Laura Frankel Chronicles
As I look back over the years, I have come to the realization that my friend and I have been having our fair share of restaurant adventures for over ten years now. Even before we decided to traverse the alphabets with our jaunts to various ethnic eateries, we were constantly in some restaurant taking full advantage of life. But there was always the illusive question of what could we do differently than what we had been doing. And, lo and behold, an idea came to mind. We would go to a chef’s home and have a true dinner table experience.
My friend, Craig, has a sister who is the master chef for Wolfgang Puck in Chicago. Aha, we had an in, a personal contact, and as it turned out, a master chef who did not mind opening her home and entertaining us with good food, good company, and rounding it all out with laughter.
Because our food outings have gained a few additional, constant foodies, we all met at Argo Tea in Evanston and then it was over the river and through the hills to Laura Frankel’s home we went. Much to our surprise, the condo building where she lived was nothing short of a maze. But my friend Craig said that we only had to follow the smell of the food. That wasn’t hard to do. So, on we went and upon getting to the door, all of us in tow would have taken down a linebacker to get to what was apparently some scrumptious food.
Basically any time you hear someone mention Jewish or Kosher food, you automatically think of that unappealing fish dish, meat without dairy, and perhaps a plate with broth on it. Aromas that make your mouth water and you imagining yourself body slamming a rude brute who is trying to take a morsel off of your plate never comes to mind. That was not the case this time. But let me set the stage.
We got the full Jewish experience. First, Ms. Frankel’s son read from the Torah, after which he and she sang a song in Yiddish. The son then concluded with a prayer to bless the food and then it was dinner time. They could have been telling us that we were naughty Yankees and were going to have to take out the trash after dinner for all we knew. But we didn’t care, especially after we sat their sniffing the aromas of the food. My friend had brought a bottle of wine, of which Ms. Frankel had given an explanation of the bottling process. This was a Jewish wine, by the way. It went well with the braided challot bread that was baked in her very own oven. No bread from the local bakery for us foodies, I say. Not that we were acting like ravenous brats without home training, but the bread spent very little time on the table before there were just crumbs left.
Next up was the lentil soup. Thankful that there was more bread, we ate of the soup like nice patrons of good discipline. Along with the clinking of spoons inside the empty cups — a signal for “Give me some more, please” — and a constant remark of how good the soup was, we all but sopped the pot with the bread. Some may wonder if I’m joking. Where good food is involved, I don’t kid around. We’re talking Kosher food with flavour and that was definitely a good thing for us this night. Our rule of thumb is that if the appetizer is outstanding, the rest of the meal has got to be a slice of heaven. This soup was definitely a hit, but there was talk about a recipe from a web site where you had to press one of two buttons — one labelled No and the other button labelled Si. The comment about the web site had evoked a statement of “Damn pop-ups!” during the explanation. We knew what that meant. Hmmm. Sounds like it was a rather spicy soup. Well, bring on the water because daddy likes it spicy! Which reminds me, we will have to go back specifically for that soup. I’ll even bring my appetite.
As for the entrée, well, whatever heaven is referred to in Yiddish, that is exactly what the entrée was. Harrira with charmoula and harissa. Translation: damn good dish of Moroccan chicken with cracked green olives and preserved lemons served up over couscous. From the very first bite, I wanted to strangle my friend for holding out. Not only was the woman a master chef, but one without a diva attitude and a pot full of harrira with charmoula and harissa. There was nothing but love in that room. Do you hear me? Love. Our cups runneth over with wine and our bellies delighted in what I will shamelessly say was the best Kosher food I have ever had. This was not cuisine representative of that you find in Eastern Europe. This was the kind of Kosher food that those in the Mediterranean partake of. No wonder they look so much more full of life.
One thing to mention is that our food outings are not only comprised of the very best food you can find in the Chicago area, but they are also full of comedy. Perhaps master chefs are deadbeats, loud mouths, and pains in the butt in the kitchen — at work — because Ms. Frankel was anything but a stiff. From mention of childhood pranks of her youth with my food friend to having us all reading from a randy tourist book to a saucy explanation of the soup recipe on the Internet where you have to press one of two buttons — one labelled No and the other button labelled Si — we could not have asked for better entertainment. We also discovered that her partner in food works is the personal chef for — get this — Linus Torvalds. We’re talking about the creator of Linux, the rival to Windows. Hello? Dude is next on our list for a kitchen table dinner.
Of course, there is always the perverbial dessert that we must have to round out a magnificent evening. This was a very special dessert because we were the first to sample it. Yeah, I had a debate with a blockhead the following work day who could only come back with “My house is bigger than yours. My car is faster than yours. My television is bigger than yours. Blah, blah, blah, daba, daba, daba.” My response was, “Oh, yeah? Well, I got to eat some damn good Kosher food at a master chef’s house and she baked a saffron chiffon cake that I bet you can’t bake in your big oven, little man.” Okay, so I took the low road. I should not have made fun of his oven. What more can I say? He is all of five feet, six inches and he has small feet, which didn’t make it any better. Can you say “overcompensating,” boys and girls? Hahahaha! Nevertheless, we all felt honoured to be the first to sample the cake. I am tempted to put in a personal order for my very own saffron cake, but I’m sure she may throw in another cake for good measure. And I won’t complain.
I am going to have to go with the fact that this was a huge success. Our food equations always include good food, good company, good conversation, and at least a few hours of laughter. We definitely got that going to Laura Frankel’s home for some delicious Kosher food. She was not only an excellent chef, but a fabulous hostess. Perhaps the next time we wil get to have some of that soup with the recipe from the Internet where you have to press one of two buttons — one labelled No and the other button labelled Si. Damn pop-ups! But I bet it will be some good, spicy soup.