Posted by Rob Eshman
Last night at Vibiana’s, I couldn’t find a place to eat my wild mushroom and goat cheese while holding my glass of Craftsman Octoberfest beer and my notebook and navigating a crowd reveling in some amazing food, wine and brew. So I ducked into what looked like an old wooden phone booth and set everything down on a handy ledge.
A woman paused to look at me. “I haven’t been in one of those in a while,” she said.
That’s when I realized: I wasn’t in a phone booth, I was in a confessional.
Vibiana’s used to be St. Vibiana’s, the first major cathedral in the City of Los Angeles, built in the 1870’s. The Archdiocese decommissioned and deconsecrated it in 1996, then erected the City of Angels Cathedral on Temple Street.
Vibiana’s, after a brutal conservancy fight with the Archdiocese and a $4 million painstaking restoration, became a breathtaking event space.
It was packed last night with hundreds of local chefs, food producers, activists, politicians and food lovers gathered for the “Taste of the LA Foodshed,” a kick off event for Roots of Change’s Network Summit: Healthy Food & Farms by 2030. Healthy food, farms and people is the overarching goal of Roots of Change, a non-profit founded by an energetic food policy cheerleader named Michael Dimock.
Dimock is a former farmer, agribusiness exec and Slow Food leader who recognizes that systemic change in our relationship to food has to come at the policy level. Over the course of a two day summit, ROC will launch its, “California Healthy Food & Agriculture” Platform that lays out for legislators state policies that ensure a healthy and prosperous food and farm economy in California. Last night the focus was on the potential products of wise food policy: great, local, healthy food.
“We all live in the city but we want to eat like we live on the farm,” said Evan Kleiman, the chef/owner of Angeli, host of Good Food on KCRW and a member of LA’s Food Policy Task Force.
Kleiman pointed out that LA is surrounded by fertile farmland and blessed with great weather— the city’s residents deserve to have healthy, local sustainable food.
“The foodshed needs to be tended like the watershed,” sad Dimock. “So everybody in the city can eat good food.”
We pay a steep price for the current system.
According to the ROC report, South Los Angeles has one of the highest poverty rates (30%) , as well as one of the highest obesity rates (35% of adults).
In 2009, one in 10 L.A. County residents received food assistance, according to the report. The problem is not starving –African type hunger, but inadequate nutrition, either out of lack of access to healthy food, or poor education, or both.
“We’re here because we need to have rational food policy in this town,” said LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “We have a high percentage of hungry kids and obese kids.”
Los Angeles tried to do something about this in the 1990s, when it launched its first food policy council. That effort fell apart, while other cities like San Francisco, Portland, and New York made progress.
Judging by the turnout at the conference and the kickoff event, this time the efforts look like they’ll lead somewhere.
Occidental University Professor Bob Gottlieb is a task force member who is the director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College and author of Food Justice, an influential guide to what governments and citizens can do.
I asked him how the awareness, the concern and the renewed interest translate into actual policy, and not just actual committee meetings?
He told me that two immediate policy changes would mandate locally-sourced food procurement policies for the city and school district, and make it possible for low income residents to use EBT cards at farmers markets.
The hall at Vibiana’s was full of groups advocating longer term efforts, too, like community gardens in low income areas, school gardens, hunger relief and food access (The Jewish Federation and the Progressive Jewish Alliance had tables addressing those issues) and fair practices for food workers.
If that’s the medicine, the sugar to take it with were tables staffed by some of the city’s best chef, using over $100,000 of donated produce from local farmers to cook up examples of what sustainable local food could taste like.
It was a grazer’s paradise: Morro Bay oysters with Petty Ranch Meyer Llemon ceviche from the Water Grill. Sonoma County Poultry Liberty Duck Pastrami and Marinated Duck Tongues with Deardoff Family Farms Swiss Chard Jam from Waterloo and City’s Brendan Collins; EVA’s Mark Gold’s Jaime Farm Fall Squash lasagne layered with Tomato Confiture, Bay Leaf and Walnut… wines from Au Bon Climat and San Antonio (in downtown LA)… beer from Craftsman and from Eagle Rock Brewery. Multiply that times a couple dozen and you’ll understand the bounty.
“Michael Dimock is a visionary,” said documentary filmmaker Harry Wiland, one of the hundreds of guests sampling his way through the former church.
That vision was clear last night. Just as the way you and I eat shapes our bodies and souls, so too the way a city eats determines its quality of life. Food is an obvious lever to reshape our city, if only because it is the one thing that ties all of us together on a daily, even hourly basis.
I didn’t ask Dimock this, but I wondered why, of all the possible venues for last night’s event, he chose Vibiana’s. I don’t think it’s all a coincidence. The beautiful spread last night, and the sense of purpose and mission that produced it, as far as I’m concerned, on October 6, 2010, Vibiana’s was recomissioned, and reconsecrated
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September 23, 2010 | 10:55 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Stress. Bad for humans. Bad for chickens.
Dr. Joseph Mercola is a specialist on anti-aging. In his list of the top ten ways to age gracefully, Number 1 is dealing with stress.
Learn how to effectively cope with stress. As discussed earlier, stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. Therefore, developing effective coping mechanisms is a great strategy for increasing your longevity.
Meditation, prayer, physical activity and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden emotional scars.
Everyone tells me meditation is good for stress, but I’m bad at meditation. I’m tall and I cramp. Many years ago, I spent a week at the Green Gulch Zen Center near Muir Woods and dreaded the meditation sessions, which were the point of the week. I had gone reluctantly with a friend, but only because a copy of the Tassajara Cookbook accompanied me all through my college cooking, and Green Gulch was affiliated with Tassajara. My friend was seeking stress relief and enlightenment. I wanted to see how they made those bran muffins en masse.
The instructor was a real Japanese monk who circled around the students as we sat in stillness. Each time he got to me, he poked my shoulders, unhappy with my posture. By the end of the week his gentle adjustments to my back became full-fledged jabs. One time he just flicked his hand against my shoulder blades. Yes, the Zen master slapped me. I must have irritated him. Maybe he needed to meditate.
That was my last attempt. Except these days I’ve learned to deal with stress by walking into the backyard and sitting down on the hay bin to watch the chickens and goats. That’s all I do. I sit and watch. They’re relaxed—I mean, they have needs, they want food. The goats want to get out and destroy my vegetable garden and lay waste my fields, but even so, they are straightforward, uncomplicated. The chickens patrol the ground for bugs. They stop at the water dispenser, dip i their beaks, then crane their heads up until I can feel the water slide down their little chicken throats. That’s what I do—I go out and just watch.
That’s my meditation—garden and animal meditation. It’s not original. Walt Whitman wrote a whole poem about it, part of his Song of Myself:
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
What’s interesting is that as bad as stress is for humans, it’s just as bad for animals. Earlier this month factory-farm produced eggs made 1,470 people sick and prompted an FDA recall of a half billion eggs suspected of salmonella contamination. The food writer Barry Estabrook, at his always-illuminating and thoroughly- reported blog, Politics of the Plate, examines all the reasons his small flock of pastured, backyard chickens is unlikely to poison him with salmonella, while mass-produced eggs from battery-caged hens, produced under FDA guidelines, are lousy with the stuff. Estabrook writes:
Another reason might be that raising chickens under a free-range system makes them less susceptible to salmonella. “I don’t think there is any doubt about it that healthy chickens living in decent surroundings are just going to be a lot more resistant to salmonella,” said John L. Ingraham, emeritus professor of microbiology at the University of California Davis, and author of the book March of the Microbes, recently published by Harvard University Press. “Take any creature, ourselves included, you put them in a terrible stressful conditions and they become susceptible to disease.”
I read Estabrook’s post and thought of my poultry meditation sessions. There’s a connection, I realized, between the stress we inflict on the animals that feed us, and the stress we put on our own bodies. There’s a positive connection, too, between the ease they feel, and our ability to relax and feel at ease around them. I don’t think it’s a shallow or insignificant connection either. Religious people always refer to the Oneness of God, the unity of God’s creation, the connection of all living things. But what does it mean?
On the grand scale, I have no idea. But take something as simple as a chicken, an egg and pretty stressed human, and it begins to make sense. To me, anyway.
September 20, 2010 | 6:03 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
It’s not just cooking and eating food that brings you closer to God, it’s catching it too. Even when the food is treyf. Sam Kestenbaum, a Jewish lobsterman on Deer Isle in Maine, writes about it in a beautiful essay for The New York Times:
On the island, the name Kestenbaum is often met with this kind of puzzled look, then followed by, “You’re going to have to spell that.” Certain last names fill up pages in the phone book here. The names of old families that have been here for generations, networks of cousins, aunts and uncles — Eaton, Haskell, Hardy, Heanssler and Weed, among others. But you will find only one Kestenbaum family in Hancock County. And you won’t find too many other Jewish lobstermen (perhaps not particularly surprising considering the non-kosher status of the catch).
Despite this, I feel close to my faith when I’m on the water. The work is difficult, but meditative. Fishermen grapple daily with the elements: the wind, the tide, the shifting of the seasons. Jews also keep their eyes on the elements, recognizing the great, sacred powers that are present in the world. And wherever we go, we believe God travels with us.
It is said that when the Jews went into exile, the Shekinah, the divine presence, went into exile, too — hovering over us, around us wherever we were, waiting for us to invite the sacred into our lives. This is one of the great gifts of diaspora: we travel, move, but remain who we are.
Many years a go I spent a spring break on Deer Isle. My college friend Jonathan had a family compound on the water, and he invited me and our friend Doug to visit. At noon my friend said it was time to get dinner delivered. I assumed we’d call for pizza. Instead he got on a CB radio and spoke to a captain of lobster boat. Around dusk a boat appeared just offshore, and a crew member transfered a couple of live lobsters from the deck to some cages attached by rope to my friend’s dock. We hauled in the cages, and there was dinner.
The end of the story turned out to be fateful: as we plunged the lobsters in a vat of boiling water, I was sure I heard a scream coming from the pot. Even then I knew it was likely steam escaping from their shells. Didn’t matter. Starting the next day, I became a complete vegetarian for 14 years.
Very instructive lobsterman video below…
September 17, 2010 | 2:36 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
On the eve of Yom Kippur I came across Jonathan Gold’s latest feature in L.A. Weekly, in which he answers a reader’s query, “What kind of food would you want served at your wake?”
How appropriate. The central theme of this season is embodied in the Unetanah Tokef prayer, “Who shall live and who shall die?” We’re asked to contemplate our lives in the face of our uncertain mortality. You just never know when your number is up, so it’s never too early or too late to do some serious moral accounting. That’s what the Days of Awe, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippor, are all about. Is it a coincidence that Jonathan, the country’s preeminent food writer, faces the question in today’s Weekly? Hmm.
His long answer begins with running through the varieties of dim sum and Chinese cold dishes that his loved ones might enjoy over his cold, dead body. But after considering all the possibilities, he concludes:
But who am I kidding? In my family, funerals are occasions to stuff down truly heroic amounts of deli, and when I have to go, I will die as I lived: seen off with Langer’s pastrami.
Maybe it’s just the emotion of the season, but I was actually moved by Jonathan’s answer. At our most vulnerable—and our death pretty much defines us at our most vulnerable—we cling to the foods of our family, our past, our tradition. That alone has the power to truly comfort us, to sustain us, even to see us into the world to come. I mean, Jonathan Gold likely knows every permutation on appropriate wake food. I’m sure he once reviewed some Ouigar cafe that specialized in yak-based mourning dishes. But at the end of the day… the literal end of the day—he returns to the bosom of the deli.
And by the way, when that day comes, after Jonathan reaches 120, the sandwiches won’t be at a wake. They’ll be at a shiva.
Meanwhile, here’s something to enjoy before your Yom Kippur fast:
September 1, 2010 | 6:33 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Yesterday I checked out Takosher, the world’s first kosher taco truck. It was parked on La Brea just north of Third, by the Trader Joes.
I was expecting some guy hoing to score a quick gimmicky buck off the captiv kosher market. Jaded, much? Instead, I found Lowell Bernstein.
Bernstein is a tall, soft-spoken middle aged man who loves taco. He lived in Mexico City, and grew especially fond of the clean, sharp flavors of the small simple tacos there. Back in LA, it occurred to him that Day-effay tacos were perfectly suited to the kosher marketplace: long simmered or grilled meats, dressed with some pickled onion, cilantro, peppers— not covered in a haystack of shredded cheese and white-washed with sour cream.
He developed his recipes over numerous taco tasting parties, then brought it to the streets in a brightly painted blue and white food truck.
Watch the Flip video I took. Bernstein is a guy who has given this new phase in his life a lot of thought. Just deciding whether to spell Takosher witha c or a k was agonizing (I assured him he made the right choice).
Bernstein explained that his motivation behind Takosher wasn’t just tacos—he wanted to create a food truck that would bring new flavors to the kosher-observant community, and something original to the taco loving Anegelenos. He wanted, he said, to bring people in his city together around his truck. It doesn’t happen when we pull into fast food joints, or even in restaurants, when we usually mix just with the people we walked in with. But a food truck? It’s a kind of traveling public table.
“Food has the power to do that,” Bernstein said, “to bring people together. That’s what I wanted to do.”
