Chautauqua: Haven for Learning and Culture

My husband and I have become evangelists—for the Chautauqua Institution, a unique and wonderful community in the westernmost county of New York, between Buffalo and Erie, Pa.

It’s a combination of college campus, music festival, writers’ workshop,  arts enclave and summer resort, with a little more than a hint of the religious movement that gave it its start 143 years ago. One person we met called it “summer camp for the adult brain.”

And it’s nestled into a picturesque small town chock full of Victorian-era houses, gardens galore and quiet streets. Walking and biking are the primary means of transport (though shuttle buses are available).

Training for Sunday School teachers

Originally called the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, the institution was created in 1874 as a two-week program for Methodist Sunday School teachers. The assembly took place following a revivalist “camp meeting” held annually on the shores of Lake Chautauqua. Founders John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller thought religion teachers needed more than revivalist spirit. They brought in speakers on a variety of academic subjects and provided music, art and physical education opportunities. It wasn’t long before the assembly totally eclipsed the revival meeting.

The Chautauqua idea caught on quickly, attracting the general public as well as religious educators. Soon there were numerous “daughter Chautauquas” and traveling Chautauquas throughout the country.

The founders’ vision still drives the institution, which now has a nine-week season every summer, from the end of June to the end of August.

Every week has a theme, and every weekday morning there is a lecture from a nationally known speaker on that theme. Every weekday afternoon there’s a lecture on a related theme in the “interfaith” lecture series. And every evening, six days of the week, there is fabulous entertainment: from the resident Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, from the music school’s orchestra, from the opera program or resident ballet company, or from top-notch visiting artists.

In between there are more lectures, book reviews, movies, discussion groups, recitals, art exhibits, nature walks and other activities – more than any one person can do.

For an additional fee there are three productions by the resident theater company and  a whole catalog of “special studies courses” on a wide variety of topics. There’s a golf course, tennis courts and indoor pool, and a lake with small beaches and boat docks. There are reasonably priced day camp programs for children from 3 to 16.

Religious life at Chautauqua

In deference to its history, Chautauqua provides many avenues for religious expression, including daily Protestant services with visiting clergy in the large amphitheater and a Sunday evening “sacred song service.”

Quite early in Chautauqua’s history, various Protestant denominations began operating guest houses so their congregants could stay at Chautauqua for a reasonable fee. Catholics and Jews weren’t particularly welcome in the early days, but now both groups have residences among the “denominational houses” on the grounds – and a Muslim house is in the discussion phase.

The newest of the denominational houses is the Everett Jewish Life Center, which opened in 2009. My husband and I started staying there for a week at a time in 2014. Last year we learned that they were looking for a new “host couple” and we jumped at the opportunity.

This year we spent 10 weeks at Chautauqua. Our duties included welcoming the guests to the Everett Center’s five guest rooms, shopping for food, preparing and cleaning up from breakfast, helping set up seats for the weekly films and speakers, and general trouble-shooting. Others handled the cleaning and maintenance and the programming.

In return, we got to enjoy almost everything Chautauqua had to offer. We heard incredible speakers, including Dahlia Lithwick, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Lewis Black, Jacques Pepin, E.J. Dionne, Bill Moyers and Stella Rimington, the former head of British intelligence and the model for Judi Dench’s “M”.

We saw fabulous entertainers, including Jay Leno, the Capitol Steps, Garrison Keillor, Sheryl Crow and the Beach Boys.

Visitors can stay at one of the 15 denominational houses with  guest rooms, the beautiful Victorian Athenaeum Hotel or at a rental house, apartment or room. There are also less expensive hotels and cabin communities a few miles away.

A word to the wise: The denominational houses get booked up fast! The Everett center has only a few openings left for 2018. The United Methodist House starts taking reservations October 1 and continues until the rooms are filled. The Catholic House has a lottery: get your application in between November 1 and November 30 and they’ll let you know soon afterwards if you’re “in.”

