It’s Difficult To Be a Foodie When You Can Eat Only at Kosher Restaurants
My family loved eating out together. But when my daughter became Orthodox, almost all our options got crossed off the menu.
I shouldn’t have been shocked by my daughter’s decision to abide by Jewish law. We’d sent her to Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School from grades 4 through 12, and she’d been an active leader in B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. We had weekly Shabbat dinners at home and attended synagogue regularly. We bought kosher meat and kept separate dishes and cutlery but weren’t strict about every product being certified. If it didn’t have treyf ingredients, it was acceptable. I hoped my children would adopt some of these practices when they had their own families.
But when my daughter took her observance to the next level, it threw me for a loop. Suddenly our home wasn’t kosher enough and our rituals barely sufficed. My heart sank at the realization that she would no longer want to eat in a home with cheese or bread that didn’t have a hekhsher, or share a Shabbat meal that was prepared after sundown. Practices that we believed had once demonstrated our commitment to Judaism, and happy occasions celebrated with restaurant meals, were family traditions now in question. Living in Washington, there was a limited number of kosher restaurants, none better than passable. The thought of forever being restricted to these venues was depressing.
Then I discovered that Top Chef Season 3 winner Hung Huynh was temporarily serving as executive chef at Solo, a high-end kosher restaurant in Manhattan, and I could hardly contain my excitement. I leaped to the phone, tripping over a towering stack of issues of Food and Wine magazine. I inhaled as I called my daughter to see if we could make a trip to New York together, and then called the restaurant for a reservation. The meal was unforgettable. I was thrilled to be dining at the hands of a Top Chef winner. If I turned my head ever so slightly, I could see Chef Hung in the kitchen. My daughter implored me not to say anything, afraid that in my enthusiasm for meeting the newly minted TV star I would embarrass her. But then Chef Hung paid us a visit, upon my request. While I nervously toyed with my perfectly cooked Asian-spiced vegetables, I “calmly” tried to explain the significance of our dinner. “She keeps kosher,” I told him, smiling toward my daughter. “I am a Top Chef-loving maniac who eats almost anything. The fact that you are cooking here is an incredible opportunity for us,” I said, holding back tears. I glanced over at my daughter to check her level of humiliation. She was smiling, and so was Chef Hung. And so was I. Our family ritual would still endure, satisfying my newly observant daughter and her still-discriminating food-blogger mom.
Five years have passed since my daughter’s momentous decision, and we are all still learning to cope and compromise. I’ve given up bringing noncertified food items into our home, and I cook food to bring with us on vacations. I get excited about eating shwarma at the nearby Max’s Kosher Café. On Tuesday nights there is an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet at a kosher market that really isn’t bad. And I don’t mind the chicken wings at the Distrikt Bistro in the D.C. Jewish Community Center. And when my daughter and I can share a truly positive culinary experience, as we have done on more than one occasion, I still rejoice.
But I’ve also discovered a new way to enjoy sharing a meal. My daughter has become, like her father, a competent and creative cook. And so I’ve come to recognize that rather than dining out, all of us occasionally preparing a meal together in our now glatt kosher home can be an incredibly rewarding experience. When it comes to dining, in the end, everything is relative.
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