NEW HAVEN – Two years ago, Jewish Women’s Circle staged the “Jewish Women through the Ages” fashion show, taking the audience on a historical journey using dress as a guide and interpreter. Now, the organization turns its attention to the palate. “Jewish Cuisine through the Ages” is an opportunity to experience a new perspective on the world of Jewish food, on Sunday, Mar. 23 at the Omni Hotel in New Haven.
The Jewish Women’s Circle creates programs to educate women about their unique history, culture, and traditions. Uniting Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds, JWC seeks to experience the depth and beauty of our rich heritage and explore ways to infuse our lives with its spirit.
“Many months of research and interviewing went into locating and selecting the most dynamic group of chefs and presenters who represent the cuisine and history of their respective countries,” says organizer Dina Hecht. “Once presented with the idea of this project, each said that she was honored to participate.”
Acclaimed chefs, cooks, and food writers from around the world will gather to bring original Jewish cuisine to life in a unique and historical culinary experience. In the Jewish Diaspora, each community has taken on the color and shading of its host, borrowing ingredients and adapting techniques to suit the values of the Jewish kitchen. From pumpkin risotto of the Venetian Ghetto, to spicy fish and couscous of North Africa, to Latin American picadillo, the Jewish kitchen is dazzlingly diverse, an edible “coat of many colors.”
In a series of workshops hosted by distinguished chefs with roots in Italy, Morocco, Persia, France, Brazil, and Syria, each presenter will showcase a selection of personal recipes that tell a story of a family, a community, a festival, or a special memory. Attendees will have the opportunity to sample an array of traditional recipes and discover new dishes rich with vibrant flavors.
“When Dina contacted me, I just fell in love with her; she was very enthusiastic about the event,” says chef and author Leticia Moreinos Schwartz. “I am Jewish-Brazilian and come from a very small community in Rio. Most of the time, when I tell people that I’m a Brazilian Jew, they say, ‘I didn’t even know that there are Jews in Brazil!’ So, when I have a chance to make a connection with my Jewish side – like Chabad cooking classes – I jump on it. I didn’t have to make a big effort to say yes to Dina; it came very naturally.”
Now a Connecticut resident, Schwartz was raised in a multi-culinary, multi-lingual home. Her father’s family emigrated from Morocco and spoke French and Spanish; her mother’s family was from Russia. Her childhood kitchen was redolent of traditional dishes both Sephardic and Ashkenazi – and newly created hybrids inspired by local Brazilian ingredients. “It’s so amazing how Jews adapt,” Schwartz says. “We’re always immigrants. In my teaching and writing, my mission is to make people feel comfortable and familiar with Brazilian cooking, incorporating it into their own kitchens as they would any cuisine.”
London-based cook Silvia Nacamulli hails from Rome, the oldest Jewish community in Western Europe. A third-generation Italian-Jewish cook, she infuses her cooking with two millennia of history embedded with traditions from the Venetian and Roman Ghettos to Pitigliano, the “Little Jerusalem” of Tuscany. “I’m thrilled to have been invited to ‘Jewish Cuisine through the Ages,’” says Nacamulli, who has been teaching, catering, and lecturing on Italian-Jewish cuisine for more than a decade. “This is one of the most exciting events I’ve been invited to. Jewish cuisine traces its roots through the ages and in a variety of fascinating countries and cultures. I’m from the oldest Jewish community in the Western world and Jews have been influenced by Italian cuisine, adapting its wonderful and fresh ingredients and flavors to comply with kosher rules. I’m proud to share my 2,000-year-old heritage and culinary culture and I look forward to demonstrating a couple of traditional Italian Jewish dishes so everyone can have a taste of it.”
Chef Levana Kirschenbaum was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco, and takes her audience along the Maghreb shore, from Tangiers through Fez and on to Marrakech. “I give a lot of demonstrations around the country and frequently end up with Chabad,” she says. “They always have out-of-the-box ideas about inviting people who are unaffiliated or minimally affiliated with Jewish organizations, with the ultimate motive of showing how exciting Jewish cuisine and culture can be. This is a comfort for me, as I always approach my demonstrations and writing with this philosophy.”
A descendant of the Alepian Jewish community, Poopa Dweck is an expert on the food and customs of Syrian Jewry, one of the largest and most flourishing communities of Sephardic Jews.
Dweck is best known as the author of the cookbook, Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of the Syrian Jews, which was featured in the New York Times Magazine and won a 2007 National Jewish Book Award. The book was recently published in a Hebrew edition.
