I'm always searching for ways of drawing upon my cultural heritage and new inspirations to create exciting, bold flavors.
My culinary career started with pickles. Sour pickles, to be precise. I began my work in food production on an organic farm in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, where I apprenticed as pickler. The farm specialized in lacto-fermentation – a powerful old-fashioned technique for souring vegetables through live-cultures. There were goats on the farm, too, and I trained in cheese and yogurt making from fresh goat's milk. I also learned how to cook and process SO MANY vegetables according to the seasons. While on the farm, I worked in a retreat center kitchen, where I produced farm-to-table meals for large, demanding groups.
When I moved back home to the New York area, over a decade ago, I entered the broader food world. I worked at the farmers markets in Brooklyn, and would come home with endless amounts of produce to play with in my kitchen. Eventually, I helped launch and then ran a company, Negev Nectars, that imported the highest quality foods (such as olive oil, olives, tahini dates, etc.) from small farmers and artisans in the Negev Desert. Part of my job was traveling to southern Israel, meeting with producers, tasting their products, and learning how to cook with them. In addition to shipping our products direct to consumers, we supplied restaurants, notably the James Beard Award-winning Zahav in Philadelphia.
I began exploring the cuisine of my own family's heritage, eastern European Jewish cuisine (AKA Ashkenazi cuisine), when, simultaneously, reports of the death of the Jewish deli converged with my grandmother announcing her retirement from holiday cooking. I realized it was on me to keep the traditions alive. So I got in the kitchen and began my Jewish food training. I started with the most basic: rendering schmaltz from chicken fat. I also used my fermentation expertise to explore the world of cultured dairy, such as sour creams, yogurts, etc. I studied sourdough baking techniques. I became an expert challah baker and braider. And yes, I learned to make gefilte fish. I actually pulled my grandmother out of retirement for that one (here's the article).
I hosted a few public dinners in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (even a "Jewpanese" dinner before the term was officially coined that played on my heritage and my experiences as a high school exchange student in Japan). I learned from incredible chefs whenever I could. Every year I volunteered for a dinner production series founded by Alice Waters and Jose Andres called Sunday Suppers. A highlight for me was cooking beside Chef Christopher Lee in Berkeley, CA, for Chez Panisse's 40th anniversary celebrations.
Eventually, I teamed up with a couple of friends and we decided to take our revival of Eastern European Jewish food on the road and we launched The Gefilteria. With The Gefilteria, I produce dinners large and small that explore the foods of my heritage and also work to tell untold or forgotten stories, while also working to reimagine and rethink elements of the cuisine. I also teach Jewish heritage cooking to all ages, through workshops, demos, and classes (see Gefilteria dining and teaching events). And The Gefilteria manufactures a wildly popular artisanal gefilte fish for the holidays.
A few years back I had the privilege of cooking multiple times at the esteemed James Beard Foundation, for its Passover seders, along with teams of other chefs pushing forward a culinary revival of our shared heritage foods. Another major culinary highlight includes writing a cookbook, The Gefilte Manifesto, along with my business partner Liz Alpern, that tells the story of our food heritage and shares our passion for its revival. The book was named a National Jewish Book Award finalist and listed as a top cookbook of 2016 by many publications I respect.
Today, I continue to cook around the world and collaborate with chefs and other food professionals, in places like Warsaw, San Diego, LA, Berlin, etc. etc. Each new place I travel I glean new insights and new inspiration.