The Jewish food tradition is extremely strong,” said James Beard-Award winning cookbook author and TV host Amy Thielen said. “The Jewish kitchen can be anywhere.”
Thielen’s kitchen is “in the country” outside of Park Rapids, Minn., about three and a half hours from Minneapolis. It’s not a kosher kitchen; it’s not even a Jewish kitchen. But Thielen’s cooking expertise will be on display in St. Paul later this month.
Thielen will be one of the primary attractions at the 3rd Annual Crossriver Kosherfest at Temple of Aaron. This year’s event takes place on Jan. 29 from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. The vendors scheduled to attend. Herbivorous Butcher, Chicago Tailgators, Spirit of Asia Catering, Milts BBQ, Amy Thielen’s Kosher Kitchen, Rita’s Ice, Aviv Vodka, Kenny’s Candy, Menchies, Hebrew Beer, Alakef, Savor, Bogarts, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Heavenly Organics Honey, Olive Tree Oil, Lotus Foods, McClures, Cliff Bar, Barney Butter, Jelly Belly, Maddy & Maize, and Skippy Pop. The list is subject to change.
“The biggest reason to do this is that everyone can come together around food,” said Temple of Aaron rabbi and event organizer Jeremy Fine. “Events aren’t always accessible, people don’t want to go to speakers or classes, or they aren’t a fan of sports. Everyone eats and everyone enjoys a variety of meals. It’s also the only thing of its kind so it allows for a communal event that all can come to with a low access bar.”
Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for kids 13 and under, and free for kids 0-2. Admission includes samples that the vendors will have out for tasting. There will be a new kid’s area – The Jelly Belly Experience – and characters from Curious George and the Berenstain Bears, as well as an area to show how to do good with food. Also, there won’t be meat and dairy sides of the room. There will be a meat and pareve lunchroom where you can buy larger portions for lunch at an added cost from the admission. Fine is hoping that will be around $3 per item, but it is up to the vendors.
Thielen will do a talk, book signing and creating a menu. She is planning on making Dafina, a Moroccan cholent, which was made for her by Israeli friends that had lived in Park Rapids.
“Part of the reason we became close is that they would have us over for dinner,” Thielen said. “Friday night dinner is a big tradition. We love to cook and have people over too. We fell into a friendship through food.”
Thielen is a Park Rapids native who spent seven years in kitchens in New York City. The cooking she embraces now is a very different experience than in New York.
“When I was cooking in New York, I was at fancy restaurants. it was art food. It was lots of sous vide cooking. It wasn’t very carnal. It wasn’t rustic and not what I grew up with,” she said. “The rustic American, Midwestern food, when done well – perfectly sourced, perfectly cooked – may not have a ton of spices, but every detail is accounted for. It’s transcendent when everything is right.”
Coming home to her family roots is what brought Thielen back to her hometown.
“My mom is, and grandmother was, a really, really good cook. And constantly cooking. My mom was cooking all the time. After I left home, I realized that people don’t do that anymore,” she said. When she talked about the way her relatives cooked sounds very similar to the Jewish kitchen many grew up with.
“It’s almost a cooking compulsion that I inherited. In a good way: Always wanting to feed people, leftovers that are delicious, and always having something always in the fridge.”
Thielen’s newest book, “Give A Girl A Knife,” is a memoir that is coming out May 16. It contains several stories and narratives that didn’t make the cut with her cookbook.
“It’s not an autobiography; I’m not old enough to write that kind of life story,” she said. “It’s about the power of home and what draws us there. There’s something powerful about going back to a place.”
Thielen frequently drew the conversation back to her mother and grandmother – clearly the foundation for how she likes to cook now.
“They wouldn’t change the way they ate or cooked for a trend. This is how they ate. It’s timeless. I admire that about people whose families have a strong tradition,” she said. “The Jewish food tradition is extremely strong. The culture knowledge has to go from generation to generation. The Jewish kitchen can be anywhere, and it’s timeless. You lose cultural pastimes and cultural markers. The kitchen keeps everything alive.”