Beyond Kugel: The Foodies Re-invigorating Jewish Cuisine

Lonnie Firestone

Though Jewish communities exist in every region of the world, Jewish cooking, in North America, can seem a bit limited. For many, it’s Eastern European by default: matzah ball soup, potato kugel, roast chicken. As much as we love a good kugel, it’s undeniable that Jewish food was due for reconsideration. 
 
What we’re seeing now confirms our idea of a renaissance in Jewish culture, with Jewish foodies infusing flavors that reflect their Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, and African-American backgrounds. 
 
Four contemporary cooks—Jake Cohen, Boris Fishman, Michael Twitty, and Michelle Yeh—are bringing their personal styles and passions to the table. While they are distinct as chefs, they all view cooking as an affirmation of Jewish values—of life, family, and identity. 
 
Take a look and let us know if you make anything. We have a feeling that these chefs will have you lunging for the kitchen.

Jake Cohen

Jake Cohen’s tahdig, or crispy Persian rice.

Jake Cohen’s online presence is so magnetic that you might be surprised by his impressive resume. Cohen trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in DANIEL and ABC Kitchen. He also wrote for SaveurTimeOut NY, and Tasting Table

As a chef, Cohen blends skill, charm, and a passion for Jewish cooking. His new cookbook, Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch, celebrates the eclectic dishes that Jews cook around the world. 

When Cohen met his future husband, an Iraqi Persian Jew, he set out to broaden his knowledge of Jewish cuisine.

But his culinary interests date back to his adolescence. when he watched the Food Network after school. Perhaps that’s why Cohen understands how to make eye-catching videos: his time-lapse recipes on Instagram are sure to whet your appetite.

Notable dish: Coconut Macaroon Brownies
Must-listen podcast: Cohen on JEW(ish)
Cohen’s perfect bread: Challah with an array of seeds: sesame, fennel, poppy, nigella, and/or cumin.

Boris Fishman

Oksana Zagriychuk’s Chicken Liver Pie.

Boris Fishman is a veteran journalist. His 2020 memoir, Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (A Memoir with Recipes) documents his family’s migration from Belarus in the former USSR to the United States when he was nine years old. 
 
Fishman describes it as a book about hunger, relaying his grandparents’ stories of scarcity during the Nazi occupation of Minsk: in hiding, his grandmother survived on potato peels. His own feelings about food were deeply impacted by the immigrant experience: he said on NPR, “It’s amazing, thirty years after immigrating to the States, the degree to which we approach food as a resource that might vanish.” 
 
Fishman’s renewed appreciation for the cuisine of his youth owes a debt to Oksana Zagriychuk, Fishman’s father’s home health aide, who prepared exuberant Russian dishes. His book elevates this tradition through his own memories and the mouth-watering recipes that Oksana brought to his family.
 
Notable dish: Banosh (Polenta) with Mushrooms and Sheep’s Milk Feta 
Must-listen podcast: Fishman on Milk Street
Fishman’s perfect bread: Borodinsky bread, a dark sourdough of Russian origin

Michael Twitty

Michael Twitty’s kush, a hash with cornbread.

Michael Twitty has traveled the American South, cooking Southern Black cuisine on plantations. He led cooking and history workshops, wearing the clothing his enslaved ancestors would have worn. He called it, “The Southern Discomfort Tour.” The tour resulted in a highly praised book, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.
 
On the podcast The Nod, Twitty said, “I’m not there to make anyone comfortable or comforted. I want to disturb their notions of what history is and improve their notions of what the future can be.” Twitty thus roots his cooking demonstrations in historical detail, slaughtering a chicken himself, plucking its feathers, and building a fire from scratch.
 
A James Beard-award winner, Twitty crafted two personae to disseminate his recipes and teachings: Antebellum Chef, dedicated to the Black cooks who created Creole cuisines, and Kosher Soul, examining Black and Jewish identity. 
 
Notable recipe: Groundnut Stew
Must-listen podcast: Twitty on The Nod
Twitty’s perfect bread: Milkbread

Molly Yeh

Molly Yeh’s humshuka, or hummus and shakshuka.

As the host of the Food Network’s Girl Meets Farm, Molly Yeh combines distinct cultural elements. Yeh’s background is Jewish and Chinese, and her home is a farm on the North Dakota-Minnesota border. Her cultural affiliations and her crowd-pleasing recipes make for a lively blend; Yeh is telegenic, conveying friendliness and hospitality while braiding a challah for Shabbat dinner. 
 
Yeh rose to fame with the publication of her cookbook, Molly on the Range: Recipes and Stories from an Unlikely Life on a Farm. A Juilliard-trained percussionist, Yeh moved from New York to the North Dakota-Minnesota border when she married a fifth-generation farmer. 
 
Yeh’s secret ingredient is her warmth. Watch an episode of Girl Meets Farm or scroll through her website, and you’ll find a chef whose excitement for cooking is contagious. 
 
Notable recipe: Humshukah (Hummus and Shakshuka) 
Must-watch episode: Girl Meets Farm: Shabbat Dinner
Yeh’s perfect bread: Orange-Juice Challah

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