Cookbook ‘Rockstar’ Joan Nathan Sets Jewish Table at AVAM

Joan Nathan

Bestselling Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan stopped by the American Visionary Art Museum April 30 to talk about and sign copies of her newest release, “King Solomon’s Table.”

The event was put on by the Center for Jewish Education, along with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Nathan was introduced by Associated chair Linda Hurwitz, who reminded the 50 or so attendees of the old joke at every Jewish holiday: They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.

Lisa Bodziner, director of educational engagement at CJE, said the idea for the event actually came from PJ Library, an organization that sends free Jewish children’s books to kids ages 6 months to 8 years. When PJ Library offered parents a chance to pick a book to receive, about two-thirds of local parents chose a Joan Nathan book, “The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen.” Knowing that, Bodziner set out working to have Nathan stop in Baltimore during her next book tour.

“I think we’re hoping people learn not only cool things about the kitchen and food, but also King Solomon’s relationships around the world,” Bodziner said before the event.

At AVAM, Nathan was interviewed by Stephanie Hershkovitz, who, with her brother, Josh, started Hersh’s Pizza & Drinks in South Baltimore in 2011.

“This is the equivalent for me of meeting a rockstar,” she said, before asking Nathan to talk a little about her process and how she came up with ideas for her cookbooks.

This most recent book, Nathan said, was actually going to be something different originally.

“I was going to write a book on contemporary Jewish food,” she said. “And I wasn’t that excited about it.”

Instead, Nathan was traveling to places such as India and seeing Jewish influence in food, as well as reading about histories of food and recipes. She was inspired, and “King Solomon’s Table” was the result.

“Nothing is better than going someplace,” she said. “Then I divide the world where I want to go and where I think I can learn something.”

Hershkovitz also asked Nathan about the nature of authenticity and what that means to Nathan in her work.

“That’s a really good question,” Nathan said in answer, “because we’re all nostalgic for the past, but I think we’re better cooks now.” Ultimately, Nathan boiled down her take on authenticity to this: “The point is, if you’re doing Jewish food, you’re doing Jewish food.”

After the interview with Hershkovitz, the audience had a chance to ask a few questions. Most importantly, perhaps, was the last question: What is Nathan’s favorite Jewish holiday and most recent favorite recipe for that holiday.

Definitely Passover, Nathan said. And she pointed to a recipe that is actually in “King Solomon’s Table” — long-cooked hard-boiled eggs with spinach — and a staple at her family’s Seder.

After speaking, Nathan stayed to sign copies of her book and participants could put together spice packets inspired by Nathan’s cookbook and take an optional tour of the YUMMM! exhibit at AVAM.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Sally Shore-Wittenberg, who decided to attend because Hershvovitz is her daughter-in-law. “I think Joan Nathan is really so much more than a cookbook author. She’s the carrier of tradition.”

Terry Golaner, whose husband works for The Associated, said they like to be involved and often try to come to events like this. And this one sounded especially delicious.

“We love food, honestly,” she said. “And we love to cook, so to come and hear a Jewish author and hear her talk about what recipes she cooks was just awesome.”

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

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