"The New Jewish Table: Modern Seasonal Recipes for Traditional Dishes", by D.C. celebrity chef Todd Gray and his wife Ellen Kassoff Gray, has been published just in time for Passover Mar. 25-Apr. 2.
Far more than a mere cookbook, its stories will touch your heart and your funny bone, and the photographs will make you salivate as much as its recipes do.
The delectable recipes are served with a dash of good humor:
- Not Exactly Aunt Lil's Matzo Ball Soup -- Foie gras is not exactly a standard ingredient in matzo balls, but it is in Todd Gray's version.
- Baked Gefilte Fish -- not exactly gefilte fish out of a jar, which Todd terms "an abomination". His gefilte fish is "an interpretation of the French quenelles de brochet (poached ovals of pike mousse). Sounds vastly better than stuffed fish.
- Todd's Modern Day Brisket -- an elegant version of that exalted meat dish. He adds "techniques from my French arsenal" and his secrets -- "braise it low and slow, and cut against the grain."
The unique book focuses on other holidays, in addition to Passover, which commemorates the story of Exodus, when Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.
- For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year -- Brussels Sprout Petals Sauté. Not exactly "the halved or quartered Brussels sprouts that would stink up the kitchen when my mother made them," Todd notes. His treatment -- peel the petals for "a completely different mouth feel and a much more delicate flavor -- gone is the bitter aftertaste and gaseous quality." Gone with the wind.
- For Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights, not Jewish Christmas -- Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Latkes -- not Jewish hash browns. His are more like pommes rösti. Latkes were the first dish Todd and Ellen's father made together, and were almost the last. Chef Todd encouraged Mr. Kassoff, none-too-keen on his daughter marrying a non-Jew, to use a bissel less oil. "'You don't really have to submerge them.' He looked at me like I was crazy."
Todd, an Episcopalian, "bonded over deli fare" with Ellen Kassoff and her "madcap traditional Jewish" family. The Grays give just a pinch of their love story to flavor their love affair of blending two different cooking cultures -- Eastern-European Jewish and seasonal American. The result is a very new Jewish table.
Todd Gray is a five-time James Beard Award nominee, and has cooked with some of the country's top chefs. Ellen Kassoff Gray, a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier, is an award-winning general manager for all their operations, which include Equinox Restaurant, Muse at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Hamill Gray Catering.
Equinox, named for the Grays' focus on "seasonality", is the best-known of their enterprises. And some of the best-known celebs who've eaten at Equinox this year include LeBron James and the entire Miami Heat basketball team, former Obama White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and NBC's David Gregory and Tom Brokaw.
The Grays are known also for their philanthropy, especially for the Washington Humane Society. They hosted its "Sugar and Champagne" event last January. And one of its raffle prizes was Todd's preparing dinner for ten at RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Vir.
Their new book's acknowledgments include "Our two floor cleaners, Zeus and August...faithful shepherds." Click on the slideshow to see the two German Shepherds eagerly watching Todd cook.
Whatever the season, holiday, or meal, "The New Jewish Table: Modern Seasonal Recipes for Traditional Dishes", is delightful, delicious, and de-lovely. And you don't have to be Jewish to love it.
For more info: "The New Jewish Table: Modern Seasonal Recipes for Traditional Dishes" (St. Martin’s Press, March 5), by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray.