Food at the center of an enriching experience.
I arrive at the residence of Chef Daniel Fish around five o’clock p.m., to partake for the first time ever in Chanukah, the celebrations of lights. This Jewish Celebration is traditionally observed for eight days and eight nights with special prayers, lighting the menorah, and fried food. Feeling honored and excited for this invitation, as I was in for a one of a kind experience!
It was a hot California summer day, in Temecula Wine Country, when I first met Fish. Amid enchanting vineyards, soaking in the sunshine and a glass of wine, I took notice of the Devilicious Food Truck stationed outside the winery. Of course I made my way over, inquired about the menu and a photo with the chef. Prepared to be declined by perhaps being too busy or not having combed his beard, it took me by surprised that not only did he accepted, but his swift reaction left me questioning where he exited the truck from. I recall glancing at my cell phone and in the blink of an eye, Fish was suddenly standing beside me, ready for the shot. That day, I walked away a happy foodie, with a photo for my Instagram and an amazing Duck Confit Grilled Cheese Sandwich to enjoy with my wine.
Today, is a special occasion. It is the first day of Chanukah 2017. I am greeted by an adorable toddler at the door, and the delightful aroma of a home cooked feast. I meet Fish and he leads me to the kitchen, where he is finishing up cooking hid family recipes. I also meet his lovely wife who begins to fill me in on their family traditions.
The first dish I am introduced to is latkes—what seem like the cousin of a hash brown. These fritters are made with shredded potato, onion and matzo meal. He takes the potato mixture in his hands and forms it into a patty before they go into the fryer.
It’s customary to make fried foods during this celebration in honor of the Chanukah miracle, when a one day supply of oil to light the menorah, in the Temple, lasted eight days.
The latkes are served with sour cream, sugar, and/or apple sauce. I ask what THE way to eat it is and basically it’s however one prefers. So, I tried the latkes in every combination: by itself, with sour cream, with apple sauce and then mixed together. I proceed carefully not to stray from good dining etiquette to avoiding looking like a mad foodie. I wish I could say the same about my photography skills. I must be looking like an obnoxious paparazzi, right about now. Indeed, it is a matter of preference. I happen to enjoy the latkes every which way.
While Fish checks on the main course, I meet the “Mench on the bench” placed above the fireplace. The Mench is a doll who represents a person who does good deeds in the world. On each day of Chanukah there is a gift to unwrap. One day is spent practicing a good deed by teaching a child to give rather than to receive.
My senses informed me that the main course is ready as the aroma in the room heightens. I could almost taste the brisket. My mouth waters as chef begins to carve the brisket. It looks like perfection.
Brisket is the traditional cut of meat served on this special occasion. Fish has prepared it with celery, carrot, onion, wine, beef stock and herbs. It is a main course one can only look forward to eating again. The veggies absorbed all the wonderful flavors in the pot and enhanced the meal. The meat is absolutely flavorful and herbatious. It is so moist and tender—steak knife not required.
The side dish is sweet, rather than savory. Kugel is a custard-noodle casserole. This charming casserole also has maraschino cherries in the mix and a topping of Frosted Flakes Cereal. The cereal really compliments the sweet noodles by giving it a nice crunch and marrying the flavor profile.
Once we finish dinner, Fish puts on a yarmulke and brings the Menorah to the dinner table. He takes the longest candle and says a prayer in Hebrew, before kindling the first candle on the Menorah. After this ceremony, we open a set of gifts.
Another fried food that is traditionally served, are homemade donuts. Fish takes balls of biscuit dough, drops them in the fryer, then, rolls the donuts in cinnamon-sugar. He also fills the fluffy donuts with strawberry jam. It is super easy and delicious. I feel compelled to find an excuse to recreate these. We devour the donuts and take the dreidel for a spin. As we have fun with the dreidel, his toddler eats gold wrapped chocolate coins.
In this photo, Fish sits beside the Menorah holding a dreidel.
In learning about others, one only learns more of ones self. It’s interesting how food brings people together by creating lasting bonds, memories and celebration. Tonight has been utterly enriching and a true pleasure. Thank you for this gift.