Photo by Orly Olivier.
Years after her father’s passing, Orly Olivier, the artist behind Petit Takett, opened a small wooden box. This neat little box contained handwritten notes with small drawings by her father Sylvain Olivier, who had scribbled down some of his favorite recipes in a mix of English, French, and Arabic. Unlike published recipes, which carefully list all the ingredients and instructions for a dish’s preparation, these notes were cryptic, with only enough information to remind Sylvain of his favorite dishes. Finding these recipes brought back memories to Orly Olivier of large Shabbat dinners with her Sephardic father, Ashkenazi mother, and sister in Los Angeles. It reminded her of intricate smells, flavors, and colors, and joyful feelings of sharing delicious food and good company.
Olivier needed to open this box, not only for memory’s sake but also for the sake of her artistic practice: it was the spark that launched her project Petit Takett (“little Takett,” named in honor of her grandmother’s restaurant, Takett’s, in Tunisia).
The artist explains, Continue reading
Rosh Hashanah at my relatives’ house in Israel, 2005
Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, Orly Olivier of Petit Takett: Love, Legacy, and Recipes from the Maghreb muses upon the holiday she learned to love in Israel.
Growing up at home with my parents in Los Angeles, the High Holidays meant going to synagogue in the evening, and again the next morning, followed by a big dinner. I mostly remember the services never quite grabbing my attention the way the Tic Tacs and gum my mother provided to keep me quiet did. But I do remember those services being very important to her. It wasn’t until, at the age of sixteen, I moved to Israel that I began to fully understand the High Holidays and what kind of wonderful experience they could be.
I gained an understanding of Jewish culture by living in the land upon which it was created. My experience wasn’t particularly religious; I attended services once during the three years I lived there. But I discovered a profound personal connection to the rich traditions of the Jewish people that changed me forever.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are my favorite examples of this connection. During Rosh Hashanah, Israel’s cities are decorated with signs and banners wishing people a “sweet and happy New Year!” Decorative photos and pictures of apples, honey, and pomegranates are everywhere. People send cards and gifts, and it’s actually a much bigger deal than Hanukkah. Dinners are bountiful, with fruits and flowers everywhere. It’s a truly joyous occasion.
I have three Israeli aunties, each of whom has had three or more children. Those children now have children of their own, which means the High Holiday family dinners are often twenty or more at the table! The cooking is divided amongst my aunties, and each year they take turns hosting from house to house. The men also have their roles as sous chefs, dishwashers, and expert grocery shoppers. There’s a lot of coordination involved, Continue reading
Happy National Chili Day! I absolutely love chili. I love the spices, the variety of topping choices, and—since I am vegan—the fact that it constitutes a well-balanced meal filled with protein. Every year for the Super Bowl, I make my own chili from scratch. Most people think it’s difficult, but all you are really doing is throwing everything into a pot. The spices are key, especially cumin, and when I make it myself I can customize the chili to my taste.
The tradition of making chili actually arose from my mom’s chili-layered dip. Using a baking pan, she would spread chili evenly over the bottom and then layer it with sour cream and a healthy portion of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. The dip is then baked until the ingredients are hot and the cheese is melted. However, due to my vegan lifestyle, while I follow the tradition, I focus my attention on making a delicious chili topped with avocado, chopped red onion, pickled jalapenos, and sometimes my own vegan sour cream. While Super Bowl Sunday comes only once year, I crave the dish on a regular basis.
Fortunately, I work at the Skirball Cultural Center and am able to enjoy the vegan chili that is served at Zeidler’s Café whenever I’m at work! Zeidler’s chili is perfectly seasoned, has the precise bean-to-liquid balance, and I can get any toppings that I want. The recipe even contains some meatless crumble, which makes the chili even heartier. Lucky for us, I was able to get my hands on the recipe, which is posted below. I plan on cooking the chili for the first time tonight in order to truly celebrate National Chili Day.
(Makes 6–8 hearty servings)
1 12-oz. can vegetarian chili beans
1 12-oz. can vegetarian black beans
2 12-oz. cans vegetarian pinto beans
12 oz. marinara sauce Continue reading
As the holidays approach, people start to ask me more and more about making something delicious and inventive for their vegetarian dinner guests. Nowadays, vegan and gluten-free guests are also becoming common! I’m always up for the challenge of diet-restricted guests. This is just one of the many items I have had fun creating for the Skirball’s unique catering menu. I work hard to make every dish look as good as it tastes, and this very elegant-looking (if I don’t say so myself) vegetable tower is a creative and hearty alternative to the simple salad and is easy to make. Even the non-vegetarians will enjoy it!
