When the New Center for Arts & Culture began hosting “Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen” five years ago, it stood pretty much alone. Yes, you could find great challah at Rosenfeld’s Bagels or a bowl of matzah ball soup at Zaftigs Delicatessen, but few chefs were actively bringing the Jewish culinary tradition to their contemporary menus. And, let’s be honest, as much as we all think our bubbies made the best brisket or matzah balls or chopped liver, most of us aren’t thinking about Jewish cuisine when we go out for a nice dinner. But now a younger generation of chefs is looking to creatively pay homage to their roots, especially with traditionally Jewish techniques, like home curing and fermentation. And as these young chefs, Jewish or not, bring their own stories to the table, Boston is seemingly changing how it perceives cultural dialogue—through our taste buds.
On the scene for just over a year, Kitchen Kibitz is a Jewishly inspired supper club-style dining experience that you may have heard about here and here. Headed by Jeff Gabel and championed by chef Josh Lewin of Beacon Hill Bistro, this unique experience brings chefs in Boston together to share their creativity. Last month at Shojo Restaurant, the group celebrated Chinese New Year through the vision of ramen expert chef Mark O’Leary, owner Brian Moy and their teams. Mark’s black-and-white challah (the first he’s ever made!) stole the show, while sinker matzah balls in lemongrass broth by Jeremy Lee brought nori flair to traditional matzah ball soup (photo at right). And while Chinese New Year and Rosh Hashanah may be months apart, wishes for a sweet new year are evident in both culinary traditions.
Fatboy Secrets, another new popup dining experience by chef Jarred Randall of Tres Gatos, kicks off on Tuesday, Feb. 25. I’ve seen the menu, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen the words “cholent” and “bone marrow” in the same sentence before! As a tapas chef, Jarred brings a diversity of cooking experience to his own Jewish view of the world, and between the cholent and the “gefilte shrimp,” you can be sure that I—as a treif-loving Jew—will be there! Jarred takes inspiration from the fact that as a nomadic people, Jewish food has picked up flavors and techniques from all over the world, and what better view to share in this cultural dialogue.
Whether you’re into farm to table, slow food or just plain good food, the cross-cultural dialogue coming out of food these days is a conversation I want to be a part of. If Chinese, Italian, Greek, Japanese and other regional fusion cuisines have a seat at the table, why not Jewish traditions too? And since food is best experienced live, I hope we’ll continue this conversation in person at one of these upcoming happenings!
And if reading this has you craving a good knish or some brisket, check out “Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen” this Sunday at the Back Bay Events Center. You won’t be disappointed!