Connecting to Judaism for Aubree Hunter means connecting to food, and vice versa. The aspiring professional chef grew up cooking traditional Jewish recipes passed down by her grandfather. Now she wants to do the same, but with a twist.
Hunter, 23, of Fairfax, is pursuing her master’s degree in food business from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Her senior project focuses on modernizing traditional Jewish food to make it more accessible and convenient for a younger generation.
So what led you to pursue a career in food?
So I’ve been cooking since before I can remember. When I was 2, I was, like, cracking eggs on my kitchen floor and I’ve just been in the kitchen ever since. And my grandpa was one of the ones who really got me into cooking, especially with Jewish food. He would teach me, all his life, traditional Ashkenazi dishes. He would teach me how to make stuffed cabbage and chopped liver. But he also taught me a lot of different things, like making sushi, because he was stationed in Japan. So my family has definitely had a big food culture. And that’s just been such a big part of my life growing up that it just made sense for me to pursue that career.
What are some of your favorite dishes to cook at the moment?
So, most recently, I’ve been really interested in Israeli food, which actually led me to Israel. I did Birthright when I was still in culinary school and then I came back and worked for a little bit and then realized that I really wanted to learn more about Israeli food. So I did a culinary internship in Tel Aviv and worked for a restaurant there. And so I got to work in Israel and eat my way through Tel Aviv, which was really an amazing experience. And that’s what I’ve been kind of working on lately. It’s my newest venture.
How do traditional Jewish and Israeli foods compare to one another?
I definitely think that with Israeli food, and Mediterranean cuisine, there are so many more vegetables and there’s definitely a focus on health and vibrancy and seasonality and color. And, I’m just talking about stereotypical Jewish food, there’s a lack of that. There’s the stereotype that Jewish food is bland and unattractive. And that’s what I’m really trying to counterpoint, that Jewish food can have all these vegetables and be more modern. It can be healthier and really take some of the things that I’ve learned from my travels and applying it to making Jewish food more modern and exciting for younger people.
Do you have any tips for cooking Jewish or Israeli food?
Yeah, I think starting with good ingredients is key because your food is only as good as ingredients that you’re using. And just to keep it simple and respect the ingredients and where they came from. And then I think it’s always cool to learn about the dish that you’re making and learning more about the traditions behind it. I think that’s a really cool aspect of cooking.
So for your master’s program you’re required to design a playbook for a business startup. Why did you decide to focus on Jewish foods for the
I chose to focus on Jewish foods because there’s a great need in the market right now for creating more modern Jewish dishes. And I really realized that there are a lot of challenges that young adults and young families face with preserving these Jewish foods, such as time, accessibility, nutrition and convenience. So I really wanted to focus on solving that problem.
So you’re trying to simplify traditional Jewish food?
I think a lot of the Jewish recipes have been outdated or labor intensive. They can be really intimidating. And I want to just break down these barriers so that young adults can experience their tradition and preserve Jewish foods. And I also think there’s an opportunity to make Jewish foods healthier and more modern, getting away from the packaged foods with so much sugar and [show] all the sweet flavor profiles that Jewish food is known for.