See: I thought I was going to get a kosher fast food spiel—instead I got a bit of Foodaism. That’s why Bernstein prefers to park in a location like the one outside Trader Joes—it’s a place where people of all backgrounds can mix, and nosh.
How are the tacos? Good. Inexpensive, flavorful and original. The brisketaco combines a traditional Askenazic recipe with traditional taco fixings: it’s the Jewish Kogi. There’s a carne asada with beef, a chicken, a tofu fajita style, an a latkes taco, which reminds me of the potato tacos at La Playita on Lincoln, only more fried.
If you have your heart set on a spicy, oil-licked food truck taco, this isn’t it. The flavors are a bit more subdued—some of Shiloh’s habenero-citrus salsa on the side would take it where it needs to go. But for around $3, you will eat a well-made, filling and kosher taco.
And don’t forget the Dr. Brown’s in the ice bin. Because what says, “Mexico City taco” like Cel-Rey soda?
To find out where the Takosher truck is, go to their web site at http://takosher.com/. Check back at jewishjournal.com in a week when we’ll have a full article on Takosher by Edmond Rodman.
August 26, 2010 | 5:10 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Yesterday I had lunch with Chef Kastuji Tanabe, the Japanese-Mexican-Catholic chef at Shilo’s Steak House, a fine dining kosher restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. I hadn’t been to Shilo’s for years—the last time I went was Christmas, 2007—and it was expensive, bland, derivative—you know, kosher.
But the new chef is a half-Japanese, half-Mexican Catholic wunderkind who is innovating his way into kosher greatness. Consider our lunch.
(Pause for full disclosure: my lunch was fully comped. Chef Tanabe is going to start blogging for us at jewishjournal.com, and wI showed up at his restaurant to discuss the blog with the chef and our Web Director Jay Firestone. I didn’t intend to write about the food—but someone has to.)
The chef makes a Blue Cheese Bacon Burger using fresh ground beef, home-cured kosher beef “bacon” (using the same navel cut as is used for pastrami), homemade sesame buns, carmelized onions and a “blue cheese” made without any faux-soy. I pressed him for how he makes it, and he told me, off the record. It was surperb—better than the same gastropub burder at Father’s Office, which uses an overpowering amount of Cabrales.
Tanabe is a compact, intense young man. Absolutely dedicated to his craft, and enjoying the challenge of cooing within kosher’s strict requirement after training at Codon Bleu and cooking at Bastide and other high end treyf-aterias. He is a native of Mexico City, and he knows from big flavors. While he understands his conservative clientele stick to the restaurant’s signature steaks, he innovates in the hors d’oeuvres and dessert portions of the menu, veering toward the flavors of South and Central America.
For tacos “Cochinito”—it’s Spanish for young pig—he marinates kosher flank steak and braises it for hours, until the citrus and spice permeate the shreds of meat. He serves it with a homemade pickled onion relish and a homemade citrus habenero sauce. No pigs were harmed in the making of this taco. It was juicy and alive. I wanted three more.
He makes a spaghetti with botarga—dried mullet roe— that is positively heroic in challenging kosher palates—and almost as good as the one at Drago’s.
Tanabe reminds me in all the right ways of Chef Todd Aarons at Tierra Sur—young innovative kosher chefs, trained outside of kosher kitchens, who are determined to bring the best quality seasonal, local and handmade foods into their menus. Interesting that the prime contributors to the improvement of kosher food are people who know from treyf.
Shilo’s Kosher Steak House
8939 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Chef Tanabe made a Tuna Thai Tempura Matzo Ball Sup for our Chosen Dish video contest. You can watch it here.
August 5, 2010 | 2:38 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
It took 19 years, but I finally got my wife into a sleeping bag.
For our entire marriage, we both accepted the fact that, “Naomi doesn’t camp.” It was just one of those fundamental truths, like, “Rob doesn’t fold laundry,” and “Israel doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.”
Naomi is Brooklyn born and raised, 15th Avenue, to be exact. If a tree ever grew in that part of Boro Park, surely no one ever thought to pitch a tent under it.
But things change. Last Shabbat, eager to escape the city but lacking an entire free weekend, I suggested to Naomi that we head up to Angeles National Forest with our daughter Noa and pitch a tent. One night at 6500 feet, I reasoned, is like two nights at sea level. Naomi said yes.
Buckhorn Campground is 115 minutes away from Venice, California—and a world apart. There are 38 drive-up sites, piped water and vault toilets. It’s not the Four Seasons, but it isn’t the stuff of Jon Krakauer books, either.