All of the denominational houses welcome people of all faiths, though some give preferences to church members; some allow you to become an official member of the tribe by paying a small membership fee.

Like any good evangelist, I’m willing to “testify” for Chautauqua! If you have any questions about the program or about the Everett Jewish Life Center, please contact me.

The recipe below is for one of the breakfast casseroles I served to our guests at the Everett center. I got it from It would be a great brunch or potluck dish. Be sure to plan ahead, because the recipe calls for the dish to sit overnight in the refrigerator. You can probably get by with letting it sit just a few hours, but I don’t recommend baking it right after you mix it up; the bread needs a chance to soak up the eggs and milk.


Hoping the weather cooperates for Sukkot


I should be thinking about the meaning of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot that started last night. Instead I’m fretting about the weather.

The Jewish religious calendar is unique in that it is both lunar and seasonal. Months have 28 or 29 days. This means that over the years, the religious dates get out of whack with the secular—and natural—calendar.

Muslims also follow a lunar calendar, but their holidays aren’t connected to the physical seasons–so Ramadan and other holidays can occur at any time of the year.

The Jewish calendar uses a system that adds a “leap month” seven times in 19 years  a second month of Adar, which usually occurs around February — to keep holidays and seasons in their traditional relationship. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for either of the two Jewish harvest festivals—Sukkot in the fall and Shavuot in the spring—to wander through the seasons. It’s hard to celebrate a harvest in January, even in balmy Israel.

Holidays are “late” after a leap year

Last year was a leap year, so everything was pushed back 28 days compared to last year. That means this year, the fall Jewish holidays were “late”–Rosh Hashanah didn’t start until October 3, just a few days earlier than the latest date it can possibly be.

This wouldn’t be a problem except for the festival of Sukkot, which began this year at sundown on October 16.

The holiday doesn’t celebrate only the fall harvest. Mainly, it commemorates the 40 years when the Israelites wandered in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Wherever they camped, they lived in temporary structures, and so on this holiday, we build little huts in our backyards, on our patios or even on our balconies.

These huts are called “sukkot” (singular “sukkah”), often translated as “booths,” which, frankly, I never understood since, while small, they are much larger than phone booths, voting booths or restaurant booths.

We usually interpret the command to “live” in these huts as meaning we take many of our meals in them.

Michigan weather a challenge

In Israel this isn’t much of a problem, but in Michigan, and much of the U.S., it can get pretty darn cold in mid-October, especially after sundown when most of us eat our main meal. And when it rains, eating in the sukkah is just out of the question; the sukkah is supposed to be covered with organic material such as pine boughs, reeds or bamboo, and one is supposed to be able to see the stars through the roof. Unfortunately a roof that lets in a view of the stars also lets in whatever moisture falls from the heavens.

The weatherman is forecasting a high in the low 70s for Sunday in our part of the U.S. Perfect! But they’re also forecasting rain. So while I purchased fancy plastic plates to use in the sukkah, I’ll also be setting my dining room table. In mid-October, you just don’t know!

One thing I will be doing is serving my famous stuffed cabbage, which I make every year at this time. It’s traditional to celebrate the fall harvest by eating stuffed vegetables, a symbol of bounty.

Last year I gave you a recipe for Armenian stuffed grape leaves. Today I offer a nice recipe for apple-stuffed acorn squash. I modified it slightly from a recipe I found on, where it was posted by Elana’s Pantry.


Louis ‘Eli’ Finkelman: ‘Tolerable Failure’

This column is by Rabbi Louis (Eli) Finkelman, who has written in this space before about pickles, rumtopfcelerygefilte fish and home-made cheese. Eli is a rabbi, scholar, teacher and freelance writer as well as a gardener, cook, home brewer and vintner. He calls this column …


Tolerable Failure

I went fishing with a friend many long years ago. We dragged fishing lures back and forth in the lake for a long while. No fish were damaged in the course of our time together. We would not bring home any fish to fry for our dinner.

