It’s always about more than food.
At The Jewish Week’s second event in the annual Literary Summer series at Congregation Rodeph Sholom last Thursday night, celebrated chefs Einat Admony (“Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love”) and Kim Kushner (“The Modern Menu: Simple. Beautiful. Kosher”) shared stories of growing up amidst lots of good cooks; starting out in the food business; cooking in some of New York’s top restaurants and now running three – soon to be four – of her own (Admony) and working as a personal chef for elegant parties and slipping out before dinner is served (Kushner).
But as the conversation looped around Mediterranean cooking, New York City’s culinary scene, Rosh Hashanah menus and their own abundant tables, they often returned to their mothers’ kitchens, remembering the comfort foods of home and the skills they learned at their mothers’ sides.
Kushner, (above, center) who grew up in Montreal and spent summers in Israel with her mother’s Moroccan family, says that when she got married and moved to New York, the foods she was preparing here just didn’t taste the same. But when her mother visited, bringing along her own seasoned pots and pans, she once again savored the familiar tastes.
The daughter of a Persian mother and Yemenite father, Admony (above right,) grew up in Bnei Brak, Israel. With a wave of hand, she dismisses the in vogue “Farm to Table” movement, explaining that’s the way she grew up eating, from nearby farms to their table.
For all her success, Admony said she hasn’t been able to recreate a Yemenite specialty she used to love eating when she went to synagogue with her father. An Israeli woman of Yemenite background in the audience called out an idea, and Rabbi Leora Kaye of Congregation Rodeph Sholom suggested wryly to Admony, “You need to come back to shul.”
Both food experts come from generations of Sephardic balaboostas, even as their 21st century version of the take-charge mothers who cook by instinct — always mixing in great generosity of spirit — looks like something different.
When, in my role as moderator, I asked Admony and Kushner if anyone invites them home for dinner, they both admitted that no one asks them over. Seems like they wouldn’t mind if we did.
For more coverage of the expansive world of Jewish food, be sure to follow The Jewish Week’s new Food & Wine section, in print and online, with new stories and photographs every day,