A power trio -- Silverton, Feniger and Tracht -- take center stage at Jewish Federation lunch
Feeding lunch to 700 women? That’s an ordinary challenge for the likes of Susan Feniger, Suzanne Tracht and Nancy Silverton. But a lunch that also meets all kosher dietary laws? Now, that was interesting.
The three chefs were featured at a fund-raising lunch Tuesday marking the 100th anniversary of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and to make sure that everyone could eat the meal regardless of how strictly she followed the laws of kashrut, the chefs had to plan their dishes in a new way.
All the equipment in the catering kitchen set up in a tent was blessed. New knives were bought and wrapped in plastic wrap at night to make sure they were not used inappropriately, Feniger said. The salad greens were washed three times to make sure they were insect-free.
“It was an interesting learning experience,” Feniger, co-founder of Border Grill and owner of Susan Feniger's Street, said before the lunch, which was held in a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport.
Tracht, chef-owner of the restaurant Jar, said she had to use feta cheese rather than the burrata, a cream-filled mozzarella, that she normally uses because she couldn’t locate kosher burrata. And Silverton, co-founder of Pizzeria Mozza, La Brea Bakery and Campanile, had to use a different chocolate for her pudding.
Tracht said she wished she's spent time in a kosher market looking at what was available before she’d started her planning.
She grew up in a kosher household and said one of her childhood meals was borscht, and “it wasn’t always the most attractive thing,” so she decided to use beets in a different way. She made a beet salad with cucumber slices, arugula and feta cheese. (Find the recipe below.)
Each chef contributed a dish and recipe for the lunch and demonstrated it on a stage during the meal. Feniger made varenyky –- Ukrainian dumplings -- stuffed with spinach, zucchini and ricotta cheese, served with sour cream and lemon marmalade -– a dish she serves at Street. And Silverton made that chocolate pudding.
The three women were asked to talk about how being Jewish affected their decision to become chefs.
Feniger grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and recalled Sunday mornings running between her grandmother's and her Aunt Fay’s apartments to help them cook -– chicken liver and onions with eggs with Aunt Fay, and varenyky with her grandmother.
“Our family was definitely about food and the experience of what happened at the table,” Feniger said.
“In a Jewish traditional family, the focus is always around the table,” Tracht said.
Being Jewish, Silverton said, “means closeness, family, generosity, education. It means a lot more than going to temple.”
-- Mary MacVean
The following recipe, from Suzanne Tracht, was not tested in The Times kitchen.
Suzanne Tracht's Feta, Roasted Beets, Cucumber Salad
3 baby beets, red or gold
Salt and pepper
1 Persian cucumber
1 very thin slice red onion, cut in half
1/4 cup arugula
2 pinches Greek oregano
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 ounces feta cheese
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Toss beets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap in foil and roast for 45 minutes. Chill.
Peel beets and slice into quarters and place in medium-sized bowl.
Cut cucumber into quarters lengthwise. Slice into small pieces and add to bowl.
Add onion slices, arugula, pinch of oregano and a pinch of salt.
Add olive oil and lemon juice. Toss and place in salad bowl.
Place feta on top of salad. Sprinkle with pinch of oregano and pinch of salt.
Drizzle additional dressing on top.
Photo, from left: Feniger, Silverton and Tract at the demo.