Imad Moustapha, former Syrian ambassador to the U.S., requested a meeting with Dweck and praised the book’s recipes, remarking that the shared cuisine and traditions of Syrian Arabs and Jews make a good starting point for positive dialogue. By documenting and preserving the foodways and customs of her heritage, Dweck hopes to inspire ethnic groups everywhere to revisit their roots and celebrate family.
Parisian Sophia Young Bapt explores the flavors of France through the poignant story of Jewish history in her native country. Growing up in the City of Lights with French, North African, and American roots, Bapt has traveled around the world for more than 15 years to enhance her cooking and teaching repertoire: Singapore, Hong Kong, New York, London, and Milan. She created Voyages en Cuisine, a privately owned boutique company specializing in customized culinary and cultural journeys.
Lerone Edalati traces her roots to the “Jadidis,” the crypto-Jews from the Persian city of Mashhad. The kitchen of her childhood was filled with the aromas of saffron and rosewater, limoo omani (dried limes) and saffron. Edalati’s cooking tells the moving story of her ancestors who secretly practiced their Jewish faith while outwardly practicing Islam, after a forced mass conversion in 1839. Tri-lingual in Farsi, Hebrew, and English, Edalati is a candidate for a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies at CUNY, focusing on the Jews of Iran and researching the history, traditions, and cuisine of Persia.
Following the culinary demonstrations, the program continues with renowned Jewish cook Joan Nathan, who explores food through the lenses of history, culture, and tradition. A regular contributor to The New York Times, Food Arts Magazine, and Tablet Magazine, Nathan is the author of 10 award-winning cookbooks. Her most recent book, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, was named among the best cookbooks of 2010 by both The New York Times and NPR. In her work, Nathan preserves the heritage of Jewish and other ethnic cooking and encourages new traditions to take shape.
Nathan has received many awards over her 20-year career. In 1994, her book, Jewish Cooking in America, won both the James Beard Award for the best American cookbook and the IACP/Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award. Nathan was included on the 1998 “Forward 50” list of the 50 most influential Jews. In 2000, her PBS series, “Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan,” was nominated for the James Beard Award for Best National Television Food Show. In 2001, she was honored as an inductee into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage, and she has also received the Silver Spoon Award from Food Arts Magazine. In May 2011, she was awarded a Special Recognition Award from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research for her work to preserve Jewish foodways.
The event’s keynote presentation is “Food for Thought and Thought for Food: A Spiritual, Emotional, and Psychological Understanding of Food and Nourishment” by Sara Esther Crispe, a world-renowned motivational speaker who focuses on interpersonal relationships. Crispe is creator and editor of Chabad.org’s TheJewishWoman.org, home to her weekly blog, “Musing for Meaning.” She is former director of communications for the Chabad on the Campus International Foundation and has served as a consultant to the Oprah Winfrey Network on two documentaries that address the Jewish perspective on dating and marriage. Crispe is a contributor to the Huffington Post and is co-director, with husband Rabbi Asher Crispe, of INTERiNCLUSION, a non-profit, multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom.
The presentations conclude with pastry chef Roland Mesnier, the longest-serving chef in the history of the White House. The program wraps up with dessert and a cookbook sale.
“Jewish cooking is far more than just food on a plate,” says organizer Hecht. “It is a map of the past as well as a continuing story of tradition, history, culture and family life.”
While interest in cuisine has exploded in the U.S. over the last decade, Nacamulli sees a resurgence of traditional dishes in Jewish cooking, an allegiance to the past. “I think there is a wonderful revival of old traditions, appreciation of simple food, and a desire to rediscover old recipes steeped in family values and history,” she says.
Kirschenbaum agrees. “I hate the idea of a ‘new trend’ in cooking,” she says. “If something is good and good for you, it should last forever. I have seen people ashamed to eat something they like because it’s ‘unfashionable.’ If one thing should be timeless, it should be food. If you like it and it’s healthy, enjoy it.”
“Jewish Cuisine through the Ages:” Sunday, Mar. 23, 4-7:30 p.m., Omni Hotel, 155 Temple St., New Haven | Complimentary parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis at LAZ Garage, 81 George St., New Haven | Tickets: $55/General Admission ($45 before Feb. 28); $95/Premium; $360/VIP | Info/tickets: jewishcuisinethroughtheages.com / (203) 200-0113
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For more information on the presenters:
Sophia Young Bapt: Facebook: Voyages en Cuisine by Sophia
Poopa Dweck: aromasofaleppo.com
Chef Levana Kirschenbaum: levanacooks.com
Chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz: chefleticia.com
Silvia Nacamulli: cookingforthesoul.com / facebook.com/CookingForTheSoul
Joan Nathan: joannathan.com