian Carnival Galani provide a compelling new reason to break out the oil. [Dinner in Venice]
It may not be a Jewish holiday, but Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to eat chocolate. Check out these edible valentine recipes. [Food 52]
It was a blustery winter night, and we were walking in Long Island City — only a bridge away from the Upper East Side, but it felt like another world… a cold and windy world, and an unlikely location for an upscale kosher dinner of whiskey-glazed spare ribs and coconut-caramel pears. But that’s what we found, at the latest pop up restaurant presented by Manna Catering, one of the leading gourmet kosher caterers in New York. My friends and I sat at one of about 20 tables arrayed at the hip Foundry venue, housed in, yes, a former foundry. complete with exposed-brick ambience and loft-like aesthetics.
I was there in part for the prospect of a six-course gourmet kosher meal, and in part because it would be cooked by a former Hebrew High School student of mine, Yair Lenchner, who joined his family’s business after studying at the French Culinary Institute. Yair’s father Dan Lenchner has, according to Manna’s website, prepared kosher meals for the likes of President Bill Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Yitzhak Rabin, and Jordan’s King Hussein.
Well, the apple has not fallen far from the tree; indeed, at our meal, it landed on a bed of greens, right next to the duck bacon. The pop up was a sumptuous, if slow-moving, combination of farm-to-table, seasonal cuisine with a few kosher curveballs thrown into the mix.
Located in the tony 17th Arrondissement, a ten minute walk from the Etoile, in a neighborhood both residential and commercial, Boucherie Levy stands next to a store selling Judaica. While France’s kosher authorities have certified more than two dozen delicatessen and butcher shops in Paris, this is perhaps the most beloved, and with good reason.
By New York deli standards (think Zabar’s), the corner shop is small but inviting thanks to large bay windows, a white tile floor and brightly lit display cases overflowing with fresh meat and take out preparations. Here, you’ll find an array of Jewish comfort food like pickled beef brisket and chopped chicken liver, together with traditional French specialties such as foie gras.
On one side of the shop, I noticed paper thin garnet slices of beef carpaccio for two (10 euros or about $12), on the other, a rosy chunk of braised veal labeled ‘veau à l’os’, that I thought could be mistaken for (God forbid)… ham. Next to that, was another of the shop’s exclusive specialties: foie gras speckled with candied fruit like apricot or figs.
On Tuesday, I had an evening that would make the proverbial bubbie plotz (and with credit to my Bubbie, when I told her where I was, she kind of did). I left my Brooklyn apartment while it was still dark, and boarded the train from Penn Station to Washington DC, the sun was rising out the window. By noon, I was surrounded by a room full Jewish men; lawyers to be precise. The whole place was full of them, dressed in suits, making small talk. If you’re quiet, you can hear the sound of bubbie plotzing!
When you picture the quintessential Jewish “Bubby,” someone like Shira Ginsburg’s grandmother, Judith, probably springs to mind.
Mrs. Ginsburg, the subject of her granddaughter’s one-woman show “Bubby’s Kitchen,” developed a reputation in her Troy, New York, community for her endless, delicious cooking (she’s since moved to Florida, where she still cooks and teaches her grandchildren her culinary ways).
“Growing up there was always rugelach or mandelbread in the oven and soup on the stove. There were also two freezers down in the basement that were full of food,” Ginsburg says of her grandmother’s house, which was located five minutes from her childhood home.
While her ceaseless cooking might seem typical in a Jewish grandmother, the elder Mrs. Ginsburg’s early life was anything but typical. She lost her entire family in the Holocaust and was a resistance fighter in Eastern Europe — a story that takes center stage in the show.
Ginsburg sets her performance around the table of her grandmother’s home — the stage is set with a lone table and six chairs. She tells her family’s story through monologue, Yiddish, liturgical and musical theatre songs, and plays several different family members.
During my month of eating in, I came across a few statements from Achai ben Josiah. Back in the second century, this biblical scholar compared someone who buys grain rather than growing their own to “an infant whose mother has died and who is taken from one wet nurse to another, but is never satisfied.” He called the wayward souls who purchase bread instead of baking their own “as good as dead and buried.” Only one who “eats of his own produce” is truly fulfilled. Achai extrapolated this from references to the land in the book of Genesis. I’m sure his own context – in an era when all but the wealthiest were directly involved in food production – also played a part.
Yet, these ideas felt right to me, even in a 21st-century life not driven by literal interpretations of the Torah. I knew I would find satisfaction in my challenge to eat in (no takeout orders, sit-down restaurants, or coffee from a barista) for the first month of the new year.
Just weeks before Hurricane Sandy devastated low-lying areas of the northeast, Brigitte Mizrahi moved into a brand-new one-bedroom apartment on the 36th floor of a residential unit in downtown Jersey City. Immediately after the storm, her living room was converted into a makeshift office where, beginning at 7:30 every morning, she met with colleagues as they worked out a plan to save their company.
“I used to wake up in the morning crying. My whole team was in my living room! It was a nightmare,” Mizrahi, 55, said.
Mizrahi is the C.E.O. of Anderson International Foods, a small kosher cheese company that supplies stores and restaurants around North America and in Australia. A Parisian with a lifelong love of cheese, it was a natural fit when she discovered that the company that turns out 20 varieties of artisan cheese was for sale.
In 2008 she moved the company from L.A. to New York and two years later the company settled into a beautiful, historic warehouse once owned by Ambriola, an importer of Italian cheeses.
On October 29, all 20,000 square feet of the warehouse flooded. Denied claims by multiple insurance companies and still waiting to hear from FEMA, the small company has rallied to save its warehouse, starting almost from scratch in order to rebuild and return to 100% production. The Forward caught up with Mizrahi to see how she’s doing three months after the storm.