Can a Haggadah Inspire a Gourmet Meal?
Perched on a massive dais at Manhattan’s tony Four Seasons restaurant, Edgar M. Bronfman and wife Jan Aronson talked up their new “Bronfman Haggadah” at a crowded reception this week. “Passover’s the one night of the year when children come to the table without being pissed off,” joked Bronfman, whose writings Aronson illustrated in her signature nature-inspired style.
But the real star of the evening was Noah Bernamoff, owner of Brooklyn’s storied Mile End Delicatessen, who created a menu of Passover-themed hors d’oeuvres themed around the reimagined Haggadah. Tapped by the Bronfmans to cater the event, Bernamoff squeezed six staffers into a corner of the Four Seasons’ gargantuan kitchen. Starting with a gefilte-fish cake with chrain cream and pickled carrots, and ending with take-home macaroons, the results were as revelatory as the book that inspired them.
Indeed, Bernamoff told the Forward, “The Bronfman Haggadah was meaningful. I’m so used to settling down with the Maxwell House and going through the motions. This Haggadah talks about life. And the depth of language is incredible.”
The gefilte-fish cake, the first of six passed dishes, he said, “was meant to let people know it’s gefilte fish, but in a new way. It’s battered and fried like a fish cake. It’s chrain, but cream. It’s carrots, but pickled.” The next hors d’oeuvre, pickled deviled eggs, also rebooted a Seder staple. “Eggs are a critical part of the Seder,” Bernamoff said. “They’re also my favorite. I eat, like five eggs at the Seder.” Why pickled? “I wanted that salty, acidic quality embedded in the egg itself,” he said.
Matzo brei with green-apple haroset and duck pastrami followed. “The matzo brei’s traditional, and we wanted to include our own haroset,” Bernamoff said. “Duck pastrami’s not a Passover thing, but duck’s a very important part of Jewish food, and few Jews even know it’s kosher. Duck pastrami was made a century ago, especially in Europe, where duck and goose were eaten more readily than beef.” The pastrami represented a kind of “back to the future” item, he said.
Bernamoff chose lamb kreplach as the next pass “because it makes good finger food, though kreplach aren’t kosher for Passover,” he noted. The idea for rich quail legs with manna, which followed, “came from the book,” Bernamoff explained. “In the story, wild game birds led the way by flying overhead.” The quail meat carried an appealing tartness — reduced vinegar, Bernamoff said.
Luscious braised brisket with green fig and matzo spiced with paprika rounded off the savory dishes. “Green figs came up in the Bronfman Haggadah,” Bernamoff said. “The figs are simple — just fresh figs, lightly salted. The brisket’s braised with mirepoix [chopped celery, carrot, and onion]. It’s Jewish brisket with a French twist.”
Bernamoff finished on a sweet note, with honeycomb, caramelized milk, and fennel pollen dessert. “Honey’s a key element of the Haggadah, and fennel pollen’s often used in Italian cooking” — ironically, on pork loin, Bernamoff noted.
Every guest also went home with tricolor macaroons — berry, chocolate, and vanilla — “designed to go stale,” Bernamoff joked. “It always scares me that people put a way a tin of macaroons after the Seder and reopen them the next year.”