With so much domestic entertaining taking place, cooking can stir up a bit of the old human competitive nature. I have some friends who still debate whether it’s better to have their bubbie’s knaidel recipes be floaters or sinkers.
Not that we should compete with friends, but in some Jewish and non-Jewish communities there is overwhelming competition to impress, from a culinary standpoint. Hostesses (and hosts) can feel tremendous pressure to produce superlative fare for their family and guests. Perhaps some of the popular food television shows are also turning many of us into amateur food critics, laying unnecessary pressure on even the most mild-mannered home chefs.
And if our zaidies could see Jewish men now, they would be astounded. Many competitive cooks are men. According to the market research group NPD, over the last few years the number of men doing the household shopping has gone up about five percent. Kitchens may still be mostly under the control of the woman of the house, but men are slowly but surely making inroads into claiming shared territory.
If you stop and think about it for a second, it’s kind of funny. Most of the professional chefs of the world are men. But in the home, the domestic chefs are generally women. When my grandparents moved to America after the war, my grandfather became a gourmet chef and restaurant owner in a few very successful Philadelphia restaurants. One of his restaurants was in a posh area called Chestnut Hill and while some of his clientele even had personal chefs at home, they just kvelled over my zaidie’scooking.
In the restaurants my grandmother was the waitress. But at home, she never let her husband in the kitchen, cooking and baking up a storm of delicacies all on her own. After she passed away he threw on his apron and took up her perch as the family chef, making Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Pesach like nobody’s business, hosting all of us at his table well into his 80s.
Jewish men are routinely asking for online assistance with kosher cooking. One stay-at-home dad used to e-mail me questions like, “Would frozen tilapia work here in place of fresh?” or “How much fresh ginger is equivalent to the ground ginger amount in this recipe?” He even came to an appearance I did at the Cherry Hill JCC. It was him and about 100 women and he proudly got his book signed as he shared with me how thrilled he was to be able to cook easy, quick meals for his family.
Too often, American Jews look at kashrus as a barrier instead of a blessing. My own personal journey as a ba’alas teshuvah (I like to think I went from being a plain bagel to a sesame bagel with cream cheese and lox) opened my eyes to the possibilities of foods and recipes that could be prepared for a kosher kitchen.
As my career progressed, I realized how much more accessible our once insular world had become and I made it a personal mission to enable other kosher cooks to go boldly where no kosher cook has gone before. And the Internet has made my mission that much easier.
With the Web’s help, our cooking habits are evolving as we learn about Jewish traditions around the world. In many American Jewish communities, the traditional Ashkenazi majority has been transformed over time.
Most communities now have a real blend of Oriental (Eastern, or Jews of African or Asian origin) and Sephardic (Jews of Mediterranean, Balkan, Aegean, and Middle Eastern lands) Jewish populations. This demographic change has brought an infusion of customs, cultures and foods different from those we might have grown up with. Using the Internet, as well as old-fashioned face-to-face recipe sharing enables us to experience a diversity of flavors, without ever leaving our homes.