At Elena’s Table
Eric Gladstone, Gilleum Marcoux, Elena Gladstone-Dodd, Josh Clark, James Trees, Emily Brubaker, Vincent Rotolo, John Arena.
Photos by Spencer Burton
For the past twelve months or so, I’ve been toying with an idea for a television show called The Food Underground. In it, I’d visit the coolest, most off-the-beaten-path, most unique, most underground food events going on in each city. Somewhere between the straightforward format of Guy Fieri’s show but without his hokey attitude and the ultra suave persona of Anthony Bourdain lies The Food Underground.
This past Saturday, a perfect example of the type of celebration TFU would showcase took place. It wasn’t in a warehouse or an art gallery or a runoff Coachella show, but, of all places, it occurred at a temple in Summerlin, celebrating the Bat Mitzvah of an interesting girl named Elena. And while Elena herself is a character and we are happy for her ascent into adulthood, the food - the craziness of this Bat Mitzvah - was all schemed out by her father, Eric Gladstone.
Gladstone, the erudite food public relations master and social media workhorse, some of you might remember, was the food writer for this magazine before he turned the column over to me. We have remained friends and have bonded over being single parents, our left-of-center taste in music, and our mutual love of food – specifically chefs willing to take chances.
With that last element in mind, Gladstone hatched a plan for the food at his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Says the birthday girl’s father, “On a personal level, arranging this Bat Mitzvah for my daughter but still thinking about it as a family event and a social event for me as well, thinking about my friends as food writers being there and chefs I wanted to invite there -- I just couldn’t do a normal ‘rubber chicken’ catering meal. Knowing all these people, I thought, ‘how could I do this just a little bit different?’”
He recruited many of his favorite chefs in Las Vegas with one thought - how can a group of the most talented culinary whizzes in the city reinterpret traditional Jewish food on a modern level? Gladstone states, “I’ve always wanted to try and find ways to push the (food) scene forward, to encourage chefs here who are passionate to challenge themselves and try new things and always keep moving. It goes back to that and trying to find opportunities to do that all the time.”
Of course, planning a celebration as momentous as a young woman’s Bat Mitzvah takes time; what with the learning of the Torah and the hiring of a DJ and the securing a venue. It’s a schlep.
This collision of ideas and events led to the most interesting Bat Mitzvah menu I dare say any of the attendees have ever experienced. Gladstone reached out to major food figures in Las Vegas like Jolene Mannina of Urban Seed, a facilitator of ideas and people if ever there was one. She connected him with Joshua Clark of the popular Downtown sandwich shop The Goodwich. Clark took on a bulk of the planning and with his catering chef, Gilleum Marcoux, created a number of the dishes that made the final cut. Serendipitously, many elements were already being played with at Clark’s place of business. He states, “Being that it’s spring, we have some interesting things on our menu right now at The Goodwich. (Items like) labneh, le duq, beets and spring vegetables. We took some of our green pea falafel that’s on the menu at The Goodwich, chunked it up and fried it.” The spring salad showcased many of these items and le duq (duck confit) made its way on top of a potato latke with huckleberry compote.
That dish was a collaboration with Emily Brubaker from Urban Seed and a former chef at Sage. She also happens to be the only Jewish culinary expert of the bunch. It seems like a no-brainer that she would prepare the latkes her way but Gladstone had her use a 70-year-old family recipe for the potato pancakes, the kind that’s handed down from one generation to another in Jewish families.
Brubaker had some more freedom with her kugel, a sweet version of the casserole that showcased an updated take on her grandmother’s recipe. This baked noodle pudding had the eggs whipped into a custard for added richness and utilized dried cherries, cinnamon, and ginger.
“It’s kind of weird because I’ve eaten so many traditional dishes of so many weird countries over the course of my lifetime and I’ve never had kugel before today” says food and features writer Al Mancini. The mohawked old punker continues, “ I’ve lived in New York and went to a law school where I was a minority by not being Jewish and yet I’d never eaten some of the most basic cuisines that are most common to Jewish cooking.”
It’s that type of exploration of palettes and creativity and ideas that Gladstone was hoping to accomplish. Mancini sums it up like this, “I can only assume that wherever there are Jews, there are Jews making traditional Jewish food with the spin of the nation in which they are located. The idea of trying to demonstrate that worldliness of a culture that sometimes maybe might seem to outsiders as very insular, but to really show that it is worldly and that it is embracing of all the many nations of which Jews reside and eat is really cool.”
But what about the rabbi? Would he feel the same way? Gladstone had no doubts. He states, “Malcolm Cohen is from London. He has a really cool sense of outreach and trying new things and trying to reach different communities and people who don’t necessarily identify in the traditional sense. He’s a very out of the box thinker. I knew he would get it.”
