Amy Kritzer takes bubbe’s classics and turns them on their head, in the most delicious way. We chat with the hilarious cookbook author and chef behind the popular “What Jew Wanna Eat” blog about where she gets her ideas and why Manischevitz needs to be in your pantry at all times.
How did “What Jew Wanna Eat” start?
I started it not too long after I moved to Austin from New York. I was working as a conference producer for large-scale events. Then, 2009 hit, the economy crashed and the conference attendance dwindled so I decided I needed a change. I visited different cities and I had the best time in Austin. I thought, “The boys were tall. I like it here.” So, I got a job and moved to Austin.
The job I got wasn’t as creative as my last one. So, I started reading food blogs in my spare time then I realized I wanted to start my own. I was chatting with my brother about different ideas and I realized that Jewish food was kind of cool. I love knishes and latkes and babka, so I put up my first recipe. It was a sweet potato latke with cran-apple sauce. That’s what I do: the classics with a twist.
Are you a full-time writer now?
I am now, but it didn’t happen overnight. After about six months of blogging, it was all I was thinking about. I realized I needed a career change. I quit job and went to culinary school in 2011. While I was in school, the blog grew and it won a contest and I got more press. People started asking if I did recipe development and I said, Sure! The Jewish population in Austin wanted to share my recipes through their outlets. It wasn’t overnight, but I eventually dropped the side gigs and picked up more cooking-related writing and started doing demos.
What are some of your all-time favorite recipes?
People love my rainbow challah
bread, probably because they feel a personal connection to it. People made it with kids, or served it at gay or lesbian weddings. To me, food is also memories, like you smell matzo ball soup and you think of your grandma. I love that people use my recipes to create new memories.
Another recipe I just threw together, for “Thanksgivukkah”, back when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah were on the same day became really popular. It’s a brisket dish with a twist. Everyone here in Austin smokes brisket and Jews braise it. So, I did a dry rub of coffee on the brisket, braised in bourbon, finished with cranberries. My friends ask for that every year for Thanksgiving.
What’s the most fun holiday to bake for? The hardest?
I really love Passover. I like the rules. It’s a fun challenge. It’s also the beginning of spring, which means there are more fresh ingredients. There are Passover dishes I enjoy all year. I mad a vegan, Manischevitz chocolate truffle with only three ingredients that I had for my birthday.
I notice you use a lot of Manischevitz. Do you really love it?
I do! I like the blackberry better than the grape. I went to a Federation event last night in Austin and we made Manischevitz cocktails. I asked how many people liked it and at least half raised their hand. You’re with me!
There’s a nostalgia factor. It reminds me of bar mitzvahs. Plus, it’s super cheap. You can throw it on a brisket and you don’t need any sugar. It always comes out good.
Do you make non-Jewish recipes?
I always do a Chinese food recipe on Christmas that you can cook at home, though I make it Jewish. It’s a Jewish-Chinese blend, like pastrami-fried rice or lox and cream cheese Rangoon.
Updating the classics is a great idea. Where do you get your inspiration?
Some people don’t want to update it. Jewish food has been evolving since beginning of time. I want to make it fun and approachable for non-Jews, too. One of goals is to make Jewish food as approachable and well known as Italian.
I definitely read a lot of diff cookbooks, website and magazines. There’s almost always a Jewish holiday any time of year to plan for. Living in Texas, I look to local ingredients. I put chiles in my shakshuka. People email me ideas, too. The send recipes their grandma made a long time ago.
When does your cookbook come out?
It comes out August 1. It’s a sweet-focused book. Not necessarily dessert, though. There are sweet latkes, matzo brei, babka, challah bread, hamentaschen. And my my Manischevitz ice cream with Charoset topping.
To read more of Amy’s recipe, visit her website or pre-order the cookbook “Sweet Noshings: New Twists on Traditional Jewish Baking” .