Tower of Butternut Squash, Beets, and Arugula
1 butternut squash (select one with long stem neck)
1 large red beet
1 large Hass avocado, cut into cubes
Cherry balsamic vinaigrette (Alternative: regular balsamic vinegar that has been reduced to syrup)
Salt and pepper
1 bunch basil
1 bunch Italian parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper Continue reading
My mother, Janice, and I in her kitchen (not her usual hangout!)
I am a Thanksgiving stickler. I take Thanksgiving very seriously. This means for one glorious day of the year my family does not experiment with the menu, we don’t devour take-out, and we definitely do not skimp on full-fat ingredients.
Since change is a given in any family, I am comforted by our Thanksgiving consistency and sometimes brattily demand it. I insist that we have green beans with pearl onions and balsamic vinaigrette. I require the best homemade pumpkin pie made by my aunt and cousin, “award-winning” according to my grandpa. (Once he even made a trophy in appreciation.) I will squint with judgment while my dad carves the turkey with an electric knife and eats the fatty end while telling everyone else to go away while he “works.”
Despite my strange affinity for all things old-school and traditional at our holiday table, two of my absolute favorite Thanksgiving recipes are relatively new to the arsenal, which speaks to how tasty they are. Even more bizarre is that the recipes were tested and refined by my mother. Continue reading
It is a joy to see the courtyard filled with people enjoying my food and lively conversation. Photo by Jared Steven.
Sunset Concerts 2012 are over, but as a colleague reminded us in pictures, “What a summer it was!”
For me, the pleasure wasn’t only hearing great tunes or watching the showmanship of the artists, but enhancing the fan experience with good food. Each week, as I planned the menu for each of the popular pre-concert buffets, I drew inspiration from the feel of the music, the cultural and culinary heritage of the band, and the fresh summer bounty. It was fun to create something original, with music serving as my muse.
For the Sunset Concerts performance by La Santa Cecilia, among many dishes inspired by the band’s Latin American background, I created lamb shoulder braised with guajillo peppers, cinnamon, and orange. As I greeted guests, many asked me for the recipe. I’m happy to share it now with all of you. Enjoy it year round… and be sure to dine at Zeidler’s Cafe for next year’s season to see what I come up with next! Continue reading
From the outside looking in, here’s a shot of my family gathered in my living room for Hanukkah. Our lighting table is by the front window for all passersby to see. What you can’t experience from this picture is… the scent of latkes filling the air!
Everyone in my family looks forward to “Suzie’s” Hanukkah party, not least of all because of my homemade latkes. I acquired the recipe years ago when my children were very young. Preparing them has become a family tradition.
For many years, my mother, Marika—born in Antwerp, Belgium, and affectionately called “Mimi” by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren—would come over about two weeks before Hanukkah. Together we would fry ten pounds of potatoes, making well over one hundred latkes! When she became too old to drive, I would pick her up and bring her over. One year there was a huge rain storm on our pre-planned latke-making day. The streets were flooded, but I was not deterred. How surprised my mother was when I showed up at her door to pick her up for latke duty! Continue reading
Ever notice that wonderfully fragrant rosemary grows right outside the Skirball entrance? It's an inspiration for a lot of my cooking.
The sense of smell is said to be the strongest memory trigger, and having spent a considerable amount of time breathing in aromas in my Grand’Mere Adeline’s kitchen back in Ohio, I can attest to that. Just the scent of a Thanksgiving turkey prepared just like she used to make it so many years ago takes me back to moments I will never forget.
Grand’Mere Adeline was the queen of the kitchen. Preparation for the holidays started in September. With a blended family culinary history that included Scottish shortbreads, Hungarian pastries, and chicken-and-matzo-ball soup, recipes were handed down through the generations. A select few were adapted from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but if (and only if) they met Grand’Mere’s highest of standards. The one thing we were assured of was that every morsel of food on her bountiful table was lovingly prepared by her and her alone.
The warmth emanating from the oven as the turkey roasted within. The mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread cooling on the counter. The windows of Grand’Mere’s tiny kitchen wet with steam from the boiling of potatoes and rutabagas. These are details I can still close my eyes and recall vividly. Continue reading