Jaffe’s Jewish Jive

By Marcia Jaffe | mjaffe@atljewishtimes.com

“There is no love more sincere than the love of food” — George Bernard Shaw

Annette Sacks Marcus

I tuned in to Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasting’s eight-part show “It Tastes Jewish” to catch my “young old” friend Annette Sacks Marcus with her 88-year-old mother, Charlene Sacks, and dynamic 30-year-old chef son, Matthew Marcus.

As a team they prepared traditional dishes and such gourmet suggestions as vegetarian chopped liver and sweet-and-sour fish with tips to make the food come out at home as the pros do it.

Watching the three generations brought a full-circle warmth into our homes as we learned how challah fits into our tradition or Charlene whipped up cabbage soup with passion and no recipe. Matt, executive chef at Portofino in Buckhead, is charismatic and easy on the eyes, replete with designer rolled shirt cuffs and tattoos.

How do we explain these three cooks being so svelte? Move over, portly Paul Prudhomme.

Interwoven into the AIB series were Rabbis Analia Bortz, Mario Karpuj, Brad Levenberg, and Ellen Nemhauser to embellish the “gourmet-haymisha” experience.

Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Levenberg said: “I very much enjoyed cooking on the show. Though I had absolutely no experience cooking, Annette walked me through the steps to make some amazing dishes … especially matzo balls. She taught me how to make them not too big and not too small, just right to absorb the soup, get a bit soft, and melt in your mouth.”

Tomato in the Middle

Charlene Sacks

In the middle of the gourmet triumvirate, Annette operates the full-service (bartenders, servers, decorations) Annette Marcus Catering. She worked for 12 years as a special-needs teacher before transitioning into catering for more flexible time to spend raising her boys. Annette is a perfectionist with an up attitude who juggles at least 15 jobs at a time.

In addition to dairy kiddushes at various congregations, Annette is known for individualizing events to customers’ visions. “I am in ever-ready mode. Today, for example, I have an event for 45 and one for 100 … then got a call to do a quickly produced funeral reception.”

Annette’s creativity shines through in her menu choices, such as Under the Southern Sun with bite-size chicken and waffles, a pre-symphony cocktail buffet, and afternoon tea with mini coconut cakes.

She gets busy preparing traditional foods during Jewish holidays. She is kosher-style and will accommodate kashrut in the client’s home.

“What people want is my best dish; it’s the beauty of what I do,” Annette said. “Every day creates something different, never the same thing twice. Every year has been a growth year.”

Annette has a menschy heart. When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution used her company to do our Chastain table catering around 1982, she always snuck in a piece of salmon for me. More meaningfully, when my mother was in hospice, Annette ferried over food that Mom said “had some real tam (taste).”

About Matt’s indoctrination into the family legacy, Annette said: “Up until age 18, he stayed out of the kitchen. Then he began loving these cooking aromas and began smoking meats for his friends and became a hero. That was the start.”

Young Chef Matt

Matt Marcus

Matt remembers yearning for the wafting aromas of brisket. “Food brings people together, and I like having an impact on the community with my art.”

Matt recalls as a child discerning between a brownie eaten at a friend’s house and the quality he had at home and from his grandmother Charlene, known as Bobby. “Bobby always had puppy chow (Chex with powdered sugar), mandel bread with almonds and crusty pastry leftovers hanging around on the counter.”

Matt learned his trade over seven years under admired chefs from Goldfish to Chops and became certified. “I like the chaos of organizing and controlling a kitchen. Food is a fleeting art which I continually re-create. Yes, I enjoy the creativity. Pieces of myself go into these dishes.”

Some repartee with Matt follows.

Jaffe: What was it like being on TV? Would you like to pursue that direction?

Chef Matt: I thought the message of the show was cool. You don’t have to be on “Top Chef” to have a reality show. Our food was portrayed as a family made-at-home menu. It was lot of work to make it look so easy. I would be open to doing it on a grander scale with a professional crew.

Jaffe: How would you describe your style?

Chef Matt: I am classically French-trained doing Italian now. My goal is perfecting making people happy.

Jaffe: What irritates you in the restaurant service world?

Chef Matt: Patrons who take too much liberty with the menu. I go 100% above and beyond to accommodate allergies and even have a separate set of pans for those who want some degree of kosher prepared at Portofino, but some folks want to alter/substitute preparation and ingredients out of the reasonable range.

Jaffe: What would you prepare for yourself right now if we had the ingredients?

Chef Matt: Hmm. Seared snapper from a mangrove in Florida with kohlrabi serrano chili puree with a salad on top garnished with watermelon radish, frisée with lemon supreme, champagne vinaigrette with saffron compressed apple.

Bobby the Matriarch

Amazingly graceful, deft and well-spoken at 88, Charlene had a “lot of fun doing the TV show.” Asked about a potential national foray into TV with Annette and Matt, she said, “I should only live that long!”

The Detroit native has the history. “My mother was a fabulous cook, and my father cooked in the Army, long before it was popular to be a gourmand. We never ate leftovers. Gourmet food is in my genes.”

Here’s my chat with Char.

Jaffe: Was Matt as a young child interested in observing your cooking?

Char: He never put a foot in the kitchen.

Jaffe: What about Annette?

Char: She liked to follow me around and potchkie in the kitchen. Never thought it would be her real vocation at the time.

Jaffe: What’s the best thing Annette prepares?

Char: Annette is known for her hors d’oeuvres, fresh roasted salmon, and she makes a mean filet of beef.

Jaffe: What do you take the most pride in preparing?

Char: I haven’t cooked for myself in 30 years, but I like to make soups: lentil, split pea. In the old days we slipped hot dogs or salami in the mix, but no longer.