One of my favorite events, Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen, is back for a sixth year on March 1. Join New Center NOW and a handful of Boston chefs for their creative take on favorite Jewish dishes. I had a chance to talk to one of the event’s favorite chefs, Jim Solomon of Washington Square’s The Fireplace, Boston’s first green-certified restaurant. I asked him why he keeps coming back to the event, and what he’s serving up this year.
What can we expect from you at this year’s Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen?
After several years of serving savory dishes, then a few years of sweet, I’ve decided to cook something I love but have never cooked before: cholent, the old Eastern European classic. I first had it with my mother’s Orthodox cousins in Monsey. Both of my grandparents came from Kildishev, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now Poland. It’s about three hours from Krakow. I didn’t know my grandfather’s side of the family well, and I wanted to explore Shabbat. I was nervous to do it in the long days of summer, so I went to see my cousins in New York City on a cold winter’s day.
I met them at their small booth in the Diamond District on 47th Street, then went back to their house. It was a whole experience, including washing hands from a pitcher before we ate, and talking Talmud and Torah. The entire meal blew me away, especially the dish they said was cholent. They told me stories of our grandparents in Europe, and what was acceptable in the making of the dish. They would have a “Shabbos goy” bring the pot to the bakery, where it would cook through shul the next day. Our grandfather was so concerned that our pot would be infected by the neighbor’s air, which might not have been kosher enough. He would insist on making sure the top was on securely.
There’s poetry in these family stories, a love of the dish, and deep flavors. It was one of the best things I’d ever tasted. The Fireplace is both a restaurant and a caterer, and we once catered an event at the Boston Tea Party ship. There was a guest who kept kosher, and the pots we had to use weren’t kosher. Because I had to purchase something premade, I went to The Butcherie. I saw cholent and thought it looked incredible. I bought an extra portion and brought it home to share with my wife. It was incredible!
You’ve been such a good friend to Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen. What brings you back year after year?
I enjoy the connection to the Jewish community, and I’m always impressed with New Center NOW’s offerings. I went to a great talk given by Barney Frank that they hosted a couple of years ago. He was so frank about what it was like coming out of the closet. It was such a rare opportunity to hear someone speak so candidly. He was so genuine and terrific, and I thought it was so enlightening. It was a wonderful dialogue to have. I love seeing a vibrant Jewish community here in Boston. I really believe in the social mission of New Center NOW and its values. This mixture of social justice and culture is what I grew up with.
I was looking forward to some New Haven pizza. What had you rethinking The Fireplace’s closing?
The restaurant was never on the market. I know people from Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria because I’m from New Haven. I’m a longtime fan of both Sally’s and Pepe’s. My cousin is their chief consultant. He came in to say hello and let me know they were doing a deal down the street. That started a dialogue. In the end we couldn’t come to an agreement.
When we made the announcement, there was such an outpouring of admiring fans of the restaurant, and people asked me to reconsider. It was like sitting in the back row of your own funeral. I love Washington Square. I live in the neighborhood. We decided also to focus and grow the catering business. We remodeled the restaurant and got it ready for the next 17 years of the lease. We just refurbished the whole interior, and I’m excited by that. I really enjoy what I’m doing.
What’s your favorite dish you’ve had at Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen?
I think my good friends at Mei Mei last year served incredible borscht, with a swirl of sour cream and pickled vegetables. I stopped in my tracks and introduced myself. Now my wife and I go to the restaurant. It’s really a neighborhood gem.
Four questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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