I think the concept that best explains how I think about food is the notion of Cucina Povera. This Tuscan concept is one born out of humble and peasant ingredients both afforded in the region of Italy and grown locally. The phrase Cucina Povera means "poor kitchen". The idea is almost more of a technique and way of thinking rather than just a bare cupboard. Leftover bread becomes a thickener and method of stretching soup, yesterday’s pasta becomes today’s soup and so on. Cucina Povera is the way many of our grandparents functioned in their kitchens and similar to the way many chefs work in professional kitchens.
In the kosher kitchen-we only have so many ingredients to work with, both at home and professionally. Many ingredients that most chefs take for granted are not part of my daily repertoire due to kosher restrictions. I have a meat and pareve kitchen and cannot just add cream to a soup or sauce to thicken it. I have to work a bit harder and find other ways that fit into the kosher laws. I do not believe in using faux foods for substitutions and look to natural ingredients that are already kosher and in season. In the spirit of Cucina Povera-I embrace my constraints, accept the materials I have to work with and move on. I always say that if a recipe cannot be made without completely mutilating it-then do not make it. I have never put soy crème brulees on my menus and never will. I also do not sell faux crab or mock sour cream. Real sour cream is amazing and who doesn’t love crème brulee? I know I do-after a dairy or pareve meal. The artificial stuff doesn’t come close and I have too much respect for my ingredients, clients and family to ever serve ersatz food.
Kashrut is all about making choices-not getting around them with cheap imitations. With Sukkot looming and more celebratory meals with family and friends-I hope we can all look at the harvest holiday with fresh food choices. Feed your family the best and the freshest delicious foods you can. Do as the Tuscans do and look at what is growing locally and in season. Make the most of it and Buon Appetito!