#53 | Jack's Wife Freda
Jack's Wife Freda
Cooking From New York's West Village
By Maya & Dean Jankelowitz
Recipes By Julia Jaksic
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
M. Jankelowitz: My name is Maya Jankelowitz and myself and my husband are the owners of Jack's Wife Freda the restaurant and we just came out with a new cookbook and we're super excited to talk about it today with Suzy.
Suzy Chase: Food is an expression of familial love is one of the oldest and most universal concepts. Who are Jack and Freda?
M. Jankelowitz: I love that introduction it's funny to hear somebody read it. It's something so personal. It's kind of a crazy thought that it's all out there. But anyway Jack and Freda were my husband Dean's grandparents and we named the restaurant in their honor. And I think that Jack and Freda just represented, just that: They represented that feeling of home and warmth and comfort and hospitality, entertaining and fun, just all those memories and all those good words and we just thought it would be a fun idea to have that fun spin on their names.
Suzy Chase: First off, I have to say this cookbook is stunning. It evokes ...
M. Jankelowitz: Thank you.
Suzy Chase: ... the feeling of your darling cafes. Give us a little overview of the look and vibe of your cafes and the community.
M. Jankelowitz: So, as far as the look and the vibe, I think we really went for that Parisian café look. I think the warmth of the lighting was a big win for us. Having [inaudible 00:01:41] some cozy corners to sit at was a big win for us. We designed everything ourselves pretty quickly as we were working at other jobs, when we were putting the first restaurant together. The energy in the room is, maybe it comes a little bit by the way it looks, but it really comes from the people that are there, whether it is the staff or the customers that come in.
Suzy Chase: Your and your husband Dean's story started 6,000 miles apart in South Africa and Israel and converged at Balthazar in Soho New York City. What's more romantic than that?
M. Jankelowitz: When I met Dean, he sort of said something like that to me. Like he thinks that we met thousands of years ago in the desert. So we did have a great connection and we worked in restaurants from the first day we met. So we always had that in common. And we always shared the same passion and curiosity just about how the restaurants, especially in the city, how they work and just love being part of them. Our relationships with restaurants and with the city, with all the struggles and all the romance, it was just ... if you have stamina and you stick in ... the city finally started to listen at some point. Just not giving up and believing and dreaming and finally it all worked out and came together and it's still a little bit of a miracle.
Suzy Chase: I love this part in the book where you wrote, "There was always this distant thought I was going to have to go back home, but the energy of downtown New York City made me feel something new, made me want to commit and stay. It was the first time I had felt like my life was becoming my own. It felt like a miracle."
M. Jankelowitz: I love that. I love the parts that you're picking out. Yeah. I mean, I got surrounded by people who, sort of late teenage years, early twenties, you know everyone is just seeking who is it that they are and what they want to do with their life. So I was surrounded by a group of people who were in the same boat. And I didn't come with the intention to stay in the city. I came with a ticket for three months, as did Dean. And something about the city made me feel like I was meant to stay here and do my own thing here, and break whatever pattern I came from and start our own belief system. And that's a great feeling. And I think everyone has to go through it, some version. And that was our story.
Suzy Chase: I think everyone does that when they move to New York City. They say, Okay I'm just going to do a year. And then you look up and it's 10 years.
M. Jankelowitz: Totally. Totally. Everyone I know here. And then sometimes you run into people that you haven't seen for many years and you're just so happy that they're still here, they're still surviving.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
M. Jankelowitz: This crazy place. It's so nice to know somebody else is still here.
Suzy Chase: They did it.
M. Jankelowitz: Because a lot of people do leave. But then when people are still around it's just as good as a feeling.
Suzy Chase: So one of the things I wanted to talk to you about is Jewish comfort food. What exactly is that?
M. Jankelowitz: You know there's the Ashkenaz and the Sephardi parts of traditionally cooked Jewish food. And Ashkenaz being the juice that came from Eastern Europe and Sephardi coming from Northern Africa or Yemen and that area, that's more of the Middle East. And totally two different cuisines. What I love about growing up in Israel, that you got to get the best of those two worlds. And I am half/half. My dad was Ashkenaz and my mom was Sephardi, so totally two different cuisines. Cuisines were day and night different, but for me, anything they made was comfort food.
