Two Tasty New Projects From Max and Eli

Max and Eli Sussman are great at book titles. Their first was dubbed ; their second took the modest handle “The Best Cookbook Ever”.

They’re also pretty good in the kitchen. And their third tome — “Classic Recipes for Modern People” (Olive Press) — spotlights their cooking chops and dead-on wit in equal measure.

Detroit-born, both brothers call Brooklyn home. Until recently, Eli was chef at uber-deli Mile End; Max worked as executive chef at Nolita’s The Cleveland. Finally striking out on their own, the Sussmans plan to open Mediterranean eatery Samesa somewhere in New York this year.

For the book, the brothers took a novel tack to gather recipes: crowd-sourcing for childhood culinary classics. “We discovered that not everyone grew up white, Jewish and suburban,” they write, “and therefore might not have the same idea of what defines a classic dish. So we channeled this great modern power known as social media and asked our friends.” The result is more than 75 recipes both complex (ras el hanout rabbit) and can’t-fail (omelets, smoothies), all laid out in the brothers’ deceptively casual conversational style.

The Forward caught up with them by email; they answered questions together.

Can you tell us about the slightly unusual process behind selecting recipes for “Classic Recipes for Modern People”?

The concept behind the project was to reinvent classic recipes that people had growing up. The most logical way to figure out what tons of people ate growing up was to ask on Twitter and Facebook for recipes our friends and contacts ate as kids. It was amazing to see the diversity of dishes that were “the family staple,” the item that someone had every week for their entire childhood.

When you cook together, how does the labor break down? Who does more of what?

It totally depends on the event and the type of cooking. With demos or classes, Max usually does more of the instructional cooking discussion — cut things this way in said recipe — and Eli does more of the color commentary and backstory. When we did our shawarma popup at [Brooklyn brewery] Threes, the labor was shared very evenly. Max is the master of the pitas, though. He deserves all the credit for the delicious hand-rolled baked breads we will be serving at our soon-to-open restaurant.

Can you give us a sneak preview of the new spot?

The restaurant is Mediterranean, with a focus on organic chicken shawarma, shaved to order off a spit, served in homemade pita. We’ll have healthy seasonal salads and dips as well. We grew up eating Middle Eastern food around Metro Detroit, and our fridge was always vegetable-heavy, with hummus and pita around.

The book’s about classic food and recipes, though. Why are people in their 20s rediscovering them?

Classic recipes are often rooted deeply in comfort-food flavors, which — if you follow our recipes — are totally easy to master. So great pasta shells with sauce or an incredible meatloaf brings nostalgia while also being easy to make and satisfying. You can go out for very modern small plates that use intense technique, or you can grab a quick salad or burrito. But neither is as good as cooking something filling at your apartment from our cookbook.

The book claims you “reimagine” recipes. What does that mean?

Reimagining means that we’ve taken something that you would initially recognize as something from your childhood, or a classic dish that perhaps wasn’t all that great, and changed it dramatically to make it better. So the French classic duck a l’orange is revitalized as an Asian dish, and brisket becomes a brisket kugel.

Your gefilte fish terrine’s an especially evocative recipe. Can you share any food memories about Jewish holidays?

Every year for Passover, our mom, along with her sisters and our grandma, makes gefilte fish from scratch in our house. So we have tons of memories of helping out making gefilte fish and of the entire process. We wanted to honor our family by showing that they do this every year together, and also present a fish terrine that had characteristics of gefilte, but that you could serve in a unique way with a delicious flavor that wouldn’t turn anyone off — as gefilte sometimes does.

Were any original recipes so great that you didn’t change them?

Everything in the book is a modified version. We didn’t run anything as a classic just because we loved it. Every dish is ripe for reinterpretation — and a little kick — to modify and make it more modern or just tastier. A perfect example is tuna casserole, which has become linguine tonnato with anchovy breadcrumbs. There are similarities, sure, but basically tuna casserole is bad and no one has ever made a good version, and our brand new “modern classic” is delicious and easy to make.

You both have strong personalities and points of view. Is it challenging to work under a chef or owner?

Kitchens are very intense work environments. We’ve had excellent bosses over the years and for the most part have learned great management skills, but you also get to see where mistakes get made and that helps you become better once you have the chance to step up. When it comes down to being in charge, we have a similar style — demanding, but with a great deal of respect in return for our staff’s hard work. We don’t yell, and if you show up on time and do the job, it’s going to be great to work with us, because in the grand spectrum of chefs, we are definitely easygoing.

Eli, what did you learn from your time working with Noah Bernamoff at Mile End?

I cannot stress enough how big of an impact Mile End has had on my life professionally and personally. I am surely the cook I am today because of my time learning at Mile End. Noah took a chance on hiring me when I had very little relevant cooking experience and had never held a cooking job in NYC.

Rising from prep cook to executive chef, I was able to work every position and touched pretty much every facet of the business, from waiting tables to analyzing P and L reports. Noah is a great owner and was always willing to share information and best practices so I learned a great deal about how to run a small business that treats employees like family — invaluable as I branch out on my own with Max and Jeff Jetton as we launch Samesa.

Fondue’s back, according to the book. What else can we expect to see over the next year in terms of trends?

Fondue is coming back in a big way. Gin cocktails are already front and center for summertime. Those are two trends we’ve highlighted in the cookbook that we think have legs to stay around for a while.

Michael Kaminer is a contributing editor at the Forward.

Two Tasty New Projects From Max and Eli

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