From humble beginnings washing dishes at a local restaurant in Long Island, New York, chef Jay Weinstein has made a name for himself in the culinary world. Weinstein has written three food and cook books and teaches at the Natural Gourmet Institute where he recently held a class on cooking “kosher with confidence.” The Jewish Week spoke with Weinstein about his passion for food, the ethics of eating and the best bite in New York.
Emma Goss: Tell me about your “kosher with confidence” class. How did you come to learn all the rules of kashrut?
Jay Weinstein: I learned it because I grew up in a kosher home. My parents kept kosher. It gave me a respect and reverence for ingredients. It also gave me a sense that just because there are parameters to your ingredient list does not mean that there are limits. By having a set of parameters you tended to delve more deeply into what was available and thus discover foods that weren’t run of the mill. I wanted to share that with the general public that attends this school because the Natural Gourmet is a health-supported cooking school. It’s also largely vegetarian. I thought this was a natural fit. In the class I talk about what is milchig, fleishig, and pareve, certification, kosher symbols, soaps and detergents, not using the same sponges, pots and pans and what is kashering. I also went into the modern kosher and certain things that have become kosher such as cheese and wines.
EG: Let’s talk about your book, “The Ethical Gourmet,” and your passion for global consciousness when cooking and eating.
JW: [The book is about how] you can enjoy great quality, great sophistication in food and do it with a clean conscience. People are unaware that cod were disappearing, that Atlantic salmon had already disappeared. They are extinct. The only Atlantic salmon that’s out there for commercial sale is a farm raised product which is really an ethical quandary because there are a lot of problems with that system. You can get sea food and fish, but you have to be knowledgeable about it if you want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I understood that our factory farming system was cruel to the animals, overly reliant on fossil fuels and that it wasn’t sustainable. This was important material: even about vegetable growing and grains. People don't realize how much pesticide is used and the effect of chemical fertilizer in our waterways. People wonder why the ocean-going fish are going extinct. Because their estuaries are polluted by algae blooms.
EG: What tips do you have when it comes to talking about and writing about food, for anyone interested in blogging or getting into food writing?
JW: Work from what you know. I’ve gone into hobbies where I would delve into Japanese cooking for a few weeks, or all of a sudden I’d be into stuffed things, such as dolmas, stuffed eggplants, zucchinis. Whatever it is that’s lighting your fire, that’s what you should be trying to market. Because if you have a passion for it, that’s going to show through, rather than looking for what’s trending and seeing if you can put in your two cents about it.
EG: What’s the best food that’s unique to New York?
JW: U-Bet chocolate syrup from Brooklyn. They make the New York egg cream. I’ve been all around the world and nobody makes chocolate syrup like that.
EG: What’s your favorite Jewish food?
JW: Stuffed cabbage rolls with the sweet and sour tomato and raisin sauce.
EG: If your personality could be characterized by a food, which one would it be and why?
JW: Vietnamese spring rolls because I run hot and cold. They’re so piping hot they burn your mouth, but they also have cold lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
Weinstein loves incorporating fava beans and lamb into springtime dishes, and here are just a couple of his favorite early spring recipes:
Roasted Leg of Lamb with Garlic and Parsley
- 1 bone-in leg of lamb, 9 to 10 lb., trimmed of excess fat, hip bone removed
- 7 cloves garlic, peeled, slivered into 2 or 3 slices each
- 8 sprigs Italian parsley
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- 1 Tbs. flour
- 1 Tbs. tomato paste
- 3 cups stock or water
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Using the tip of a knife, puncture about 14 small pockets into the meat. Stuff these pockets with one slice garlic and one leaf of parsley in each. Pack excess garlic and parsley around the exposed bone. Tie the meat for roasting. Coat with olive oil, and season generously with salt and black pepper. Set in a roasting pan with a wire rack, and roast 20 minutes, until it begins to brown.
- Lower temperature to 350 degrees, and add the onions to the pan. Baste with pan juices. Cook 1 hour, basting occasionally, to internal temperature of 125 degrees (medium rare). Remove from oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle flour into the pan, and place over medium heat. Cook 3 or 4 minutes, then add tomato paste, and cook a minute more. Add the stock or water, bit by bit, allowing the sauce to thicken before adding more. Simmer 20 minutes, skim excess fat, season to taste and serve with carved leg of lamb. Serves eight to ten people.
Angel Hair with Broccoli Rabe, Toasted Garlic, Fava Beans and Pecorino Cheese
Highlight one of spring’s most delicious flavors by using fresh fava beans in this dish. If fresh favas are unavailable, use fresh or frozen green peas instead. Pecorino is a semi-hard sheeps milk cheese, with a tangy bite. If unavailable, try ricotta salata (a pressed, dried ricotta) or feta cheese.
- 1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled (about 1 cup) or 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- ¼ cup black olives, such as Nicoise or Kalamata, pitted
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe, cut into bite-size pieces, blanched
- 1 box (1 pound) angel hair (capellini—extra thin spaghetti)
- 1 Tbs. butter
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ pound block Pecorino, feta or other semi-hard cheese
- Lemon wedges
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Drop the fava beans in for 2 minutes, then skim them out with a slotted spoon, and shock them by plunging them into ice cold water. Peel off the outer leathery skin. Set them aside. Kepp the water at a rolling boil.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, pepper flakes and olives, and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to brown. Add the broccoli rabe; cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Turn off flame.
- Put the angel hair pasta into the boiling water, stir well to separate, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes—it cooks very quickly; drain, and add to the skillet, allowing some of the water from the pasta to drip into the pan. Toss with butter and Parmesan; season to taste. Divide onto serving plates. Using a swivel vegetable peeler, shave Pecorino cheese liberally over pasta. Serve with lemon wedges.