My friend observed that he felt happy that he did not depend on catching fish to earn his living; he still could fall back on his regular job as a psychologist.

Decades later—this morning, actually—I went out to inspect my backyard vegetable garden.

It looked sad.

Most years, some insect or other bores into the base of the stem of the zucchini plants. The plants get weak, and then they shrivel up. By the time they die, though, we have usually eaten our own fill of zucchini, and often given away baskets of the stuff. By that time, we have long lost our enthusiasm for harvesting zucchini, and willingly say goodbye to the season.

This year, most of the zucchini plants have detached stems, and will shrivel after producing only a few fruits.

An animal of some sort has discovered my pepper plants. This animal takes one fastidious bite out of each fruit, and then deposits the remains on the ground between plants, or it chews the fruits thoroughly, spitting out small fragments in neat little piles. I do not know what kind of animal likes the peppers. I have seen rabbits and squirrels around the vegetable bed; I would not have seen other possible pepper-eaters, shy, nocturnal animals such as raccoons, opossums, skunks or even deer.

From the pepper plant’s point-of-view, this might have been a successful season. With the help of the neighborhood forager, each plant gets to scatter its seeds all across the vegetable bed. Or maybe the plants would do better to please their human gardener, so that I decide to put in peppers again next year.

My neighbor shot a rabbit last summer, and reverently buried its carcass in the vegetable garden that it loved to haunt. I do not plan to do that.

I think next year I will have to go back to planting hot peppers.

My tomato plants stand festooned with beautiful green fruits. As each fruit turns red, though, I see that about half of have blossom-end rot, a condition just as disgusting as its name. I suppose I could still salvage one bite from most of these tomatoes, but in practice I throw them into the compost bin.

A farmer would not tolerate that level of failure. If I depended on those plants for my living, I would have to test the soil to find out what nutrient my tomatoes need. Dilettante that I am, I found on the Internet that eggshells in the soil may serve to prevent blossom-end rot, so I just may bury some eggshells before next season.   A serious farmer would have to find the right poison to protect the zucchini plants. I do not want to spread poison in my garden, even to protect the zucchini plants, so I do not bother to find out what kind of poison would work.

The garden has produced some successes this year. I collected all the scallions my wife could use for cooking, and then gave away baskets and baskets of scallions. The currant bushes produced a fine crop of jewel-like sweet-and-sour fruits, which I enjoyed juicing with the wine press. I have harvested a good collection of garlic bulbs. The kale looks sturdy. Whether these successes count as adequate recompense for the hours of work in the garden, I do not know, but then, I enjoy working in the garden.

In sum, my garden has produced some food; it will not win any awards.

Looking at my partially ruined, perhaps-good-enough garden, I remember that I am a couple of years short of my seventieth birthday. Perhaps I have many active years left to live. Perhaps few. I can, with effort, remember endeavors that I have undertaken which bore fruit, and others which did not. I can wonder about projects in which I never did invest much effort, which, predictably, stayed at might-have-been. Some acquaintances have devoted their lives to accomplishing great things; I can look up at them with admiration. Some never had a chance. Others have made messes of their lives in one way or another.

What future I have, I cannot guess. I can feel thankful for the quiet life I have led, and the good-enough harvest it continues to bring in.

It does not need any awards.

What to Do with That Etrog?


This article by Toby Sonneman originally appeared in Tablet Magazine, at, the online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture. Toby Sonneman is the author of Lemon: A Global History and is working on a website, an intensive search for how the Holocaust affected her family.

The etrog, or citron, which looks like a large, lumpy lemon, plays an important ritual role in the Jewish festival of Sukkot. People pay big bucks to get a particularly beautiful specimen. (For a humorous look at the importance of the etrog during Sukkot, rent the Israeli film Ushpizin.)

An alternate pronunciation of the word, common among Jews from Eastern Europe, is “esrog.” The plural is etrogim or esrogim.

