A talk with 'The Kosher King of Ann Arbor,' plus kugel and salmon
Mary Bilyeu | Contributor
I recently had a fabulous time talking with Emil Boch, chef/co-owner of From the Hearth Food — a catering service offering kosher, vegetarian and vegan dishes — and chef at the University of Michigan Hillel during the school year.
I'd heard only raves about the food Emil serves, including such stellar accolades as this one, from Jeannie Ballew of entre-SLAM: "I truly can't say enough of this man's cooking. It is ethereal, other worldly, intoxicating. He uses only the freshest locally produced ingredients and produce and just seems to have a magical touch with every dish he prepares."
So many people I know, from friends to acquaintances, were offering such extraordinary compliments about Emil's cooking — simple lunches at Hillel, take-home Shabbat dinners, catering options for special events — that I simply had to meet this man!
A native of Ortonville, Mich., Emil is a proponent of the Slow Food movement and its dedication to sustainability, local sourcing, organics and traditional handmade foods. He engages in cheese making and charcuterie in his spare time, and received specialized training in Europe to further his knowledge of these hand crafts.
As the bio on his catering site states, Emil "draws inspiration from flavors of India, Latin America, France and Asia, but his style would be best described as New American." Emil is influenced by many cultures and foods, and brings all of these together to create his own fabulous cuisine.
My friend Donna Shewach, one of Emil's most avid devotees, states that "Emil's cooking can be summed up in two words: simply delicious! Everything he makes — from soups to main dishes, sides to desserts — is packed with flavor. His creative use of seasoning and spices from all over the world make his dinners unique and irresistibly delicious... always innovative and memorable."
Like so many others who are tremendously creative, Emil is a former art student; one of the reasons he left the art community, though, is because he felt he couldn't give up his pieces because of a deep "emotional attachment."
His high level of commitment now finds itself invested in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti community — good friends with many other restaurant and brewery owners, a regular chef at Selma Cafe breakfasts, and a volunteer with local food and farm projects. From the Hearth Food will once again be one of many sponsors at this month's entre-SLAM, a networking event for entrepreneurs, being held at 7 p.m. this Thursday, May 31 at LIVE Ann Arbor (click here to register).
Emil was raised vegetarian, and his mother cooked many ethnic foods, so he's well versed in specialized diets and a wide variety of flavors. Although he's not Jewish, which enables him to work at Hillel during times when work is forbidden to observant Jews, Emil is considered "the Kosher King of Ann Arbor" for the inventive and distinctive dishes he has created in accordance with the dietary laws, as well as for his updates of traditional dishes. (He can either cook in a home kitchen or in the Hillel kitchen, to certify kashrut standards.)
As Donna, an avowed foodie who keeps kosher, tells me: "When he catered dinner at my home, Emil was wonderful at accommodating all of our dietary preferences, including his delicious vegan dishes that the omnivores enjoyed too."
She also notes that while "Emil's dinners are exceptional by anyone's standards ... if you happen to keep kosher it's an added bonus" that this chef is skilled at preparing meals that go so far beyond the familiar chicken dinner or brisket. Emil likes to serve "frat boy portions" that are extremely generous, which is great because Donna says "you’re going to want leftovers to enjoy the next day."
Emil is warm, friendly, and immensely likable — if his parking meter hadn't been on the verge of running out, we may very well have kept talking for another hour about everything from Jewish cuisine to the Pixies. I normally need a flow chart to follow my own tangents, and Emil's quick thinking and gregarious nature even put me to shame! Not only would you enjoy the food he prepares, but he would be wonderful to work with in planning an event, as well.
Emil very generously shared two different Jewish-influenced recipes: the Carrot Ginger Kugel pictured below and one for Home Cured Salmon, both of which would be perfect for light summertime meals. From the Hearth Food's website also gives sample menus, to give an even better overview of his abilities and offerings. You could prepare these dishes yourself, of course.
But as Emil says, because of his very small "family-type business," when you hire him you're "directly supporting" him and his wife and those he hires for events, rather than any large entity or corporation. So why not let Emil cater a summer event — small or large scale — so you can taste for yourself the amazing dishes that Ann Arborites are so enamored of?
Chef Emil Boch
Easy Carrot Ginger Kugel
1 cup finely chopped apple, peeled and cored (approximately 1 large apple)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or oil.
You should visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related. And be sure to look for her monthly articles about holiday foods and traditions in the Washtenaw Jewish News.
The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.