Anthony Rose never particularly wanted to write a cookbook. As the chef and co-owner of six restaurants in Toronto—including the nouveau delicatessen Rose and Sons, the Middle East-meets-Eastern Europe mashup eatery Fat Pasha, and the smoked fish shop Schmaltz Appetizing—he already had plenty to keep him busy. But as with many sought-after chefs today, a book deal came to him. He agreed but only if, like Sinatra, he could “do it my way.” In other words, this would not be an average “dump and stir” cookbook. Instead, like his restaurants and overall vibe as a human, it would be funny, edgy, a bit hectic, and deeply personal.
The resulting book, The Last Schmaltz: A Very Serious Cookbook, was published this month by Random House’s Appetite imprint. The recipes are pulled from Rose’s childhood, from his restaurants, and from his past two decades spent immersed in the culinary world. The chapters are interspersed with essays by Canadian food writer Chris Johns, who captures both the quirky kitsch and familial warmth exuded at Rose’s restaurants. Rose’s recipe introductions, meanwhile, are cheeky and off the cuff. “No one really likes Manischewitz, except for the kids who drink it as their first taste of alcohol,” he writes before a recipe for Manischewitz vermouth, which is flavored with sumac, peppercorns, juniper berries, and wormwood.
Visually, the book reads as both intimate and real. The pictures were taken by photographer Kayla Rocca, who also happens to be Rose’s girlfriend. There were no photography studios, food stylists, or overly staged shots—all de rigueur across most professional cookbooks. “We just went to the restaurants, ordered the food, and took pictures,” Rose said. Scattered among the shots of dishes are vibrant photos of those restaurants, including many of Rose with family and friends sharing a Shabbat meal at Fat Pasha. In another, Rose’s 13-year-old son, Simon, swills a bottle of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda at Schmaltz Appetizing while his proud papa looks on.
Nearly every chapter in The Last Schmaltz is centered on one of Rose’s restaurants. Thanks to his more Jewishly focused eateries, that means many of the pages are filled with labneh-spiked whitefish salad, chopped liver in the decadent style of Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse, chocolate-custard-stuffed sufganiyot, broccoli rabe tabbouleh, herring and onions on dark rye bread, and Nutella babka bread pudding. It also includes a challah recipe by Toronto Jewish cookbook author and food luminary Bonnie Stern. “My mom took cooking classes from Bonnie when she was pregnant with me, so we have actually known each other forever,” Rose said.
Not surprisingly, Rose’s sense of Jewish tradition is deeply bound up together with food and family. “I go to synagogue four or five times a year, but what I look forward to are the feasts after and hanging out with the people I haven’t seen in a while,” he said. Most Rose family holiday gatherings are potluck, with everyone informally expected to bring the same dish every time. “Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m the macaroni and cheese guy,” Rose said. (Naturally, he adds next-level flavor to his with an extra rich béchamel and smoked mozzarella.)
Still, The Last Schmaltz decidedly is not a kosher cookbook. The shrimp cocktail from his restaurant Madame Boeuf, the grilled lobster from Big Crow, and the duck confit with gruyere-enriched sweet potato gratin from Bar Begonia make this abundantly clear. But if it were, then it would not be true to Rose’s culinary identity.
In a sweetly incredulous foreword, Rose’s mother Linda writes that, as a young child, Anthony was “a shy, introverted little boy,” who “didn’t show much interest in either cooking or adventurous eating.” He was also, by his own admission, something of a black sheep in the family. Flanked by two studious siblings, he struggled with traditional academic studies. “I just didn’t know how to do it,” he said. But a teenage stint washing dishes at local restaurants after school gave him a peek into a different path. At age 20, Rose moved to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy, and from there everything began to click. “I loved cooking right away,” he said. “In regular school I failed at just about everything, but I graduated at the top of my class.”
The next years were spent working in Michelin-starred restaurants in San Francisco and New York City. Right before leaving his position at the nouveau American eatery Alias on the Lower East Side, he received two glowing reviews in New York Magazine and The New York Times. “My friends were like, ‘What are you doing leaving? This is just the beginning!’” Rose said. But Rose felt something missing. “In New York, all I did was work,” he said. “And I didn’t have my family there. I had been away from Toronto for a long time, and it was time to come back.”
And come back he did. Within the span of a decade, Rose has opened a staggering number of successful restaurants that strike the elusive balance between good times and seriously good food. Torontonians are decidedly smitten, even if his son Simon—who recently celebrated his bar mitzvah—isn’t all that impressed. “It would have been so easy to have the party at one of the restaurants, but he was like, ‘Absolutely not!’” Rose said. Instead, they held the bar mitzvah at a local (and very spacious) coffee shop, and Rose catered the party with hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, and a commissioned ice cream truck that arrived at the close of the evening.
In lieu of a rabbi, Rose led his son through the ceremony. “When I told my parents we weren’t going to do it at a synagogue, they were weary,” he said. “But afterward, my mom came up to me crying and said, ‘That is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.’”
With the bar mitzvah finished and his book published, the inevitable question arises: What’s next? Rose said most of his energy will be spent concentrating on his existing restaurants. “We want to go deeper and reenergize what we already have,” he said. As for another book, Rose isn’t ruling anything out. “Writing a book feels just like opening a restaurant, with all the time, sweat, and tears,” he said. “During the process you never want to do it again. But then you see the finished thing and think, ‘I can’t wait to do this again.’”
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