Sky Full of Bacon

You Don’t Have To Be Alsatian To Love…

Fresh from toasting the winners of Bib Gourmands at The Violet Hour, I dined with one of the one-star anointees. I was invited to Everest for a lunch hosted by Chef Jean Joho and the Spertus Institute in honor of Joan Nathan, author of a couple of previous books on American and Israeli Jewish cooking, who has a new one on French Jewish cooking, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous. (Yes, the irony of Sky Full of Bacon attending such a lunch was noted.)

From the remarks (kept as brief as she could), we got a glimpse of what seems to be an interesting hidden world which made relatively few inroads into restaurant culture in France (beyond some falafel shops) but has a lot of depth to it— France is, she said, the third major Jewish country after Israel and the US and one of the only Holocaust countries where Jews returned in numbers after World War II and reestablished their culture. And most of her research was in homes rather than professional dining settings.

For Joho, who called himself “half Catholic, half Protestant and half Jewish,” and is from Alsace where the Jewish presence was strongest, cooking out of her book made for an interesting experience as his newly Michelin-starred kitchen had to turn out what are basically very homey, humble recipes. So Gemarti soup seemed wonderfully rustic until you noticed how perfectly brunoised the tiny bits of vegetable in it were:

Actually, one interesting thing she said about French Jewish cuisine is that it’s often the last place that older French recipes survive. She said this recipe, with carrots and toasted semolina, was exactly the sort of thing that was replaced otherwise in French dining by potato-leek soup when potatoes arrived from the New World. Similarly, she says this sweet-sour fish dish can be found in Taillevent in the 14th century:

My thought was, she’d found the missing link between Jews and Chinese food. This one may have stirred a little fuss at the end, because Joho said that it’s traditionally made with carp, but he doesn’t like the carp in this country, so he used another white river fish: catfish. I immediately heard people saying that catfish wasn’t kosher, however because it’s a scavenger. So’s carp, I thought, but what do I know about all this.

Anyway, after a couple of homey courses, we finished with a dessert fit for a Rothschild, in fact named for them:

A very interesting meal on a topic new to me; I recommend leafing through Nathan’s book when doing your half-Catholic, half-Protestant, half-Jewish holiday shopping. Being in a food-cultural mind as I left, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition that summed up for me our own mix of food cultures even in the Loop:

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