This year Sukkot began at sundown on September27, 2015 and ends at sundown on October 5. Toby discusses what to do with etrogim after the holiday is over.

There’s a Yiddish expression to describe something that has no value: “an etrog after Sukkot.” Considering that an etrog can cost $30 or more before Sukkot—the holiday in which this citrus fruit is ritually important—and yet seems to be worth nothing once the holiday ends, it’s an apt expression.

So, what can you do with an etrog after Sukkot? It would be wasteful as well as disrespectful to simply toss this exotic fruit in the garbage — especially when there are, in fact, many uses for it.

There is a rich folklore of Jewish customs concerning the post-holiday etrog.

A woman’s thing

Traditionally, once it was retired from its ritual role, the etrog was turned over to women for secular uses. In The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, Michael Strassfeld notes that the fruit, with its breastlike shape, was considered to have a special relationship to women, and a variety of Old World practices connected it to pregnancy and birth.

A childless woman who wanted to bear a son was advised to bite the pitom (tip) of an etrog. A pregnant woman who ate the etrog after Sukkot, according to the Talmud, would give birth to a “fragrant” child – the equivalent of a “good” child. And a woman in labor could ease the pain of childbirth, it was said, by placing the etrog’s pitom under her pillow.

The belief that the etrog could ease the pains of childbirth also extended to jam or jelly made from the fruit. My grandmother, who immigrated to the United States from Russia, soaked etrog peel for days to decrease its bitterness and made it into marmalade, saving the precious jars of golden preserves to give to postpartum mothers, including my own mother, to help them recover their strength after childbirth.

There are other classic ways of preserving etrog, or citron, that have less to do with folk wisdom and more to do with traditional uses of citrus fruits in general.

Citron-infused liqueur

The etrog can lend itself to a number of drinks. After Sukkot, John Kirkpatrick, an etrog-farmer in California, sells great quantities of the remaining fruit, as well as a related citron called Buddha’s Hand, to St. George Spirits for its citron-infused vodka.

In Italy, a liqueur described as “the noble cousin of limoncello” is made with the rind of citron rather than lemon; Zaide Reuven, a Dallas supplier of etrog-and-lulav sets (willow and palm branches used in Sukkot services) and author of The Esrog, calls such a liqueur “etrog schnapps” and provides a simple recipe (see below). The citron peel could also be used to flavor other beverages, such as lemonade or sangria.

Remember, Jews aren’t the only people who use the etrog. Candied citron, in particular, has a long non-Jewish history. Since the 15th century, when citron peels were soaked in seawater brine for

40 days before being submerged in a sugar solution, it has been a signature flavor of Christmas cakes such as Italian panettone and English fruitcake.

David Lebovitz, a pastry chef and cookbook author who lives in Paris, has experimented with making candied and glazed citrons. (As with all culinary uses of the etrog, it’s always a good idea to wash and scrub the peel to reduce any pesticide residue.)

Candied citron and citron preserves are fundamental to pastry making in Sicily, where the etrog (cedro, in Italian) is grown and sold. Tourists, seeing these giant citrons for sale alongside lemons and oranges at fruit stands, often remark that these are the largest lemons they’ve ever seen. But if they buy one expecting to find abundant juice, they soon realize their mistake: The pulp of the etrog is seedy and dry.

The pith, however—that white spongy layer beneath the peel that is often bitter in lemons and oranges—is a wide expanse in an etrog and can be surprisingly sweet. Sicilians cut the pith into thin slices and sprinkle them with salt or sugar for a snack, or combine them in a salad with fennel, oil, salt, and pepper.


The Brisket Quagmire

My friends and I are busy planning menus for the Jewish fall holidays, which start with Rosh Hashanah on the evening of September 13 and continue on and off  till sundown October 6. Brisket is an all-time holiday favorite.

Today’s blog is by Debbi Eber, who is retired after 31 years as a teacher. A graduate of Florida State, Queens College and New York’s High School of Music and Art, she lives in suburban Detroit with her husband, Jon.

