Take one Moroccan-Canadian-New Yorker with an eye for color, flavor and recipe design. Add her close friend -- renowned filmmaker and photographer Andrew Zuckerman -- and here's what you get: a modernist take on kosher cuisine with images so dramatic you won't know whether to leave Kim Kushner's "The Modern Menu" on the kitchen counter or the coffee table.
Each spread is pristine: A recipe -- for lemon grass halibut with peanuts and cilantro, for example -- is tucked at the top of one page, and the finished dish is splayed across the double-spread, plateless and glistening on the brilliant white expanse. A succulent roast chicken dominates the pages devoted to Kushner's husband's favorite dinner, and the images for
A longtime cooking teacher in Manhattan, Kushner's friends and students had been pestering her for a cookbook for years, and Zuckerman had spent countless nights around the dinner table listening to her talk about her concept -- a menu-driven collection of recipes arranged around themes such as "vibrant," "indulgent" and "crisp." So one night, he pushed.
Naturally, we had questions.
Q The photographs in the book are incredible. What's the back story on that?
A I'm a cookbook collector, and the most important thing (in a cookbook) is the recipes, of course. But what really makes me decide to buy or not are the
Q This is a really modernist take on both the photography and the food presentation. How do those fit together?
A I think it's the simplicity, the not trying to mask flavors, just what's there. It's all about making the most of the ingredients. We created a kitchen in Andrew's studio and started cooking there. Everything we cooked was so easy, and he was able to shoot the food so quickly. After he would shoot it, we would eat it.
Q Your mother's from Morocco, your father from Montreal. How did you end up cooking in New York?
A I was always surrounded by food. I moved to New York after I got married and decided to start taking some culinary classes, enrolled in a professional program and then went to work for food editorial magazines. People started asking me to teach classes, and without even trying, a business was born.
Q Passover is coming up. Let's talk about your food memories -- what were your childhood holidays like?
A My mom always believed in having our door open to anyone and everyone. My mom's an amazing cook and fast in the kitchen. I think I got that from her. I grew up in a modern Orthodox home. We would go home from the synagogue for lunch. Then we would remove the tablecloth and reset again, like restaurant service.
Q What kinds of food did she serve?
A My mom always started with soup and sturdy Moroccan-style salads, fresh and cooked. Every year she goes even crazier with little platters, like mezzes almost -- grilled eggplant and roasted tomatoes -- and we would pass them around and pass them around.
Q What was the main course at Passover?
A My mom always makes lamb with canned truffles, a very traditional Moroccan way of cooking lamb. I find myself repeating these recipes, but I make it a little more modern. I do salads and appetizers, a whole bunch of them.
For more kosher cuisine recipes and tips, go to Kim Kushner's blog at www.kimkushnercuisine.com.