The New Jewish Table
The New Jewish Tableby Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray With David Hagedorn
St. Martin's Press, 352 pp., $35
When a five-time James Beard Award nominee and CIA graduate marries his clean, local cooking aesthetic with his wife's classic Eastern-European Jewish heritage, the result is anything but traditional. Chef Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray examine how delicious the melding of two very different traditions can be in The New Jewish Table.
Though this cookbook is of course about food, it is equally about family. The book begins with a conversational telling of how the duo met, married, and opened a trio of Washington, D.C., restaurants together, including the award-winning Equinox. Though their backgrounds were quite different – Chef Todd grew up in rural Virginia, while Ellen was a city girl in D.C. – they both had an urge to get back to their family roots and blend them into a unique cuisine.
I watched the couple in a recent interview about crafting these modern Jewish recipes, and I was struck by how they spoke primarily about the history behind the food. That emphasis on storytelling continues in the book, with family anecdotes and gracious tips and tricks that sound as if they could have come from your mother or friend woven throughout. There are amusing stories on every page, such as how, before they were engaged, Todd dared to advise Ellen's father to use less oil to fry his latkes, or how Ellen thought for years the only way blintzes came was frozen in a package.
There are more than 100 recipes in the tome, organized according to seasons and meal types, from brunch to desserts. Chef Gray values seasonal, farm-to-table ingredients, and summer cannot come soon enough with recipes such as Fig and Port Wine Blintzes or Smoked Salmon and Sweet Corn Beignets. The tasty recipes are accompanied by vivid and inspiring photography. This is not a kosher cookbook, but the recipes are noted as dairy, meat, pareve (neither milk nor meat), and "mixed," though there are notes on how to adapt recipes to keep them kosher. Not all the recipes are even Jewish, but with a three-cheese and truffle oil Equinox Mac and Cheese, no one is complaining.
Food is about the memories. A bite of brisket can transport you to bubbe's kitchen; a nibble of Israeli salad, and you are frolicking on the beaches of Coney Island. The New Jewish Table honors these traditions and builds new ones with recipes that can only be called modern American.