For another take on brisket, see this Feed the Spirit piece from the past.

I never used to be able to make a good brisket.

It got so bad that my husband asked me to cease my attempts at this traditional beef dish. Each time I tried I carefully selected the meat at the market. I prepared it to my mother’s specifications. I roasted it in the oven. Sometimes I used onion soup mix and or kosher wine to flavor it. Each time it came out it was like chewing rubber bands.

What had I possibly done to destroy these cuts of meat? It was not a cheap experiment, so eventually, I just stopped.

My mom would fly up from Florida periodically, and we would shop for brisket. I watched her carefully select the meat and prepare it. Her results were tender, flavorful, heavenly slices of browned savory meat. My family devoured it. After each visit I gained new confidence and would try the recipe again. Sinewy and tough, a complete jaw workout were the results.

Sinking into the quagmire

I was sinking deeper into the brisket quagmire. Friends and family would offer their recipes. These were often laced with the gamut of ingredients; chili sauce, canned cherries, mushrooms, ketchup and other enhancements. None of these seemed like quintessential brisket recipes. I considered them but never took the bait to actually prepare these versions. At this point I had true fear of brisket!

One Friday evening we were celebrating the Sabbath at the home of our friends Wendy and Lloyd. Brisket was the main course, and not just any brisket – it was Lloyd’s family recipe brisket.

Everyone was swooning at the meat’s flavors, and the buttery texture. The onions that accompanied it were succulent and had that beefy deliciousness. The gravy was perfect; neither too thin or thick, but contained all the juices and just the perfect amount of sodium.

We all commented about the beef. One friend responded this recipe was so excellent because of the secret ingredient: the love. That remains to this day the standard response to what’s in a dish. It’s the love that makes it so special.

However, I needed more detailed information than that. I asked Lloyd for the recipe. I needed the precise ingredients and method. And then I went even further. I asked him what kind of pot he used to cook it in? For surely a brisket of this delicacy and grandeur must have an equally grand vessel to contain it!

Lloyd’s not-s0-secret recipe

Lloyd relayed the simplest of recipes and assured me that I could make this brisket. My husband told him, “ Are you crazy, have you ever tasted her brisket? There is no hope.”

I think Lloyd saw the predicament I was in and took up the challenge. He loaned me his pot. I began calling it the magic brisket pot. I made his very basic recipe (below).

I used Lloyd’s recipe and pot, and the results were my validation as a Jewish wife and mother. If I were still a Girl Scout, I would have completed my brisket badge. I could have sewn a tiny circle of cloth with an embroidered hunk of meat on it to my sash. I was proud of my edible masterpiece.

I extended my gratitude to Lloyd many times. I swore it was his magic pot. I went on an extensive Internet search to find the exact brand and size of cookware he had. It was a large Wagner Magnalite covered roaster. When I saw the price, I nearly flipped: it was close to $200.

At the time, that was too costly for me. I dearly wanted it but couldn’t finance that extravagance. I returned Lloyd’s roasting pot reluctantly. I decided to be experimental and use Lloyd’s brisket method in my Revereware Dutch oven.

The suspense while the meat cooked was nerve-wracking. I hovered over the contents like some strange chemical reaction might take place and rob me of my delicacy. After the required two hours of stovetop cooking and two hours of oven roasting, the meat emerged in perfect condition; tender, moist, flavorful, savory. I had won! The recipe triumphed over the roaster.

It was the beginning of many beautiful holiday meals. Finally, I was lifted out of the brisket embarrassment. My husband rejoiced; he now had a wife with elevated status, one who could cook a magnificent brisket.

I danced around the kitchen with my new confidence in my meat preparation skills! I even shared the recipe with my mother, who was doubtful at first. She tasted the results and proclaimed me a bona fide brisket maven. Now she could brag to her friends at their poolside gossip-fests, that she too had a daughter who could cook.

