Chef does right by mom, and patrons Menu: Chic Florida spot's cook has skipped his last Passover seder. Thanks to family insistence, it's become an event at the restaurant.

April 16, 1997|By Warren Schultz | Warren Schultz,UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE

The neon sculpture, glass block, distressed walls and open kitchen at Chef Allen's in Aventura, Fla., are a tip-off to the type of meal you can expect there. The restaurant is known for its innovative New World cuisine -- a fusion of regional seafood, Caribbean fruits and vegetables and Latino spices.

But for one spring night every year at Chef Allen's, New World meets Old Testament.

That evening, owner Allen Susser, a Brooklyn-born, French-trained chef, serves up a Passover seder meal.

So what's a 3,000-year-old Jewish ceremony -- one traditionally celebrated at home -- doing in a chic, contemporary place like this?

"I admit the idea first met with some resistance from me," Susser says. "I didn't think we could do such an ethnic thing in a public restaurant."

But, well, his mother insisted.

It began seven years ago, after Susser told his family he couldn't leave the restaurant for Passover. "They asked if they could bring Passover to me." Susser grudgingly acquiesced, with the proviso that they sit quietly in the corner.

The next year, Chef Allen's offered a seder meal to all. "But I decided to update the tradition, and have some fun with it. If I were to serve my grandmother's menu, the carrots and onions and all that, it wouldn't represent me or the restaurant."

While there are certain prescribed elements to the meal, Susser insists that it isn't as restrictive as most people think. There must be matzo, of course, the unleavened bread that symbolizes the Israelites' hurried departure from Egypt. But instead of serving matzo balls laden with chicken fat, he finishes his seder soup with matzo pasta. His gefilte fish uses red snapper instead of traditional whitefish, and is enlivened with Scotch bonnet peppers.

While the meal reaffirms the symbolic power of food, Susser doesn't present this seder as a strictly religious event. "People who aren't Jewish come and enjoy it because it's an adventuresome meal," he says. "It's fresh. It's healthy. And it incorporates the foods of the season."

His customers love it; every year, the restaurant is sold out well in advance. It's enough to make a mother proud.

Some of the recipes in this menu are adapted from Allen Susser's "New World Cuisine & Cookery" (Doubleday, 1995).

Red snapper gefilte fish with lime horseradish

Makes 8 servings

2 medium carrots, peeled

1 pound red snapper fillets, cut into large chunks

1 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon minced Scotch bonnet chile

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

6 tablespoons matzo meal

1/2 cup ice water

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 quarts fish stock (recipe below)

1/2 cup grated fresh or drained prepared horseradish

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

Use a channel knife to cut 5 long channels, equally spaced, down the length of 1 carrot. Cut into 1/4 -inch-thick slices, creating carrot "daisies." Set aside.

Coarsely chop remaining carrot and place in a food processor with the snapper, onion, parsley, cilantro, chile and ginger. Pulse until fish is ground. Place mixture in a large bowl. Add eggs, matzo meal and ice water and mix well. Mix in salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place fish stock in a wide pot and bring to a slow simmer.

Meanwhile, wetting your hands often, shape the fish mixture into 16 mounded ovals, using about 1/4 cup of the mixture for each.

Place the carrot daisies in the stock and gently drop in the fish ovals. Simmer slowly until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let gefilte fish cool in the stock. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Shortly before serving, place horseradish in a small bowl. Stir in lime juice, lime zest and remaining 1 teaspoon sugar. Spoon the jellied fish stock over a platter and arrange the cold gefilte fish on top. Garnish with carrot daisies. Serve, passing horseradish separately.

Per serving: 13 calories, 3 g fat, 14 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 1,990 mg sodium, 74 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber

Asparagus, shiitake and tomato soup with matzo pasta

Makes about 7 cups, for 8 first-course servings

MATZO PASTA

3/4 cup matzo meal

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons olive oil

SOUP

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cups sliced shiitake mushroom caps

1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 1/2 cups defatted reduced-sodium chicken broth, homemade (see recipe below) or canned

1/2 cup water

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

To make pasta:

In a food processor, combine matzo meal, salt and pepper. In a glass measuring cup, combine eggs and oil.

With the processor on, gradually add egg mixture through the feed tube. Process until dough forms a ball, then process for 1 minute to knead. Transfer dough to a work surface.

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