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Food and our histories

For as long as I can remember, I have had an innate love of food and cooking.

I grew up in a family of seven that loved food.  My parents cooked a lot for us, but we also ate out often, in Worcester, MA.  When we ate out, it was, Indian, Armenian, Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Greek, Japanese.  My parents taught us about this amazing world through the lens of food. If only Plates were around back then though. My parents really could have used it.

At home, it was some pretty classic stuff of the times.  My mom made tuna noodle casserole and broke up Lays potato chips on top. This was my favorite. She made spaghetti and meatballs, roast beef and goulash. Old El Paso tacos were a staple, though I never loved the crunchy taco shell.  On many Friday’s she made matzah ball soup and, to this day, the aroma of chicken soup brings me home. Born Irish Catholic, converted to Judaism, my mother had a knack for nailing that soup every time. She was an English teacher turned school principal. How she managed to raise 5 kids and do that work will always baffle me. When I bring this up to her, she tells me how her mom, Agnes, would say, “Ya know, you wake up in the morning and you just need to get those feet on the floor.” I think this is what Nike is getting at with their “just do it” line.

My dad loved to cook with a wok. His go-to was beef and broccoli.  When dad made beef and broccoli, all was right in the world. He also loved to grill and it was he who taught me how to temp meat. The man knows his meat. He should, having grown up working in a butcher shop in Chelsea, MA, once home to a seemingly infinite number of Jewish delis and butcher shops.

My Dad’s grandparents came from Odessa and Kiev in Ukraine. Chelsea became a welcoming place where immigrants could live, work and practice their faith without fear, something that sadly was not the case from where they came at the time.  This history brought with it my love of pickled herring, smoked whitefish and salmon, chopped liver, gefilte fish, fresh dill and poppy seed cake! When Esther and Lou grew older, they moved to an apartment on Revere Beach behind the original Kelly’s Roast Beef. This meant fried clams and roast beef eaten in the back of our Dodge Caravan on the way home to Worcester. The taste of Kelly’s with the scent of Revere Beach is deeply ingrained in me to this day.

My Mom’s grandparents came from County Cork and County Mayo in Ireland. My grandmother’s family settled in Turners Falls, MA, living in tenement building called the Keith Block. This was alongside the canal where my great-grandfather worked in the Keith paper mill. My grandmother was one of eleven kids. It was from her that this Jewish kid learned his love of bacon and ham. My grandfather, Malcolm, was a commercial pilot for TWA. He would drive from Gill down to NYC to fly out of Idlewild airport, now JFK. He traveled the world and was particularly fond of Indian food which he often ate in many of London’s famous curry joints. He was a big guy at 6′ 3″ and I loved listening to him tell stories of flying. When I was little, I could tell you every type of cloud in the sky because of him.  

Whenever my family was together, I just wanted to know what we were going to eat first and the rest was secondary. As a little kid, I watched Yan Can Cook, the Frugal Gourmet and, of course, Julia. After middle school, I would watch Great Chefs of the world on PBS and fantasize about traveling the world and cooking like these amazing chefs.

For the past 12 years, I’ve been living that childhood dream cooking and teaching both home and abroad and all of those experiences have managed to lead me to Plates.

I’ve always loved stories of people, their histories and their food. I’m so excited every day knowing that we’re creating a platform for people to share those stories with others through the act of cooking.  I can’t think of many better ways to spend a day. Let’s get cooking together. Let’s shake things up. It’s time to Plate.


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