By Ben Lasky
While chef and author Paula Shoyer loves coming up with new recipes, she’s also a traditionalist when it comes to creating menus for Jewish holidays. The kosher baker, as she’s sometimes called, is turning her sights next to Sukkot, which begins at sunset on Sept. 20.
“This is not the holiday where you make a whole bunch of different dishes,” she said, “so I always keep it really simple.”
The Chevy Chase resident and author of five kosher cookbooks, said she generally serves either a lamb or chicken stew with rice and vegetables for a Sukkot dinner. For a main course, Shoyer likes to serve stuffed cabbage. And as for dessert, either cinnamon buns or cinnamon babka, because they remind her of sitting in a sukkah and eating her aunt’s cinnamon desserts when she was growing up.
“I feel like you should always have something traditional. Something you make every single year that your guests, your family, your friends will associate with that holiday forever,” Shoyer said.
Shoyer, 56, goes out of her way to make her meals on the healthier side while not compromising on taste.
“My whole philosophy of eating is that you should eat overall natural food that’s better for you so that you always have room for dessert,” she said.
And she prides herself on creating simple recipes that anyone can make.
“I want to spread the joy of my recipes to as many people as possible,” Shoyer said. “I want to get as many people in the kitchen as I can inspire. I want people who tell me, ‘I can’t bake. I can’t this,’ I want them to just do it.”
Shoyer’s journey started not in a kitchen, but in a chemistry lab at Brandeis University where Shoyer, then a pre-med student, spilled nitric acid on her hands and burned a hole in her shoe with sulfuric acid.
She switched to law, eventually ending up in Geneva, Switzerland, where her husband’s work for the U.S. government took them. Leaving law behind, she became a speech writer for UN Watch, producing speeches dealing with the treatment of Israel at the United Nations. When she became a mother, she left speechwriting behind.
Paris was close enough for easy travel and Shoyer enrolled in cooking school to improve her baking. Back in Geneva, people began insisting that she make desserts for them — and charge them.
That was the start of Paula Shoyer’s catering business and cooking classes. She said she fell in love with cooking. “I get so much energy out of standing in a room full of people. That’s what I really enjoy,” Shoyer said.
In March 2020, thinking the pandemic would subside in a matter of months, she canceled all of her classes. She eventually got them started again on Zoom and has since taught some 185 virtual classes.
During Sukkot, Shoyer and her family will enjoy the weather in their sukkah, while eating food that they’re familiar with.