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What We Eat Connects Us

PHOTO OFJOAN NATHAN IMG_0963For Joan Nathan, food is a connector, allowing those of different generations and cultural traditions to come together in eating, and in understanding the culture behind the food. For Nathan, the value of food is quite personal as well. When Nathan went to see her 103-year-old mother, Pearl Nathan, in Providence, RI in February, she showed her mother a recipe for hardboiled eggs with spinach from her new cookbook, King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World. Pearl Nathan had not had a good relationship with her own mother, Joan Nathan says, which was a regret of hers. Seeing that her own daughter was carrying on her mother’s food traditions was deeply comforting to Pearl. She passed away the next day, and Joan told Lilith in a phone interview she is pleased that her work could bring her own mother comfort and satisfaction at the end of her life.

In a recent meeting at the Bread Furst bakery near her home in Washington DC, Nathan talked about how her Passover seder guests have been varied—including former Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick and retired NPR host and author Diane Rehm––and how she often attends authentic sedarim of Jews of different ethnic groups the second night of Passover. Though she has many restaurant-world connections–Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Yotam Ottolenghi and Michael Solomonov provided blurbs for the new book––she does not like restaurants that are too loud, preferring the fellowship of guests coming around the table. She said she loves Friday night dinner as a time for people to enjoy the time to speak to each other.