The popular Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” takes viewers into the kitchens of establishments cooking up iconic American dishes, like cheeseburgers and barbecued ribs.
In a kosher spin on that concept dubbed “Knishes, Kugels, and Kreplach,” the Jewish Home at Rockleigh Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Living is taking its culinary staff on a tour of the region’s best purveyors of classic Ashkenazi cuisine.
The idea is to teach the professional cooks, who are not Jewish, how to incorporate more of the authentic tastes of residents’ family culture into the menu.
The Jewish Home’s executive vice president, Sunni Herman, said that the initiative was inspired by the appointment of a new executive chef, Haitian native Pierre Opont. Before his promotion, he had been a member of the facility’s dinner staff after his day job as lead cook for Meals on Wheels of Rockland County.
“Once he got the promotion we decided to take a step back and look at the food,” Ms. Herman said. “We already have rave reviews of our cuisine and we serve classic Jewish dishes like matzah ball soup and brisket, so we’re not totally revamping, but looking at how to make it the best because we have the staff and the ability. It’s also about our chefs having the experience of seeing the fundamentals of Jewish food preparation and doing something special for them as a team.”
The kosher tasting tour provides an opportunity for the staff to experience the foods for themselves, speak with the people who cook them, and create recipes for Jewish Home residents based on what they sample.
“Older adults are at risk for poor appetites and decreased meal consumption,” Mary Reinemann, the Jewish Home’s chief clinical dietitian, said. “Our menus are well balanced and include ethnic comfort foods to encourage better eating. We are always seeking to improve the variety and range of tastes on our menu. Many of these foods have variations, and we want each resident to have the opportunity to re-taste their memories, enticing them to eat more and thrive.”
And so, on the fifth day of Chanukah, five Jewish Home chefs joined Ms. Herman; the Jewish Home Family’s CEO and president, Carol Silver Elliott, and the Jewish Home’s director of dining services, Nelson Reyes, on the Jewish Home bus for the first stop on the “Knishes, Kugels, and Kreplach” tour: Noah’s Ark on Cedar Lane in Teaneck.
Owner Noam Sokolow already hosts the Jewish Home Family’s occasional Sweet Memories Supper Club for people with dementia, and readily agreed to have his staff lay a table of popular deli appetizers, sandwiches and salads for the visitors.
Nothing out of the ordinary was prepared for the occasion. “This is what we have been doing every day for the past 28 years,” Mr. Sokolow said. “Many Jewish Home residents were our regular customers for years, before moving to Rockleigh.”
From the moment the group walked in and saw the culinary display, the chefs started commenting on the food and its presentation, Ms. Herman reported. And then they tucked into the Yiddishe bounty.
“We had an eight-course meal with dishes such as different kinds of latkes; pastrami, corned beef and chopped liver sandwiches; coleslaw; and kasha varnishkes,” she said. “Our team had a whole discussion about potatoes with the Noah’s Ark staff.”
Mr. Reyes said the Jewish Home chefs came away with the feeling that their opinion matters, which encourages them to experiment. “We got some great ideas and we are planning on implementing them in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
“We are always involved in continuing education for our staff,” Ms. Elliott said. “We all have more to learn and it is important to have opportunities to expand our knowledge base.”
From the bus, the Jewish Home troupe also was shown Cedar Lane kosher establishments Ma’adan and Butterflake Bakery, as well as Teaneck Road Hot Bagels — names with which they’re familiar from catered family parties at the Jewish Home.
Next on the agenda are Chap-A-Nosh in Cedarhurst, N.Y., and Weiss Kosher Bakery and Pomegranate Kosher Supermarket in Brooklyn. Every couple of months another foodie field trip will be arranged, according to Ms. Herman.
She added that this year the Jewish Home is beefing up its afternoon snacks with more healthful finger foods, such as carrot sticks, hummus, and pita chips. Every new resident receives a dietary evaluation and a tailored menu, and a cardiologist checks in to monitor the fare, she said.
The knishes, kugels, kreplach, and other Jewish Eastern European comfort foods — typically rich in calories and fat — are to be offered along with a range of nutritionally balanced foods on Shabbat and special occasions as an acknowledgement that “the dining experience is one of the central social and pleasurable experiences for residents during the day,” Ms. Herman said.