MONTREAL — They call themselves The Wandering Chew, the duo of Katherine (Kat) Romanow and Sydney Warshaw, young women who care about Jewish food in all its splendour, and the culture that nourished it.
Since last fall, they have been researching, organizing and cooking pop-up dinners inspired by lesser-known Jewish ethnic cuisines, and inviting younger adults to them, often those who are otherwise unattracted to the organized community.
They want to change the way people think about Jewish food, to cultivate an appreciation of its diversity and gastronomy. Ultimately, they hope to create a community interested in preserving its history.
The Wandering Chew is sponsored by Federation CJA’s Generations Fund and the Jewish Community Foundation, which award grants to creative, out-of-the-ordinary projects that encourage connection to Jewish life.
The first dinner – the duo calls these five-course affairs feasts – in October was Iraqi-themed and the second in March was Mexican. The dishes were based on recipes Romanow and Warshaw obtained from members of those Jewish communities living in the city.
Guests are limited to about 32 to keep it intimate and are reached through The Wandering Chew website and social media.
The dinners were held in restaurants serving that kind of food. In the first case, Café Zosha on Park Avenue and the second, Amaranto in Monkland Village.
The food is prepared off-site and brought in. A professional chef is hired to help with the plating and serving, while the co-hosts share stories they have gathered about the featured community and the influences on its cooking. Guests leave with the recipes to try at home.
Romanow, 29, describes herself as a scholar of Jewish food, and her Judaic studies master’s thesis at Concordia University was on the post-Passover Mimouna tradition among Montreal’s Sephardim. She writes for various publications on her food.
Warshaw comes from a long line of Jewish cooks, but is not related to the owners of the now-defunct St. Laurent Boulevard grocery store of the same name.
A McGill University graduate in cultural studies and music history, her regular job is social action co-ordinator in the federation’s outreach and engagement department.
Warshaw’s lineage inspired The Wandering Chew’s next dinner on June 10. Her great-grandmother was one of the editors of the iconic Ashkenazi cookbook A Treasure for My Daughter, first published by Canadian Hadassah-WIZO in 1950.
It is still popular, and in December went into its 14th printing.
As it will be just the week after Shavuot, the duo is going to whip up a dairy meal – and a very traditional, back to their roots one at that.
The first course is mock chopped liver with rye bread and cheese straws, followed by cheese blintzes and cold beet borscht. The main is baked stuffed whitefish with scalloped potatoes, with strawberry shortcake for dessert.
The dinner will be held at La Petite Adresse on Park Avenue, near the old Jewish neighbourhood.
CHW is thrilled at the interest of a young generation in what was at one time a bible for Jewish housewives, said Alanna Elias, the organization’s local co-ordinator. Not only does the book offer recipes, but served as a guide to holidays and life-cycle events.
CHW is collaborating with The Wandering Chew, but has left the dinner’s planning entirely up to Romanow and Warshaw.
“This is a great means of outreach to younger people,” Elias said. “It feels like things have come full circle with Sydney following in a way in her great-grandmother’s footsteps.”
Warshaw’s ancestors came from Poland and Russia; Romanow’s from Ukraine and Italy.
In between dinners, The Wandering Chew gets its teeth into other food-related projects in the community. For instance, they gave a hands-on cooking class for Purim on how to make not only the ubiquitous hamantashen, but popular holiday treats from other Jewish communities like sambusak, a turnover filled with curried chickpeas and onions.
After the Treasure feast, Romanow and Warshaw are headed to New Orleans to research southern Jewish cuisine for a possible dinner on that theme. They are also thinking of doing a Scandinavian brunch later in the summer.
Despite exposure to so much tempting fare, their favourite Jewish foods are of the comforting variety: both women name chopped liver (the real kind, not mock). Romanow also savours salade cuite, a cooked tomato and pepper dip especially popular with Moroccans and Israelis, while Warshaw goes for rugelach, especially her mother’s.