Angeles Forest has had a rough decade. It suffers from smog, fire, invasive beetles, drought and having the misfortune of being next to the second largest city in North America. The 2009 Station Fire left many acres charred and lunar-like—some will take years to grow back, some, TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis told me, never will on their own. (You can learn more and lend a hand at by clicking here).
But Buckhorn remains spectacular. Towering cedars and firs line the Burkhardt Trail down to Cooper Canyon, where a perennial stream creates tranquil pools and crashing falls. Naomi was impressed. The OFF worked magic.
I made Friday night dinner over a campfire, using dry oak logs I carted from home. Teva-brand steaks from Trader Joes, Yukon Gold potatoes wrapped in foil and plunked in the flames, and some sliced shitake mushrooms and garlic sautéed on our camp stove. Naomi has Shabbat paraphernalia for every occasion. She produced a dual tea-candle holder, a travel-sized silver kiddush cup, and a challah. We recited the blessingss. Whatever apprehensions Naomi had about bugs, bears, dust and—especially—vault toilets, dissipated into the clean mountain air like the sounds of the Shabbat songs we sang.
Dinner tasted great—I had long ago learned that as long as you bring good olive oil, salt and red wine, you’re going to eat well anywhere. Naomi has her spiritual necessities, I have mine.
Afterwards, the stars appeared, wiping away all trace of the work week. Around the campfire, our daughter Noa invented a game called, “Stop/Start.” The idea was to announce what you want to stop doing in your life, and what you want to start doing. We played a few rounds, and I realized that Noa, in her wise-beyond-her-years way, had brought us to the brink of the High Holy Days, when prayer and introspection are meant to do just that: Get us to make changes in our lives. It is difficult work, never as simple as just stopping and starting, but each new year is a new chance to do just that—to be the person we want to be, to do what we need to do, to do what we have never done. Like, say, go camping.
A video I shot of some falls in Cooper Canyon:
Below is video of the drive in to Buckhorn Campground:
A Photo Slideshow:
July 22, 2010 | 8:53 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
The closest I ever got to Middle East peace was a kitchen in Napa Valley.
It was 2008. I was at the headquarters of the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif., spending three days eating food prepared by the some of the best chefs in the world. The occasion was the CIA’s 11th annual Worlds of Flavor International Conference, and the focus that year was flavors of the Mediterranean.
With no fanfare, no press release, no ceremony,the organizers brought together chefs from countries across the Mediterranean: Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, North Africa, Egypt ... and Israel. It was a fact no one spoke about but everyone there recognized: that countries at war with one another would be sharing a single grand kitchen, eating one another’s food, and — when no one was looking — sharing a couple of drinks.
“There are no boundaries,” Meir Adoni, the owner and chef of Catit in Tel Aviv, told me. Adoni’s own family is Sephardic, from North Africa. He trained in Europe and Australia, where he met chefs from all over the world. “We always talked about food, not politics,” Adoni said.
Food was what mattered in Napa, too.
The purpose of the annual conference is to introduce new ingredients and techniques to chefs, restaurateurs and food suppliers. Corporations like Campbell Soup and Simplot foot a big part of the bill, hoping to discover the next new flavor or trend, maybe mastic from Greece or za’atar from the Middle East. At one seminar, Youssef “Joe” Barza, the Emeril of Arab TV, had attendees smell and taste 25 different spices and herbs from his native Lebanon, then he cooked a meal with them. Maybe that doesn’t excite you, but I was living a dream. Each morning I drove through fog-shrouded vineyards to arrive at the gray stone chateau that housed the massive kitchen and the castlelike food hall where breakfast awaited.
At lunch one day, Jim Botsacos, the Greek chef of Molyvos restaurant in New York, took over the courtyard and turned whole lambs on massive spits over roiling oak fires. Closed-circuit cameras and a translator turned every moment into the best cooking show you ever saw: Moments after some of the best chefs in the world had prepared the food, you were eating it and trying out dozens of wines imported from their native countries.
Most of each day was given over to lecture/demonstrations on the foods and techniques unique to each chef or region. I watched Corrado Assenza, owner of Caffe Sicilia SR in Noto, Italy, prepare gelatins and sweetmeats from flowers and herbs he had picked on a hillside behind his restaurant and carefully packed for the journey. The fragrance was so intense, famous Los Angeles chef Piero Selvaggio teared up as he smelled his native Italy.
“Use vegetables that smell and taste of the earth,” Assenza said.
