Jewish Journal

A Day with Gil Marks

by Michael Israel

August 13, 2012 | 1:24 pm

Agristada, Cauliflower Gratin

Recently, on a trip to New York, I had the opportunity to meet Gil Marks. Gil has been incredibly supportive and encouraging in my quest to reinvent every recipe in his book Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. I wanted to have a chance to thank him in person for his work and willingness to mentor me in my new pursuit as a writer.

Initially, when I thought to recreate the recipes of Gil’s book, I hoped he would be thrilled but ultimately was not sure how he would respond. Prior to initiating the blog, I sent Gil an email introducing myself and explaining that I would like to use the recipes in his book as a guide to creating my own interpretations of classic Jewish recipes. He responded with enthusiasm and strong support. Gil has been one of the biggest supporters of Kosher Bacon and has helped guide me in making a connection between the recipes that I create and the recipes in his book.

Gil Marks did not think that his life’s work would revolve around food. He grew up going to Yeshiva and pursued a career in social work. Although Gil was always passionate about food, it was unheard of for a Jew in his generation to pursue a career as a chef. Instead, Gil chose a more acceptable career path as a social worker and moonlighted as a caterer. Not only was Gil proving to be an exceptional cook, but his knowledge of food and the history of cuisine stood out. Gil earned the reputation among friends and colleagues as “a walking food encyclopedia.”

We chose to meet Gil at Mike’s Bistro, a kosher restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. When Gil arrived at the restaurant he approached both Emily and I with a giant smile and open arms. He embraced both of us as though we were his long lost niece and nephew (of which he has many). We sat down at our table, and began to talk food for the next 6 hours. Gil’s knowledge of food and the history of cuisine is immense and mesmerizing. We talked about everything from gnocchi to the history of ketchup. After lunch, we strolled the busy streets of the Upper West Side touring the local markets and chatting about everything food.  I was in heaven.

Gil Marks’ resume is quite impressive. He has written an array of cookbooks and has received multiple James Beard Awards for his publications. Before writing books, he was the founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine. In my opinion, Gil’s most incredible trait is his generosity. In the short period of time that I have known Gil, he has helped guide me as a Jewish chef and writer. His works are a significant part of the foundation for my pursuit of bringing new life to Jewish cuisine.  Thank you Gil Marks for your incredible works and contributions to the progression of Jewish cuisine.

This week’s recipe is Agristada which is “a thick, lemony, egg-based sauce served over vegetables and fish and used to thicken soups and stews” (EJF pg 5). One of the vegetables that this sauce was classically paired with is cauliflower. Instead of serving the sauce over cauliflower as demonstrated in EJF, I decided to create a pareve gratin utilizing a modernized preparation of the Agristada sauce as the base for the gratin. I lightened the weight of the sauce by using sparkling wine as the liquid component instead of broth. The effervescence of the wine makes the sauce airy. I removed the flour from the recipe and increased the number of egg yolks. Flour would destroy the bubbles from the sparkling wine nullifying the sauce’s airiness. Lastly, the top of the gratin is browned to create a crust. Egg based sauces lend themselves to a gratin because they brown easily and create a delicate crust under high heat. The final result is a decadent vegetable dish that can be served as an appetizer or as a side dish.

Agristada Cauliflower Gratin

Serves 6
1 ea zest of lemon
6 ea drops of lemon juice
6 ea egg yolks
2 oz sparkling wine
1 head cauliflower
2 T chives, minced
to taste salt
pinch white pepper, ground

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, liberally season the water with salt.
2. Clean the cauliflower and cut off the florets. Blanch in boiling water for about 5 minutes, until the florets are very soft. Remove the cauliflower from the water, and reserve the water for the double boiler used to cook the Agristada sauce.
3. In a heat proof bowl, add the egg yolks and sparkling wine. Place the bowl over a double boiler (using the water from the cauliflower) and whisk until the mixture is thick, like pudding.
4. Remove the Agristada from the heat and transfer from the bowl it was cooked in to another bowl to prevent overcooking the sauce.
5. Add the lemon zest, juice, white pepper, and salt to taste.
6. In six 4 inch round oven safe ramekins, portion the cooked cauliflower evenly. Add a generous amount of chives to each ramekin, and fill each ramekin with enough sauce to cover the cauliflower.
7. Either with a cooking torch or under the broiler, brown the top of each gratin. All components are already fully cooked, this process is meant to warm the contents of the ramekin and create a golden crust on top.


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Michael Israel is the Chef and Owner of the M.O. Eggrolls food truck in Los Angeles, California where he lives with his wife Emily. In 2005, Michael graduated from the Culinary...

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