The first time I heard that Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala had adopted the “quenelle” as his trademark, my first thought was that the controversial French comedian had a strange affinity for fish.
That’s because a quenelle, in my mind, refers not to an anti-Semitic inverted Nazi salute, but to a delicious dish from the south of France. A specialty from Lyon, the quenelle is a dumpling-like mixture of minced fish (usually pike) or meat, combined with breadcrumbs, seasoning, butter and eggs, then rolled, poached and served with sauce (often lobster or crayfish-based, replace with dill or red pepper sauce for a kosher alternative).
In 1938, with 58 home runs for the Tigers, Hank Greenberg’s mother made him a promise. “There’s a rumor that if Hank had hit 60 home runs, which would either tie or beat Babe Ruth’s record, my mother-in-law would do whatever one does with gefilte fish. Cook it, bake it, stuff it,” Marilyn Greenberg, Hank’s sister-in-law, told filmmaker Aviva Kempner in an interview.
A Sports Illustrated article from 1982 added some more details to this tale of a Jewish mother’s promise to her son. Hank’s mother, according to the article, pledged to prepare for him no less than 61 gefilte fish, once he breaks the 1927 record of 60 homers. Greenberg had five more games to play that season, but he never hit another home run.
The story of the last games of the 1938 season and the speculations over why Hank didn’t hit another home run that season are some of the most fascinating parts of Aviva Kempner’s 1998 Peabody award-winning documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, which was released on DVD earlier this month. Just in time for the new baseball season.
Hank Greenberg was a five-time Major League Baseball All-Star, a two-time American League MVP, and a Hall of Famer. “He was also Jewish – in a time when a generation of Jews was struggling to find their way in the New World, Hank Greenberg transformed the way non-Jews viewed Jews, and the way Jews saw themselves,” Kempner wrote in her introduction.
Read more at Haaretz.com.
Kutsher’s Tribeca patrons who pay close attention to their credit card bills might have noticed that they were being charged for a whole lot more than upscale gefilte fish and matzo ball soup. That’s because one of the restaurant’s waiters was allegedly stealing their information and using it to go on a $126,000 spending spree.
The waiter, Jaiquan Ibraheem, who has not been employed at Kutsher’s since last spring, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with multiple counts of grand larceny and scheme to defraud. The accused allegedly used a skimming device to steal the credit and debit card numbers of 120 Kutsher’s guests between February 1 and April 30, 2012. Accounts at a variety of banks and credit card companies were involved, but the vast majority were Chase credit card accounts.
All this must be hard for Kutsher’s to digest. The restaurant’s publicist explained that Kutsher’s waiters are instructed to take patrons credit cards directly to the terminal for payment, and then directly back to the table, and that the restaurant has never run into any problems with this — until now. An official statement from Kutsher’s emphasizes its cooperation with the NYPD on the case.
A mom, a food crafter and a chef glare at one another in a Baltimore parking lot ready to throw down with fire and sharp objects. No, this is not a surprise culinary season of The Wire, or a bizarre new John Waters film. It’s a “Gefilte Fish Throwdown” sponsored by the Jewish Museum of Maryland as part of their exhibit “Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity.”
Aromas of fresh fish, piquant onion and horseradish, with faint notes of celery and short gusts of white pepper seem “louder” than the dogs yelping in the distance or the occasional siren. As the brisk cool air dances with the flames of the camping stoves, and the hot, bright sun beats down on the 100 or so people in the audience, it may be a Sunday in October, but it’s beginning to smell a lot like Passover.
Hosted by honored guest, Aaron Harkin of Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR, and host of The Signal, the competition got under way as the eager audience was introduced to the three participants. Dave Whaley of Baltimore’s acclaimed restaurant, Wit and Wisdom at The Four Seasons, unveiled his novel gefilte fish corndog, dipped in corn batter and deep fried served with a birthday-cake-pink tinted sauce of cream, horseradish and beet powder. “I didn’t have whitefish or pike, so I decided to use cobia, another kosher fish, that I knew would stand up to being made into a fish sausage and would remain firm and flavorful throughout the process.”
Never in the history of gefilte fish — perhaps the most haimish of Jewish dishes — has it drawn so much attention from the discerning food world. In Adeena Sussman’s recent article, “From Haimish to Haute” Zach Kutsher, owner of Kutsher’s Tribeca commented: “It’s our most controversial menu item.” Indeed their upscale preparation sparked intense debate among New York’s top food critics who placed more weight and emphasis on it than any other dish of the Jewish food revolution we seem to be in the midst of.
But Kutsher’s isn’t the only place responding to the call for a makeover of this oft-disliked — or perhaps misunderstood — dish. “More than almost any other Jewish food, gefilte has a bad reputation,” said Jeffrey Yoskowitz, one of three young New Yorkers who recently launched The Gefilteria, what they call a “pushcart start-up,” that sells sustainably sourced artisanal Jewish foods.
New York’s food world has been abuzz with the opening of Kutsher’s, an American Jewish bistro named for the iconic Borscht Belt resort. Can Jewish food “go gourmet”? And, should it? Both questions have been asked perhaps exhaustively amongst passionate foodies lately.
