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Chosen Chefs: Todd Ginsberg of Atlanta’s Bocado

In our new series, Chosen Chefs, we will profile up-and-coming Jewish chefs making waves from L.A. to New York. And in case you can’t get there, we’ll include a recipe from each of the chefs that you can make at home. These are members of the tribe who you’ll want to keep on your radar. If we were the betting type, we might see some James Beard Awards in their future.

With his culinary background, it’s tempting to call chef Todd Ginsberg a wandering Jew. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Ginsberg, 36, worked at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, Asher restaurant in Roswell, Ga., Tap and Trois in Atlanta, Madison’s in North Carolina and Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York — all in the span of 10 years. Oh, and did we mention he apprenticed in Paris and Bangkok, too?

For now, Ginsberg is staying put, at the helm of the kitchen at Atlanta’s Bocado, a neighborhood restaurant in the bustling West Midtown area. At Bocado, he serves up an award-winning burger, and subtle, simple ingredient-driven dishes such as sweetbreads and chicken livers.

The restaurant sources a lot of its food locally, though Ginsberg admits that not everything comes from Georgia. “I’m a realist and I’m a capitalist. If we’ve tried to get something from our local farmers and they don’t have it, we need to look elsewhere. I’m not going to go without artichokes for the spring,” he said. The restaurant does have a small garden in the back where they grow some its own vegetables.

There are about three or four vegetarian appetizers (about 30% of the total) on Bocado’s menu — including a fava bean salad and fried green tomatoes — but the entrees are meat and fish-centric.

In a nod to its Southern locale, Ginsberg serves a roasted chicken breast with white wine Tabasco sauce, collard greens and grits (which a reviewer asked he keep on the menu). And since day opening in October 2009, he’s had a classic southern pimento cheese sandwich, on the lunch menu.

But Ginsberg isn’t actually from the South. He grew up in a reform Jewish family in the Northern New Jersey town of Belleville. His family went to temple on the high holidays and he attended Sunday school. But when his parents gave him the option of having a bar mitzvah or not, he opted against it. “I think I opted to go on a trip instead,” he said with a laugh.

While he’s far from a kosher chef (Ginsberg began our interviewing saying, “I just want to say, right off the back, I’m Jewish, but I cook pork. Is that a problem?”), he’s hosted Passover seders for two years in a row at Bocado. “I love doing it,” he said. Responding to customer demand, he whipped up a meal for a group of around 15 people. Though not kosher, the foods were traditional. “I did chicken matzo ball soup, roasted beets, a potato puree and a pot roast. It was the first time I had matzoh ball soup on the menu and it was incredible.” He said he hopes it’ll become a yearly tradition.

Ginsberg grew up enjoying Jewish dishes such as chopped liver, chicken matzo ball soup, noodle kugels. “Hanukkah was a big meal for us,” he said. “We’d have all the family together at my aunt’s house.”

While he’s enjoying his time at Bocado (and has received a fair share of accolades — including the title of Best New Chef 2010 from “The Atlantan” — Ginsberg admits that one of his dreams is to open a delicatessen, though he may plan to relocate somewhere else. “If I could have a pastrami that’s 25% as good as the pastrami at [New York City deli] [Katz’s]2, I’d be one happy chef. A model like Katz’s would be amazing. I’d want to have green tomatoes on the table,” he said. He also imagines that any deli he owned would have an appetizing counter, similar to that of New York appetizing institution Russ & Daughters, with a unique spin, such as “roasted potato knish with lemon crème fraiche and paddlefish caviar and smoked whitefish, apples, watercress and radishes with a horseradish and herb sauce,” he says.

His deli dreams will have to wait, at least for a couple of weeks. Ginsberg’s getting married in Mexico on June 5. Though his fiancée is not Jewish, the wedding will feature some Jewish traditions. “We’re doing it casual, but yep, we’ll have the chuppah and we’ll break a glass,” he said.

BOCADO Deviled Eggs

12 eggs hard boiled, peeled & cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon
1 Tablespoon sour cream
salt & pepper to taste
Chopped cocktail onions for garnish

1) Puree egg yolks, mayo, mustard, salt and pepper to a fine blend.

2) Mix in sour cream.

3) Use a piping bag to fill eggs.

4) Garnish tops with pickled onions.

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