Julie Burton and Chaz Sandifer have been talking about difficult topics for several years, and the journey through discussions of diversity, allyship, and Black and white women working together and understanding each other, grew into a venture that combines food and multiculturalism.
“Stories Behind The Menu” grew out of Sandifer’s book club. Sandifer, the founder of theNEWmpls, wanted to partner with Burton, and ModernWell to be the host site. The partnership has brought in local chefs to create a “cultural voyage of … delicious food and rich storytelling.”
“That was last fall and it blew up on us before our eyes and got a life of its own, which I love,” Sandifer said.
The next event features Zehorit Heilicher, a Minneapolis chef born in Israel, with an evening of Israeli food. Seats for the dinner are limited and tickets are available on the ModernWell website.
“I’m really passionate about, not only food, but storytelling,” Heilicher said. “I try, through food, to portray a more accurate, palatable, not-so-controversial picture of Israel and Israeli life, and just kind of reminding people that there are millions of people living in the country day in and day out, and it’s not a warzone. There’s a lot of richness and a very vibrant lifestyle.”
Because food is such a big part of so many cultures, Heilicher sees it as a way to build bridges between different cultures.
“I truly believe that when you cook with people or when you share food around the table and have a conversation around the table, it’s very hard to treat someone as the other,” Heilicher said. I find food and the kitchen to be a vehicle for a more compassionate, more open conversation.”
This is exactly what Burton and Sandifer hope will happen.
“I don’t care what color you are, what religion you are, what gender preference; we all have to eat,” Burton said. “That is just something that binds us all. Chaz is doing a ton of incredible work in this space of health and equity and inclusion and wellness. And that is something that’s a passion of mine as well and part of the ModernWell mission. So it was just very natural and organic that we would partner on this.”
Said Sandifer: “I wanted to have true, real conversations with real people to sit down in an intimate setting. And I thought ModernWell was a perfect place for it. Plus, Julie has that same vision and morals of how she looks at this.”
The success of the concept has brought Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Mpls.St.Paul Magazine on board as sponsors, and recent James Beard Award winner Sean Sherman of Owamni as an upcoming featured chef.
Each of the events, which take place roughly once per quarter, comes with suggested viewing or reading depending on the chef and the type of food. The suggestion for Heilicher’s event is the documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine.
Heilicher wouldn’t divulge the details of the menu, but she said she presented three options to Burton and Sandifer, and they chose the one that Heilicher calls more classic Israeli.
“They really wanted to reflect the roots and have that as the starting point of the conversation,” she said. “One of [the recipes] is a Balkan recipe, one is a Palestinian recipe, one is the Moroccan recipe. It’s a very hodgepodge of Israeli ethnic communities.”
Which, in many ways, isn’t dissimilar from Israel itself.
“I think it’s still young enough that you can see the reflection of those different cultures,” Heilicher said. “That hodgepodge is very much reflected in home menus and restaurant menus. We’re going to have a menu that’s very traditional in some ways, and have it be the springboard for a conversation.”