Much of Gabi Moskowitz’s career path reflects the current plugged-in, hyper-technological times we live in. And yet her experience is also rooted in a particularly traditional Jewish-American experience.
The food blogger, cookbook author and executive consultant to “Young & Hungry,” the new ABC Family sitcom that’s loosely based on her life story, points to a source that’s been her constant inspiration: Jewish summer camp.
A Santa Rosa native who lives in San Francisco’s Mission District, Moskowitz described Camp Tawonga, located just outside Yosemite National Park, as the place where she developed “this sense of who I am, and having a purpose in the world.” What’s more, she also learned principles about food and cooking that would inform the focus of her website, BrokeAss Gourmet (brokeassgourmet.com), which describes itself as the “premier food and lifestyle blog for folks who want to live the high life on the cheap.”
At Camp Tawonga, where she spent summers as a camper followed by years as a counselor, “there’s a big emphasis in not wasting food and how to use everything.” The Jewish teachings and practices at camp taught her “food is a blessing, that we are lucky to have it and we need to honor the earth.”
After graduating from Emerson College, Moskowitz, 32, stayed in Boston for one year to teach kindergarten, and then spent another couple of years in Bay Area classrooms until she made a career transition that was aligned with another lifelong passion: food education.
Using food “was a great way to teach math and science and sharing and reading. The kids were so responsive to it,” she recalled. “It’s so rewarding and they get so much out of it, and it really forces you to think through and prepare how you’re going to explain food.”
After leaving elementary classroom teaching, Moskowitz transitioned into catering, teaching cooking classes and working as a private chef for families in San Francisco. The desire to share her interest in smart, frugal menu planning and making quality cooking more accessible to a wider audience came into focus after the economic bubble burst in 2008. It was then when she began to notice “these 24-year-olds wandering around without any domestic skills. It was a sea of frozen pizza.” That lack of resourcefulness never jibed with her experience or understanding of domestic arts.
“When I was a kid, my mom went to graduate school, so I helped cook our meals. So many of my peers were latchkey kids who were eating Hot Pockets.”
Not a fine dining nor a formally trained chef, Moskowitz is quick to describe herself as “a great cook, but I’m very rustic.” And when she started her blog, she was in fact, broke.
Given her previous work experience, Moskowitz’s culinary career wasn’t all that much of a divergent turn, after all. Her writing style and overarching philosophy were from the get-go informed by her years spent in the company of eager young children.
“I come at everything from a very instructional place. I don’t want you to have a recipe for roast chicken, I want you to feel like you understand it,” she explained. “I don’t think my blog is just for the foodies in the world. It’s for aspirational cooks, for people who are just getting started, or for people who have a few recipes but want to step up their game.”
As for “Young & Hungry,” it’s a somewhat classic case of Hollywood using real-life source material as a jumping off point to embellish for dramatic and comic effect. Gabi Diamond, played by Emily Osment, is the young protagonist of the show who winds up becoming a private chef to Josh (Jonathan Sadowski), a high-powered tech entrepreneur. On the show, Gabi’s grilled cheese sandwich edges out Los Angeles chef and “Top Chef” winner Michael Voltaggio’s sample dishes and helps land her the job; some romantic entanglements ensue, too. (ABC Family has more adult innuendo than one might assume.)
In her role as executive consultant, Moskowitz closely collaborates with the writers and producers to ensure all details about San Francisco, cooking and food are accurate. To prepare for the season, the writing staff visited San Francisco to get the lay of the land from Moskowitz and hang out with the “real” Gabi Diamond in her home environment.
Moskowitz comes to L.A. regularly to visit the set, cast and crew. (She also stars in a series of promotional videos for the show called “Young & Foodie.”) The pilot plus nine episodes have been shot; they started airing in June and will continue through the summer.
“I took the road very similar to Gabi Diamond in spirit,” Moskowitz said.
And yet there are pronounced differences and quite a bit of creative license. “The questions I get most are: Did I sleep with my boss, and do I dress like Gabi in the kitchen?” referring to Gabi Diamond’s trendy wardrobe and preference for cooking in somewhat absurd footwear, given the professional context. “And the answer to both is no.”
Moskowitz also writes the “Kosherize It” syndicated food column for The Jewish Week, and has published two books, “The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook” and “Pizza Dough: 100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes.”
But one of the more interesting challenges in her culinary life thus far has been merging her eating and cooking habits with those of her boyfriend, a Jewish day school teacher who keeps kosher. Her 20 years of vegetarianism were a big help in the process.
“It’s not as big of a deal as I expected. He has zero judgment or expectation that I eat the way he eats,” Moskowitz said. “We’re both into vegetables and healthy eating. So we eat a ton of quinoa and a lot of tofu. It’s been surprisingly doable.”
She confesses to going on “treif dates for pork dumplings with a friend,” which have actually proven to be motivational once she’s back in the kitchen and making food both she and her boyfriend can enjoy.
“I think sometimes Jewish cooking can forget about the benefits of classic culinary techniques,” she said.
This particular challenge and creative approach accounts for how the following recipe came about.
“By taking techniques used in non-kosher cooking and applying them to kosher [food], I make incredible kosher ground turkey Chinese dumplings.” These have become so popular, in fact, “it’s become sort of a tradition for break the fast,” she said.
Kosher Chinese Potstickers
6 large Napa cabbage leaves, very thinly sliced (or shredded)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound ground turkey
1 egg yolk
4 minced green onions
1 handful fresh cilantro, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons (plus more for serving) soy sauce or tamari
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Asian chili paste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Flour for dusting
40 round dumpling or potsticker wrappers, allowed to come to room temperature
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Spread the sliced or shredded cabbage over a cutting board. Sprinkle with the salt and gently toss together to distribute. Let sit for about 5 minutes while salt draws moisture from the cabbage.
While the cabbage sits, put turkey into a large mixing bowl, along with the egg yolk, green onions, cilantro, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, rice vinegar and chili paste. Mix.
Gather as much of the cabbage as you can in your hands and wring out the liquid. Repeat with any remaining cabbage. Add the squeezed-out cabbage to the meat mixture and add pepper. Mix well to combine the cabbage and the meat mixture. Set aside.
Lightly flour a cutting board or similar work surface. Place a dumpling wrapper on the surface. Use a clean finger to brush the edges of a dumpling skin lightly with water. Place about 2 teaspoons of the meat mixture in the center of the wrapper, making it into a neat little mound, leaving a large border of empty wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half, like a little taco, but do not seal it.
Make 5-6 small pleats on one side, as you seal the wrapper together, pinching gently to ensure total closure. The dumpling should resemble a little crescent moon. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers, until all the potstickers have been assembled.
To cook the potstickers, heat the oil in a large frying pan (make sure it has a fitted lid), over medium heat. Working in batches, arrange the potstickers close to one another (but not touching) in the pan and let cook for 2-3 minutes, until a golden crust begins to develop on the bottom.
Carefully pour about 1/4 cup water over the potstickers, then cover the pan quickly and let steam for about 3 minutes. Remove the lid and let the dumplings aerate until the excess water is cooked away and the bottoms become crisp again.
Transfer the cooked potstickers to a serving platter, repeat with the remaining uncooked potstickers. Serve immediately, with a mixture of equal parts soy sauce and rice vinegar for dipping.
Makes about 40 servings.