But, not surprisingly, I gravitated toward the Israelis and their neighbors, chefs who share a border but who could never, at least back home, share a kitchen. Jewish cooking expert Joan Nathan led a plenary seminar on new Israeli cuisine that featured Adoni and Erez Komarovsky, founder of Lehem Erez Bakeries and director of a cooking school in the Northern Galilee. The two chefs showed the 800 attendees how their country’s food evolved from the scarcity of the Ashkenazi pioneers to a nascent cuisine that bridges Europe, Asia and the Levant.
“How can a country of 2 million Jewish mothers not have any good food?” Nathan asked the crowd.
The chefs were quick to acknowledge the debt Israeli food owes to the ingredients and techniques of Arab cuisine. I ate, took notes, talked, and ate more than I imagined possible: a garlic and potato cream from Jose Andres; Ana Sortun’s potato, green olive and caper brik with sweet-sour greens; Komorovsky’s roasted cauliflower with tahini and date syrup — a dish I resolved to eat once a month for the rest of my life. It was all alike, and it was all different.
With cuisines from Iran to Spain spread out before me — and world-famous cookbook authors and food historians milling about — the differences and similarities became apparent. Clifford Wright, author of “A Mediterranean Feast,” pointed out that geography dictates much that is common in the cuisine — a diet heavy on similar vegetables, fish and lamb. The porousness of ancient borders ensured that Persian spices like saffron became synonymous with “Mediterranean.” Moslem and Jewish dietary strictures, climate differences and specific cultures created differences, too — and the differences were delicious.
I wasn’t walking around like a foodie Rodney King, wishing we could all just get along. After all, civil wars are fought between people who eat from the same tables, much less the same foods. And in fact, the larger tensions loomed: We journalists were asked to keep the Syrian chef’s name out of print, as he was nervous about how fraternizing with the enemy Israelis would play back home.
This wasn’t about all peoples joining hands over food, it was about food lovers focusing on what they love most, politics be damned. Fred Forsburg, who has devoted his life to growing dozens of varieties of heirloom garlic at Honey Hill Farms in upstate New York, made platters of creamy traditional hummus, switching out only the variety of garlic in each one. I watched as Komorovsky from Israel and chefs from Turkey, Lebanon, Iran and Syria all came up and swiped and sampled and compared flavors. It was the world as a common dish.
The last night was a gala feast, when each chef prepared tables of regional specialties for us to eat. It all went together: from Apulian beans baked in earthenware amphorae to Najmieh Batmanglij’s Pomegranate Khoresh with Sweet Rice With Orange Peel to Antonio de Bari’s Cecamariti (Dried Pea Soup With Croutons) to the Spanish paella and Moroccan tagines.
Amid all of this, the Israelis, Iranians and Lebanese, the Greeks and the Turks all roamed the hallway tasting one another’s food, chatting like all the world was their souk.
A young Iranian chef stopped by to taste Adoni’s stuffed calamari, a decidedly non-kosher representation of the most inventive Israeli food. It brought a huge smile to his face, and Adoni, looking on, smiled too.
“Peace with food,” said Komarovsky — offering me another piece of cauliflower.
This recipe is from Erez Komarovsky, founder of Lehem Erez Bakeries in
Israel, who now runs a cooking school from his home-slash-farm in the
The combination of date syrup and tahini borrows from a common Arabic
dip, Dibis w’rashi, the Nutella of many an Arab childhood.
But Komarovsky’s combining it with the earthy, caramelized taste of
roasted cauliflower is original, inspired and unforgettable.
You can find date syrup in Middle Eastern markets, or of course
online. If you’re worried you won’t have enough uses for it, relax.
It keeps forever, and you can always pour it into your blender with
some vanilla ice cream and milk for a homemade Date Shake.
2 heads cauliflower
1/2 c. date syrup
1/2 c. tahini
salt and pepper
Preheat over to 450 degrees. Rinse and dry cauliflower heads.
Standing them up right, stem side down, slice through the whole head
into 1/4 inch thick slices. Some will maintain their shape, some will
crumble. Just keep going.
Cover one ow two large baking sheets with a thin layer of olive oil,
salt and pepper. Lay out cauliflower in one layer. Drizzle with more
olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until caramlized on the bottom,
turn and roast until tender and brown at the edges. Remove to a
serving platter, drizzle with date syrup and tahini. Use more or less
of both depending on taste.
For a video of Joan Nathan’s presentation with Erez Komarovsky and Meir Adoni, click here.