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What A Locavore Chef Learned From His Bubbe

Image by Courtesy of Gramercy Farmer & The Fish

Michael Kaphan’s bubbe helped get him into the New Yorker.

No, she’s not his publicist. But Kaphan, chef-owner of recently opened Gramercy Farmer & the Fish in Manhattan, features her chopped liver recipe on his farm-to-table menu. “Sautéed in chicken fat and mixed with herbs and hard-boiled egg white, it’s luxuriant enough to be the main event, instead of its traditional billing as a side dish,” the magazine raved.

A locavore menu heavy on fish and veg, Gramercy Farmer & Fish is Kaphan’s second eatery; Purdy’s Farmer & The Fish, in Westchester County north of Manhattan, opened five years ago.

Kaphan spoke to the Forward from his restaurant.

Image by Courtesy of Gramercy Farmer & The Fish

Your bubbe was the star of that New Yorker piece. How did she influence your cooking?

My bubbe was a classic Eastern European Ashkenazi cook, whose repertoire included potato perogies, potted chicken, brisket and rugelach. I learned her techniques by watching her and cooking with her. What she would cook back home in Poland is what was harvested from their farm. I learned to do the same with my farm and her technique has always stuck with me. I follow Bubbe’s classic recipe with no alterations.

Your restaurants emphasize farm-to-table. What does that mean in your case?

Our farm, Purdy’s Farm, is in North Salem (Northern Westchester County). I spend all winter doing a crop plan with my farmers for the next year’s crop. Come spring and summer we harvest daily and run daily trucks to the restaurants. I choose which crops to bring based on thinking about what I want guests to experience in their meal. Some crops may be regular stand-bys such as broccoli and kale and then I try to introduce new vegetables that guests may never have encountered or seen locally such as yacon.

What Jewish food do you think could improve with some farm-to-table components?

Latkes. Instead of just using potatoes I always make them with carrots and turnips from the farm, or any other root vegetables we’re growing at the time. It gives it a fresh farm-to-table flavor.

Michael Kaminer is a contributing editor at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected]


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