The price of beef brisket has soared of late. The last time I purchased a piece of this cut of meat it cost $48. I am so pleased now that I can guarantee the success of the meal with Lloyd’s recipe. It would be wasteful to mutilate such expensive beef.

Years have gone by and I still covet that Magnalite roaster. I am in love with its smooth sloping Art Deco form, resembling an AirStream trailer. These are still being made although I am not sure the quality is the same as the older models. I saw some really shiny older ones on Ebay, and some new ones online as well. The price has dropped to $100 or less.

Do I really require it though? Probably not. It would be an art piece now, a sentimental historical addition, one that would complete the story of the brisket quagmire.

(Editor’s note: Here’s another article, from Tablet magazine, about a cook who finally learned the secret of a good brisket — with a link in the story to his recipe. Personally I think the key to a tender and juicy brisket, no matter what other ingredients you include, is to cook the meat till it’s done, then cool it, slice it, and reheat it in the pan juices or gravy before serving.

Chocolate and strawberries: a winning combo

We came back from a couple of weeks out of town to discover that we’d just about missed our strawberry harvest. We don’t have all that many strawberry plants in our garden this year, but the berries we have ripened in the first week of June, and most had gone to the birds by the time we returned home. That was sad.

Eating the few luscious jewels left to us got me thinking about how nicely chocolate and strawberries go together and especially about my first encounter with chocolate-dipped strawberries.

A William Penn Shop special

For the first four years we were married, my husband and I lived in Philadelphia. In those days (way back in the mid-1970s) we couldn’t buy strawberries all year ’round, the way we can today. They were purely a late-spring and summer treat.

There was a gift store in Center City (which is what Philadelphians call their downtown) called the William Penn Shop, now long gone. For about two weeks every year, when strawberries came into season, the William Penn Shop sold the most stupendous chocolate strawberries. They were so special and so wonderful the shop would take out large ads in the daily papers to announce their availability.

They took the biggest, ripest berries they could find. They dunked them in fondant, coating the berries in a thick layer of creamy sweetness. Then they dunked them in dark chocolate, creating a chocolate shell that was at least a quarter-inch thick. They put each strawberry–now at least as big as your first–in a white gift box.

They cost at least $1 each, which was real money back then when my husband and I were earning about $7,000 a year between us as graduate assistants at Temple University. But every year we splurged because the chocolate strawberries were so incredible.

I couldn’t find anything about the William Penn Shop online, though a few of the other people who follow a Facebook group called Vintage Philadelphia responded to my query with fond memories.

In biological terms, strawberries are not actually berries. They’re actually “accessory fruits”–but who cares? They’re one of the most popular fruits in the world. You can put them on top of your cereal, mix them with yogurt, put them over ice cream, puree them into soup or slice them into salads. Strawberry jam is one of the most popular flavors.

A relatively recent development

As ubiquitous as they now seem, strawberries have been cultivated for only a few centuries.

Before that, people would eat wild strawberries. We have a lot of these in our yard–they’re weeds, but we tolerate them as ground cover because they’re not too bad looking. But I can’t imagine anyone eating the tiny sour fruits.

By the 1300s, Europeans were taking wild strawberries from the forests and growing them in gardens. Charles V, France’s king from 1364 to 1380, had 1,200 strawberry plants in his royal garden.

A new species of strawberry from North America was introduced to Europe in the 1600s and gradually spread through the continent. The first purely garden strawberry was a mix of the North American berry and one from Chile brought back by the French in the 1700s.

Thomas Wolsey in the court of King Henry VIII may have been the first to combine strawberries and cream.

With lots of Vitamin C and important minerals such as manganese, magnesium and potassium, strawberries are certainly healthful as well as delicious. They may help reduce hypertension and cholesterol.

I don’t know how to duplicate the William Penn Shop’s spectacular chocolate strawberries, but you can easily make something pretty tasty using good quality bittersweet chocolate and a pint of fresh berries. Here’s how!


