A late July evening found 10 guests and two hosts gathered in the Morningside kitchen of Leslie Kalick Wolfe.
The guests were excited to be in on the beginning of a new venture. Wolfe was happy to welcome everyone to her home, and to share her mother’s recipe for noodle kugel. And the hosts, mother and daughter Iris and Julia Levy, were thrilled everyone wanted to be part of Tradition Kitchens, their start-up that aims to connect generations and community around food — in particular, Jewish food.
The Levys are serious about their guest lists. You don’t just sign up; you apply for a seat by filling out an interest form. The hosts then assemble a group they hope will enjoy one another, but also bring something to the table — not a dish, but a willingness to share memories of how food has connected them to their families and their cultural traditions.
Introductions came first. Joshua Frank triggered smiles as he talked about latkes, and said, “no matter how much effort you put into latkes, they always turn out good.” And, heads nodded as Jodi Greenberg said, “When I think of brisket, I think of family.”
Wolfe passed around recipe cards (photocopies of her mother’s handwritten instructions for making noodle kugel), and then stirred together the noodles, sour cream and other dairy ingredients.
“There’s nothing quite like breaking the fast with kugel,” Wolfe said. “I make two dishes every year to end Yom Kippur, and it’s always my first bite.”
As she was prepping the baking dish, she shared a kitchen tip, opening her dishwasher and setting the 9-by-13-inch pan on the open door, then spraying it with nonstick cooking spray. Those watching were struck by the clever solution for how to contain the mess of the slick spray.
Kugel baked; everyone sampled. Mostly savory and tangy, this particular kugel contains just a few tablespoons of sugar to bring a note of sweetness.
The Levys created Tradition Kitchens to honor the wisdom of Jewish family culinary history. “We want to transform kitchens into classrooms, connecting generations and neighborhoods, blending cultures and community,” Iris Levy said.
“We want to elevate the idea of the home chef, someone like my grandmother Betty, who we called our family’s ‘chief culinary officer,’” Julia Levy added. “We didn’t want those kitchen memories to be lost. And, we’re beginning with Jewish food, because that’s what we know.”
And, so, they wrote a proposal, and this year received a Propel Innovation grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
Demonstration classes in home kitchens are only part of the plan. The Levys want to train “kitchen scribes,” who will record recipes from their grandparents and other elders. They’re talking with restaurateurs like Ron Hsu and Aaron Phillips from Lazy Betty about sharing their history and family food traditions. And, Atlanta teacher Sara Franco will offer a class in making challah, the bread of the Jewish Sabbath.
Wolfe clearly was pleased to be sharing her mother’s recipe. She talked to the gathered guests about the fact that it was an actual written recipe, a departure from her mother’s usual practice of combining a little of this and a little of that in her cooking. She also talked about the importance of this kugel in her life, how it anchors her in Jewish tradition, and serves as a touchstone for family. “The recipe is so simple, my college-age daughters can make it in a dorm kitchen, and so they do, breaking fast in the same way they’ve watched us do for all their years of growing up,” she said.
Removing the finished kugel from the oven, she said, “You have to listen to the kugel,” referencing how to know when it’s done, but also the ways in which listening to food tells the story of where we’ve come from, and where we are going — exactly the point Tradition Kitchens is working to make.