Cohen echoes the sentiment; “Rabbis try to think about how to repackage Judaism in new ways all the time. Eric actually managed it!” More importantly, he adds, “Kids like Elena will always need to work out how they relate to their heritage. Elena’s dad showed her one way of doing it!”
The most interesting intersection of cultural meshing, at least as a participating chef, is Vincent Rotolo, the man who is making waves at the hottest pizza joint in Downtown Las Vegas, Evel Pie. He might be focused on creating the perfect pizza pie now -- he recently took second in the world for best Gluten Free Pizza at the International Pizza Expo -- but back in the day, he used to toil with a different type of dough. Rotolo proudly exclaims, “I worked at Barney Greengrass from 1992 - 1995.” The seminal Jewish deli in New York was a rite of passage in its own way for Rotolo who still remembers huge, culture-changing events that took place in the iconic deli. He recalls, “The deal for Dreamworks was signed at Barney Greengrass and I was serving sturgeon bagels and nova bagels when Katzenberg and Geffen were signing the paperwork.”
There was one thing that made the pizzaiolo different from most of his coworkers. He explains, “I was the only non-Jew that worked there. I loved scallion cream cheese and every weekend I had this dish on an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and Barney Greengrass was the kind of place where if you worked you made your own food on your break. They gave me the nickname The Italian Scallion.”
That memory, that life experience, was the inspiration for his dish. He had bagels flown in from H & H Bagels in Manhattan and lox and scallion cream cheese delivered from his beloved Greengrass. Getting his favorite dish authentic was paramount to his endeavor. Of his challenge, he states, “I haven’t made it in over 20 years. The most important thing was sourcing the ingredients.”
As with all great dishes, this one comes with a story as much as a recipe. Rotolo explains, in a very New York kind of way, “Nova eggs and caramelized onions is their number one seller at Barney Greengrass. It’s the only thing that outsells smoked salmon on its own. I like smoked salmon but I like the chunks of it. Chunks of smoked salmon, clarified butter, sauté that till it starts getting caramelized. Then you add in the caramelized onions, then you scramble the eggs in after like you’re making an omelet.”
Sitting next to Rotolo’s egg dish was pastrami-fried rice, courtesy of Sheridan Su of Flock & Fowl and Fat Choy. Further down the line was Jamaal Taherzadeh’s (executive chef at Libertine Social) Persian - Jewish eggplant khorest. Marcoux’s braised chicken thigh with spiced raisin jus and crispy lentils, which was a riff on a taste he remembers from a Mediterranean restaurant he used to work at, weren’t far from that. The recently relocated James Trees showcased his take on Roman artichokes and chicken liver pate on two separate tables. Over in the corner was the dessert bar courtesy of Daniel Ontiveros, Jinju Caldwell and Gladstone’s mother, Carole. It was a truly impressive and exciting exploration of the expression of Judaism through the many different cultures its food impacts throughout the world.
As for what the Bat Mitzvah girl thought about the whole thing, her father states, “I don’t think she’s processed it all. She’s a picky eater, which is why we added pizzas. But she actually tried a lot of other things!
Steamed salmon, Spring Salad with Barkan and Hermon Israeli wines.
Roman artichokes, stuffed lamb and chicken and goose liver pate.
Israeli salad, Noodle Kugel with Braised Chicken Thighs.
Elena Jayne Gladstone-Dodd
Bat Mitzvah Menu
April 22, 2017
Potato latkes with huckleberries, sour cream and duck confit.
Noodle Kugel with cherries, cinnamon and ginger.
Emily Brubaker, Urban Seed
Nova Lox, Eggs & Onions.New York H+H bagels & Barney Greengrass Scallion Smear.
Vincent Rotolo, Evel Pie
Chicken and Goose Liver Pate with sherry vinegar onions, on house made rye crackers.
Roman Style Artichokes with batutto (anchovies, chiles, garlic) and parsley.
James Trees, Esther’s Kitchen
Eggplant Ghoresht: Persian eggplant stew in spicy tomato sauce with pickled golden raisins.
Jamaal Taherzadeh, Libertine Social
Pastrami Fried Rice.
Sheridan Su, Flock & Fowl/Fat Choy
Spring Salad, Labneh, Falafel, Dukka & Orange.
Stuffed Leg of Lamb, Fennel, Mushroom, Pomegranate.
Braised Chicken Thighs, Spiced Raisin Jus,
Josh Clark & Gil Marcoux, The Goodwich
Grilled Tomato, Cheese, Basil Pizzas
Vincent Rotolo, Evel Pie
John Arena, Metro Pizza
Red Velvet Cake
Daniel Ontiveros, Bouchon
Jin Caldwell, Jinju
Israeli Kosher Wines