Helen Nash has come a long way.
From Siberia to the Upper East Side, from fussy French to frittatas and, most recently, from books to the Web.
Born Helen Englander in Krakow, Poland, in 1935, Nash made her mark on American Jewish cuisine in the 1980s by writing some of the first books that liberated kosher cooks from Ashkenazi staples and encouraged them to explore new culinary styles.
“I’m old, but I still have the energy, and I still have the ideas,” she said during an interview at her Upper East Side apartment. “What I dream about is making it easy for people. I’m very respectful of people’s time.”
Before the war, Nash’s family owned a textile business. They survived because they were deported east.
Afterward, they reunited with her maternal grandparents in Williamsburg and Nash enjoyed the safe, sheltered existence of an Orthodox girl in postwar Brooklyn. That life got bigger when she met and married Jack Nash in 1957; he was also a Holocaust refugee, but his was a more secular family, from Berlin.
The young bride insisted on a kosher home, which meant that she had to learn how to cook. Her worldly husband, who went on to build one of the first major hedge funds and whose high-flying career in finance was already underway, needed and wanted to entertain. Nash’s kitchen became her avocation.
“It was my interest,” she said. “Most women didn’t have careers outside the home, and I sort of carved a niche for myself, and the niche was entertaining in a certain style. Jack was very encouraging. And I met so many people I wouldn’t have met if I’d stayed in the religious mode.”
As her children grew up, Nash studied cooking, taking classes with famed teachers like Michael Field and Millie Chan, and figured out how to adapt their recipes to her kosher kitchen.
Field’s specialty was the French style that dominated in those days, and that influenced Nash’s first book. Chan’s specialty was Chinese.
Chan “told me, ‘Helen, bring your own meat, and your own utensils, and we will figure out how to do this,’” Nash said. Chan later wrote the cookbook “Kosher Chinese” — and dedicated it to Nash.
Nash’s own book came about because Jason Epstein, the legendary Random House editor, was a dinner guest who had a hard time reconciling Nash’s cooking with the “heavy and gray” kosher cuisine he knew. She wrote a proposal and “Kosher Cuisine” came out in 1984.
She did another book with Random House, followed by a hiatus that was broken when her husband Jack had a stroke and she found herself impelled to invent a lighter, healthier diet for him.
The experience of thinking more about simple lunches than elaborate dinners inspired both her 2012 book, “New Kosher Cuisine,” and her website, KitchenwiseHN.com, which went live on May 11.
The site is light and airy, with lots of white space and artfully composed photographs of elegant dishes. It will be updated every month with new recipes and tips on entertaining.
“I’m concerned about calories. I’m concerned about ease,” she said. “I’m not sacrificing flavor.”