Friday, March 12, 2010

Pathways and Passover: Event Recap

Last night's YLC Pathways and Passover Event at the Selig Center was a huge success! Around 100 people attended, including everything from hard-core foodie to curious amateur eaters.

One of the themes of the night was the role food plays in connecting Jewish people with their heritage. Mr. AT and I come from two different foodie cultures, so food for me is definitely a way to share my cultural identity with my honey and a great excuse to get together with family and friends.

Admittedly the likes of spaghetti bolognese, pancetta, and tiramisu are a wee bit more impressive than matzoh balls, gefilte fish and rugelah, but it's not about a contest of which cuisine is better (if it were, my vote would unfortunately not go to my own culture!) It's really about the entire experience - from the times you share with family in the kitchen preparing a holiday meal, to multiple generations breaking bread (or matzoh!) together, to the delicious tastes you feel nostalgia for even years later.

Chef Eli Kirshtein was the big star of the night. For those of you not familiar with the former Eno chef, he placed 5th on this season’s Top Chef in Las Vegas. Since Passover is just around the corner (March 30 – April 6), Chef Eli whipped up his own versions of Passover favorites.

The menu for the night included simple sautéed chicken thighs, a fruit and nut filled harosset, pickled celery karpas, and herb filled marror. Building off the concept of a traditional Passover seder, these dishes comprised a complete Passover meal.

Attendees sampled the dishes and had the opportunity to pepper questions throughout Chef Eli’s demo. Chef Eli charmed with his candid answers, and continued Q&A long after the cooking was done.

The audience was eager to learn about everything from the ethics of Kashrut (kosher dietary laws) to Top Chef gossip. Yours truly rocked the mic and moderated the demo and Q&A - a perfect excuse to lob in some of my own questions!

Some of the most interesting Q&A of the night included:

Q: What’s he doing these days?

A: Chef Eli has left Eno, and is now doing a guest stint at Solo, a NYC kosher restaurant. It's the same restaurant previous Top Chef winner, Hung, did a stint at. Way back when I reported that the owners of Solo were to fund Hung's seafood concept, but I hear Hung's relationship with the owners soured due to delays, so that's no longer to be.

Q: Why does kosher food get a bad rap?

A: People are freaked out by any diet that is restrictive, whether it’s kosher or vegetarian, but any of these cuisines can be great if you use top-notch ingredients. A lot of people who don’t actually keep kosher still prefer kosher meats because they feel like it’s healthier. See more about that here.

The cuisine Chef Eli is serving at Solo is the kind of experimental cuisine that many thought they’d never experience in kosher dining. Kosher liquid nitrogen cocktails anyone?

Q: Where can you find free-range kosher chicken?

A: You can’t since free-range chickens eat all sorts of creepy-crawlies, a kashrut no-no. This sparked an interesting discussion about whether kosher meats were always the more humane way to go. The case, as evidenced by the free-range chicken issue, is definitely not black and white.

Q: What dish do you wish you could change from Top Chef
A: Peanut Soup with Popcorn Raspberry Froth from Episode 11. Asked if he’d do anything to fix it, he emphatically said it was unsalvageable! At least he didn't go out on that one...that was the episode where Robin got the axe.

Want to try out one of his dishes for yourself? Harosset, is always my favorite part of Passover. Traditionally it's a sweet apple, nut and wine mix that contrasts so delightfully with horseradish slathered on matzoh - known as a Hillel sandwich. Odd I know, but I swear it's great.

Chef Eli Kirshtein's Modern Twist on Harosset

1 btl Red Wine
¼ cp Dried Figs Small Dice
¼ cp Apples Small Dice
¼ cp Dates Small Dice
¼ cp Marcona Almonds
1 stick Cinnamon
1 Star Anise
1 Bay Leaf
¼ cp Sugar

Reduce wine by half with cinnamon, star anise, bay leaf, and sugar. Strain out the spices. Add the figs, apples, dates, and almonds and reduce by half.



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