Cheddar babka? Tomatillo Zug? A chef’s California twist on Jewish food

Chef Spencer Horovitz has been busy making a name for himself cooking at some of the Bay Area’s liveliest restaurants, but he first caught my eye last fall on Instagram.

Everything in my life is babka, her post read. This cheddar shallot loaf is babka. I see babka on the train. The floor is babka. I wake up in the middle of the night to kiss my girlfriend. She is Babka.

It would not be far-fetched to say that Horovitz’s babka is Proust’s madeleine.

There’s something about nostalgia, he told me. The technique is relatively simple and is simply delightful. It can be made savory or sweet. It’s also one of those words that sounds just like it is. It is onomatopoeic. It’s a fun word to say.

Horovitz, who lives in San Francisco, has created a California-Jewish food concept called Hadeem that will run as a pop-up on four dates between May 17 and July 18 at wine bars across the city. After years of cooking California cuisine, he felt it was time to take pride and explore his love of Jewish food.

Culinarily, he said, I was feeling a bit lost. I was at a point where I wanted to do something new.

Hadeem means echoes in Hebrew, and he believes it embodies his concept, which is rooted in the Jewish food he grew up eating but with his own twist.

An echo is a small part of something that bounces back to you from another location, she said.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Horovitz came from an ethnically mixed family and had Jewish friends who also came from different backgrounds.

Her mother is Lithuanian Jewish and Greek, her father is Russian and Polish Jewish, and her stepmother is Romanian, so there were many influences on her family’s food while growing up.

I had Jewish friends who were Persian, Moroccan and Israeli, she said. I ate so many different types of food in their homes and started to envy my first and second generation friends, because they had such strong ties to their cuisine.

Food also played a big part in his family. Horovitz, 33, said he doesn’t practice today, but grew up in reform school and still travels to spend Easter with his family.

His paternal grandfather worked for Hebrew National in the 1960s and 1970s and owned a deli in South Miami. When he visited, he would often show up at the door with large quantities of matzah meatball soup or a fresh rye loaf.

Food was his love language. She would spend every last cent on a meal if it meant being able to bring her family together, and that is a huge undercurrent in everything I do, she said.

His mother was the kind of talented home cook who never uses a recipe, and he has early memories of his father taking him to farmers markets long before they became fashionable, teaching him how delicious a seasonal tomato can be with nothing It’s nothing but a sprinkling of salt.

Horovitz is a graduate of Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona and took courses at the Culinary Institute of Americas Greystone campus in Napa.

It’s not for me to recreate a memory of your grandmother’s kreplach or the zhug you ate in Israel. I would never try to replicate that memory.

Though I’ve cooked at popular restaurants like Yountville’s Redd Bistro, San Francisco’s The Progress, and the Oakland Snail Bar, she said, I didn’t have that deep connection to the food I was preparing.

When a herniated disc and complications from years of kitchen work forced him to slow down and reflect, the Jewish diasporic concept began to take shape.

However, as Horovitz further explained his concept, it was clear that elaborating what Hadeem means is not so much to him as explaining what Hadeem is, in order to set appropriate expectations.

My dishes aren’t direct interpretations of anything, he said. It’s not for me to recreate a memory of your grandmother’s kreplach or the zhug you ate in Israel. I would never try to replicate that memory. It’s important that he doesn’t.

Its preliminary menu has raw amberjack crudo, cold smoked and served with labneh and zaatar. It makes babkas in many flavors, including nutella-tahini and grilled pork versions, but a favorite is the one with Chinese five-spice powder. At the pop-up, it will be served with dulce de leche ice cream.

An egg noodle kugel will be made with the non-traditional ingredients of crme fraiche, Comt, which is an aged French cheese, and black truffle. Dolmas will have crunchy chili inside. The hummus will be made with black sesame seeds. Lamb kibbeh will be served with zhug tomatillo.

Hadeem will appear in four one-day events open to the public in May, June and July in San Francisco, followed by paid events. Then? He is open to any opportunity that may present itself.

Hadeem’s first pop-up is set for 5-10 pm May 17 at Buddy’s, 3115 22nd St. in San Francisco’s Mission District. See future dates and sites here.

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