Invited to an exclusive tasting event of recipes featured in the Pesach edition of Joy of Kosher Magazine, I was excited to meet Jamie Geller and her talented magazine staff. An eight-course meal was planned, promising some innovative takes on the standard and expected fare for Seder night. Well, I quickly learned that it wasn’t going to happen.
I arrived a bit early to find a busy, active kitchen in the sleek and modern Miele Manhattan Experience Center. Chef Laura Frankel, culinary director at Kosher Network International, was busy at the cooktop (which blended seamlessly with the countertop); Deborah Shapiro, VP of marketing and operations at Joy of Kosher, was checking herbs for bugs; and Jamie Geller was hosting the live feed on Facebook. I really didn’t think that anything was amiss until Jamie explained that the food delivered earlier by the caterer was “unacceptable and not up to our standards” and had been sent back. What followed was a mad dash to Whole Foods Market, and a call to a butcher on the Upper West Side who quickly put together an order and sent it over in an Uber. Shifra Klein, editor-in-chief of the magazine, seemed calm, holding her newborn baby, and said they were “rolling with it!”
So the eight-course meal was now converted to an “improvisation” and the ingredients they were able to get were “inspired by” the recipes originally planned. Instinctively I offered to help, and was quickly given my instructions. Pluck some mushroom stems for the red wine sauce (save the pretty tops for later!); roast the tomato paste, shallots and garlic in the stock pot; slice some fennel for the chicken; plate the salmon appetizer. Wow, I had a crash course on working in a professional kitchen, side by side with Chef Laura, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Notable food bloggers, cookbook authors and restaurant reviewers, such as Melinda Strauss of Kitchen Tested; Miriam Pascal of Overtime Cook; Naomi Nachman, the Aussie Gourmet; Shannon Sarna of The Nosher; Elan Kornblum of Great Kosher Restaurants Magazine, began to arrive. No one seemed too concerned about the change in format for the dinner, and all began their live Facebook feeds and Instagram postings.
People were hungry, and luckily the food soon began to roll out, starting with the smoked-salmon salad with harissa aioli, sea beans, capers, radishes and yellow beets, garnished with a slice of fig and meyer lemon and finished with a drizzle of olive oil. Plated by yours truly! Each course was accompanied by a glass of wine, or in the case of the appetizer, some champagne was poured. As Gabriel Geller of Royal Wines claimed, “Champagne goes with everything!”
While waiting for the next course, we were invited to pickle our own vegetables by selecting veggies and even grapes to put in a small mason jar, and fill with the pickling juice that was simmering on the cooktop. None of us knew you could pickle grapes, so throwing caution to the wind, we threw them in the jar with the cauliflower and beets. I can’t wait to try them next week!
Soon we were served a dish of spatchcocked chicken, braised with fennel, meyer lemons and mushrooms. Then, of course it was time for another cup of wine so we enjoyed a dry Hagafen Riesling 2014.
Unfortunately there was not enough time to fully cook the rib roast, but that didn’t stop Chef Laura. She carved what she could, and cooked the really raw center in a pan. It was served with roasted root vegetables, sunchokes and the amazing red wine sauce I had helped to make. Complementing this course was a red Shiloh Legend Honi 2014.
For dessert, we were treated to a dark chocolate mousse made with olive oil, which was rich, decadent, and prepared tableside. Accompanying this was another white Riesling (or maybe it was the same Riesling as before, at this point who knew?) to which berries macerated in sugar and orange zest had been added.
Smiling throughout the entire event, Jamie Geller was the consummate hostess, showing only grace under pressure, going with the flow and staying cool and calm, despite the food snafus and her breakneck-speed traveling demands. Chef Laura, who improvised the entire meal and did not stop cooking for one minute the entire evening, received an ovation and was shown much appreciation for her efforts.
Make sure to pick up a copy of the Joy of Kosher Magazine Passover issue and treat your guests and family to delectable and unexpected fare this Pesach. Even if you have to improvise with different ingredients than you expected, or fly by the seat of your pants, you now know that it can be done!
By Rachel Berger