Yesterday, we got some answers from the powers that be, some of the city’s biggest food critics. In unison, The New York Times, New York magazine and Time Out New York dished out their opinions on the new restaurant. Here’s what they had to say:
Growing up in Mexico City, each Sunday Susan Schmidt would stand on a chair a few feet behind her Hungarian grandmother — who emigrated from Budapest to Mexico in the late 1920’s — and watch her prepare nokedli, Hungarian dumpling, served with chicken and paprika. But, Susan didn’t start cooking on her own till she was married to a fellow Mexican Jew and moved to L.A. where she still lives today. At that point, her cuisine was not only influenced by her grandmother’s Hungarian heritage and her own Mexican upbringing, but by her mother-in-law’s Polish cooking and her family’s decision to start keeping kosher. Now, she melds the Eastern European roots with her Mexican childhood creating recipes like schnitzel tortas, schnitzel served on a Mexican roll, and fideos, which she calls “Mexican lokshen,” on the cooking blog Challa-peño, that she launched this summer with her oldest daughter Alex.
The blog allows me to “write a memoir in the context of food,” says Susan, explaining that it contains more than just recipes. But, as someone who is used to just adding a pinch here and a pinch there, writing recipes has proven challenging for her. She looks to Diana Kennedy, whom some call the “Julia Child of Mexican cooking” for guidance. Once she and Alex have enough recipes, they plan to create a cookbook “to preserve and continue the culinary traditions of our family,” she writes on the blog. She hopes to combine the traditions of her grandmother and her mother-in-law with the ingredients and recipes she encountered in Mexico, creating what she calls “a fusion of flavors.”
(Watch the cooking video below)
As I suspect is the case with many Jewish families, my family has been in a gefilte fish crisis for as long as I can remember. When a family grows up with homemade gefilte fish from the hands of a Jewish bubbe, and then bubbe deems making the holiday treat from scratch “too much work,” eating jarred gefilte fish just won’t cut it. Panic ensues.
We’ve resorted to what can be best described as gefilte roulette: each year we try out a new “homemade” gefilte fish from various kosher specialty stores. Sometimes we stick with one variety for a few years, then we discern subtle changes that leave a bad taste in our mouths — one store’s fish becomes too sweet or not sweet enough, another’s is too salty, and one tasted spoiled. Despite the minor flavor and textural nuances, these commercially produced gefilte fishes are all strikingly uniform in their long loaves and pale complexions. But, when done right they can be tasty.
“California Kosher,” reshaped a generation of Californians’ understanding of kosher cuisine when it came out in 1991. The book was intended to celebrate the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available in California virtually year round and the diverse cultural and culinary influences surrounding the Los Angeles Jewish community, says Pearl Roseman the editor of the book. In honor of the book’s 20th anniversary this year, an expanded and updated edition will be printed and an accompanying blog highlighting California Jewish cuisine is already up and running.
While “California Kosher” does have its traditional tzimmes, kugel and rugelach recipes, it has many more lighter, contemporary recipes such as Orange-Carrot Souffle, Chinese coleslaw, Leslie’s Mexican gefilte fish, Chile Relleno Casserole, Japanese-Style Chicken in a Pot and matzo lasagna.
When Torontonian Zane Caplansky was 16 years old, his then-girlfriend, who was from Montreal, introduced him to the smoked meat of the famed Schwartz’s Delicatessen. Caplansky broke up with that girlfriend many years ago, but his devotion to good deli has been abiding. “My love affair with smoked meat has been long lasting,” he declared.
Now 42, Caplansky, who opened his eponymous Caplansky’s Delicatessen in downtown Toronto a year and a half ago, has wedded his name and reputation to his own version of cured and smoked beef brisket. Not to be confused with corned beef (the pickled and boiled brisket for which Toronto is traditionally known), Montreal smoked meat is more like pastrami — the main difference being that the former is made from brisket and the latter from the tougher navel cut.
The guests at Jack Cohen’s recent bar mitzvah enjoyed gefilte fish. Sounds familiar. But Cohen’s friends and family were not only treated to it at the kiddush lunch, but also by way of an in-depth PowerPoint presentation on the traditional Jewish food as part of Cohen’s ceremony.
By choosing to delve into the complex history of one of the most identifiably Jewish dishes, Cohen was able to explore his heritage while reveling in being a passionate young foodie. While all b’nai mitzvah students at The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in New York must do a serious research project, not all focus on the culinary aspects of Judaism. However, Cohen, who has helped his mom in the kitchen since he was a preschooler, “knew my major project would be related to food.” He gave serious consideration to brisket and challah but ended up choosing gefilte fish. “Gefilte fish intrigued me because it is like a blank canvas. You can do so many things with gefilte fish,” he explained.
One might be tempted to think that Cohen’s 64-slide presentation of extensive research of chopped fish balls through gastronomic, religious, political, geographic and personal lenses is unique. Cohen’s strong admiration – and taste – for gefilte fish may be singular among the b’nai mitzvah set, but he is not alone in terms of young teenagers who are marking their Jewish coming of age by connecting to Jewish food, or to food in Jewish way.