For Todd Gray, owner and chef of Equinox, Jewish food taught him about culture, tradition and family.
A non-Jew from Virginia, who grew up loving soft-shelled crabs, Gray credits his Jewish wife, Ellen Kassoff Gray with encouraging him to expand his culinary proficiencies to include kosher foods. The result is not only a happy home kitchen, but an upcoming book, tentatively entitled Kitchen Conversations: Blending Jewish and American Flavors for Delicious, Easy Meals (St. Martin’s, 2013), that examines the couple’s culinary and personal lives and reveals how rewarding the sharing of two people’s traditions – and meals – can be.
Kassoff Gray, who manages the couple’s restaurant group that includes Equinox, Todd Gray’s Muse at the Corcoran, and Todd Gray’s Watershed, serves on the boards of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center and the Washington Humane Society.
Although he says it, “bums me out” not to have soft-shelled crabs, he’s come to love Ellen’s Aunt Lil’s matzah ball with pappardelle noodles and pulled chicken soup; salt baked red snapper with olive oil and lemon; and, for dessert, portwine fig blintzes with candied pecans. (Don’t worry if your bubbe didn’t leave you these recipes, you’ll be able to find them in the Grays’ cookbook next Spring!)
The award-winning couple (he, the 2011 RAMMY Chef of the Year and five time nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic Award; she, the 2009 recipient of the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR) Golden Fork Award for Front-of-the-House Excellence) are fierce advocates for sustainable agriculture. Gray sees a strong connection between seasonal cooking and kosher cooking and encourages kosher home cooks to prepare holiday dishes with local, seasonal ingredients. He suggests asparagus salad for Passover. And, with spring coinciding with rockfish season in the D.C.-area, Gray likes the idea of rockfish for Pesach.
His favorite for seder is a nice rack of lamb. After all, he says, lamb features prominently in the Passover story.