In honor of the 100th year celebration of International Women's Day yesterday, the Consulate General of Israel in New York sponsored a wonderful brunch at Balaboosta on Mulberry Street. Owned by rock star mom and chef, Einat Admony, over fifty fabulous women came to listen to music, drink pomegranate mimosas, and celebrate women's achievements during the course of the last century. We have certainly come a long way (and yet in some countries, Egypt for example, it is not so true.) Yesterday was dear to my heart because it acknowledged the achievements of women in professional kitchens: executive food editor Gabriella Gershonson of Saveur magazine, did an insightful job interviewing Einat "live" for Shalom TV. Einat, very much her own woman, wearing chef's whites and, instead of a toque, sported two long youthful ponytails, had worked in several of New York's great restaurants, including Bolo and Tabla, when she decided to buck the system and become a mother and a chef -- and do them both well.
This, I know from personal experience, is not easy to achieve. Many women chefs have consciously, or not so consciously, chosen to follow their professional calling, often at the expense of having a family. Einat has wowed New York's young food passionistas (my word) with her restaurant Taim and more recently with Balaboosta, a word of soulful, joyful meaning. It is a Yiddish notion that describes (in a respectful way) the proficiency of a woman as being a good wife and mother and 'captain' of the house. It's an old-fashioned concept, yet there are young women today who certainly fit the description. Two women I'm thinking of in particular, Robin Adelson and Helen Kimmel, who run amazing households, also have impressive professional lives as well. It is this dual aspect of balaboosta-ness that is very today. And I shall now add Chef Admony to this exclusive group. The food itself was also dear to my heart as I was the one, in 1986 (as Chef-Director of Baum + Whiteman worldwide), who created New York's first pan-Mediterranean restaurant called Cafe Greco on the upper East Side. That was 25 years ago! If you read the menu today, you would think it had just opened. Bryan Miller, food critic of the New York Times, gave it a glowing 2-star review and said that "this was going to be the next great food trend." I called the cuisine "Med-Rim" -- meaning a fusion of the "kitchens" of the Middle East and the countries whose borders hugged the Mediterranean coastline.
Balaboosta, along with Barbounia and Taboon, are restaurants in New York who do this kind of food well. It is an exciting palate of flavors and colors, and much of the food is inherently very healthy. I especially loved yesterday's labneh (thick slightly salty yogurt) with its puddle of excellent olive oil and za'atar. Other dishes included crispy fried olives, shakshuka (baked eggs in tomato and herb sauce), homemade pita, hummus, and pistachio baklava. That, with some virtuosic clarinet playing by Anat Cohen, and spirited conversation among some awesome women, made it feel especially empowering to be a balaboosta -- if only for a few hours.
In honor of the day, here is a recipe for my za'atar pesto. It takes one minute to make!
My Za'atar Pesto Za'atar is a khaki-colored spice mixture that includes dried hyssop, sumac and sesame seeds. Use this as a great dip for cherry tomatoes and pita chips.
1/2 cup za'atar (buy it from a Middle Eastern food store) 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
Stir everything in a medium bowl. Makes about 1 cup.