A new look at classics, including striped bass with curry

I’m always tickled when someone I knew “when” makes good.

These days, the famous people I knew when they were nobodies are not so much my own former neighbors or high school and college friends but young adults my kids knew growing up–like Max and Eli Sussman who went to school and summer camp with them.

Now the Sussmans are celebrity chefs with a great PR agent. Seems like every week their proud parents, lawyer Marc Sussman and artist Lynne Avadenka, are posting yet another article or blog about the boys (which is how I’ll always think of them even though they are now 32 and 30).

They’ve just published a new cookbook–their fourth–called Classic Recipes for Modern People. They describe it as “a collection of culinary favorites reimagined.”

I caught up with the Sussman brothers a few weeks ago when they were home for Passover from New York, where they live and work.

Both recently left chef jobs at trendy New York restaurants to open their own eatery later this year. The Mediterranean-style restaurant will feature homemade pita, non-traditional dips such as beet hummus and lentil pistachio dip, anchovy fattoush salad and other dishes still in the development stage.

Though they didn’t grow up dreaming of restaurant careers, the brothers have been interested in cooking since they were kids.

Talented kids

Their parents discovered their talent during a family vacation in Cape Cod when the brothers were 12 and 10. “They were not being cooperative, whining about food and about what was for dinner,” said Marc, “and Lynne just said, ‘We’re leaving!’”

The parents went out for several hours. When they returned, they found a gourmet fish dinner awaiting them.

Eli was the front-of-the-house man, greeting his parents with a napkin over his arm, handing them a hand-written menu and escorting them to their table. Max supervised the food prep. To this day, Eli wonders how he knew what to do.

Their first experience cooking together professionally was at Camp Tavor in Three Rivers, Michigan, where they were campers for many summers.

Max, then 21, was working on an American studies degree at University of Michigan and Eli,19, was studying international relations at Michigan State University. They were supposed to be counselors at Tavor that year but the cook threw his back out and they took over the kitchen.

Discovering haute cuisine

Through college, both brothers worked at restaurants. When Max took a job at Eve in Ann Arbor, his first experience with haute cuisine, he realized cooking could be a career and not just a hobby.

Max returned to Eve (which is, sadly, now closed) after he graduated, working his way up from line cook to chef de cuisine before moving to New York.

After a stint at The Breslin, he went to Roberta’s, helping it grow from a grungy neighborhood pizzeria to an innovative new-cuisine hot spot. The New York Times awarded Roberta’s two stars, and Max was nominated for a James Beard Award, won a Zagat NYC award and was named one of Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30.” Most recently he was executive chef at The Cleveland for a year.

Eli moved to Los Angeles after college and worked in advertising, but after five years he decided to return to cooking, At Max’s suggestion he moved to New York and got a job as prep cook at Mile End Deli. Within a few years he was executive chef, running two restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Eli was a James Beard Awards semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year and was one of Zagat New York’s “30 under 30.”

The Sussmans’ first cookbook, Freshman in the Kitchen, was published in 2008 while they were still in college.

“The point was to talk to an audience who had even less experience than us. They wanted to cook but didn’t know anything about it,” said Max.

That was followed in 2012 and 2013 with This is a Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life, aimed at young adults looking to up their cooking game, and Best Cookbook Ever, a collection of new recipes suitable for dinner parties, potlucks and cooking to impress a date or a spouse.

All kinds of classics

The new book features classic dishes that the brothers have, in their own words, reinvented, rejiggered, reordered and recreated. It includes childhood classics, “TV dinner classics” such as new takes on potpies and meatloaf, French cuisine classics, and more.

The brothers want their recipes to be fantastic but say they don’t aim for perfection. “I don’t want to think anything is perfect,” said Max. “There’s always a way to improve a dish.”

Max says he hopes this recipe for striped bass with red curry, from the “Worldwide Classics” section of the book, will act as an intro to cooking Thai food at home.