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Sampling French/Jewish Cuisine at Everest

By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 23, 2010 5:00PM

Last Thursday, we were invited to dine at Everest, sampling some dishes from Joan Nathan's Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France. Yesterday, NPR released its list of the best cookbooks of 2010 and, in a show of great judgement, Nathan's book was on the list. We had a chance to meet Nathan and eat her food, and learned about the rich Jewish history of France.

France has the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel and the United States, and yet no one had written extensively about Jewish food in France. Unlike in most of Europe, after the holocaust French jews returned to France to resestablish their lives, and so many of the old families still have roots there. Nathan spent a long time traveling France, visiting homes and asking questions, and uncovered an entire culinary history about which the wider world was unaware. Indeed, Nathan argues that most of the dishes we currently think of as "Jewish" originated in France and moved eastward, rather than starting in Russia or Germany.

How have these foods survived? Nathan argues that since these foods are often traditional, or served on religious holidays, they've stuck around. "Traditional foods make your family different from every other family," she said, so that they last throughout time. Chef Joho of Everest recounted his first experience with Jewish food in his native Alsace, in 1984, cooking a chocolate-pear Kugel, before joking that it was always difficult to cook food out of someone else's cookbook. We think he managed fairly well. Check the picture captions for page references and dish names, so you can try them at home!