I think it's becoming more and more popular in New York City, if maybe a little bit of the Middle Eastern cuisine, as far as the chopped salad and the hummus and the stuff that's more on the healthier side. I think the Jews, being in the diaspora for most of the time, they just took from everywhere. So I think Jewish food can come from any place in the world, really and we just all brought it up. Everyone was raised wherever it is their parents were from, because no one was really from the same place.
Suzy Chase: I adore your peri-peri chicken that you have at the café and I had it the other night.
M. Jankelowitz: Oh good. Yeah, it's Dean's favorite.
Suzy Chase: I'm thrilled it's included in the cookbook. Describe this dish. And where did the recipe originate?
M. Jankelowitz: So, peri peri is a chile that originated from Mozambique. And Dean, my husband, grew up in South Africa and I think Muslim people are under Portuguese colonies so ... just all that Portuguese cuisine as well as whatever they were cooking around there, just trickled down to the border into South Africa. So he grew up with all those flavors and has really strong memories from this place called Mandos, which is totally a take-out chicken place. But they were huge peri peri believers and there was peri peri on everything, so we knew that we had to do that and find our own version of it.
And it's just we do a half chicken, but it's spatchcock, so it's blackened. And it just has the peri-peri rub on it. Dean has it five nights a week. It's just really good and moist and we take the thigh bones out so I think it's the best chicken we ever had.
Suzy Chase: It's the best chicken I've ever had.
M. Jankelowitz: It is good, right?
Suzy Chase: Yes, it's so good. I would have it five nights a week. If I could.
M. Jankelowitz: You can try that. Maybe one week.
Suzy Chase: Tell us about your chef, Julia.
M. Jankelowitz: So, Julia is our consultant chef. We couldn't have opened the restaurant without her. And I think it was really like a month in before we opened our first location at Lafayette and we didn't have a chef and we had a list of everything we knew that we wanted to have on the menu but we couldn't find a chef. We met a bunch of people and found that most chefs are a little ego driven and it's hard to find somebody as ... when we met Julia, it was just so easy. She just could make anything we wanted. She did it better than we could have dreamed of and there was no ego involved. No, she just executed everything we dreamed about and she understood us. She listened, I think. And it's something we appreciate so much that we were able to put our dream menu with the dishes that mean so much to us together, thanks to her.
Suzy Chase: It seems to me that this cookbook was written for the home cook. Are all of these recipes on the menu at Jack's Wife Freda?
M. Jankelowitz: Not all of them. Some of them are special, so they have guest appearances every couple of months and some of them are just old-time favorites that we miss and wanted to bring back. But you know, Julia did a lot of testing in her home kitchen in her little studio apartment in Soho. And she lives now in Nashville, so I know she was doing a lot of recipe testing there. So we really wanted to make sure all of the recipes were that easy to make at home.
And a lot of people do come to Jack's Wife Freda and they say Oh, I can make this at home. It's so easy. And I don't know if they mean it for good or for bad, but it is really the point. It's the point. Like there are a lot of restaurants that you go and you get dishes and menus that you cannot make at home, are a little more complicated and creative, but the point of Jack's Wife Freda is to just feel like you're at home, an extension of your living room. And just having that ability to have something that simple with that much convenience, that you don't have to really make it, but we'll make it for you and you can feel grateful that you're sitting down and eating.
Suzy Chase: We had kids at the same elementary school. Now, how ...
M. Jankelowitz: I know. That's cool.
Suzy Chase: I love it. How do you juggle motherhood and the cafes and still look incredible?
M. Jankelowitz: I think I get my hair done before I know somebody's going to take my picture. I don't always have a good hair day. I'm also human. And I don't know, I'm really trying to figure it out. It's hard. It's like no one prepares you, or, you know when you're pregnant? You just have, for us, I have the ambition to do more. We were working long hours in restaurants, so 3, 4 in the morning the first time I got pregnant. And we knew then that we had to make a lifestyle change and we couldn't stay on our feet until 3, 4 in the morning every day anymore, and kind of have to grow up. And you just go with it. For us, I mean some people are maybe a lot more planned out, like a lot of people I know, but for us it was really a matter of one day at a time and doing our best and working our hardest.
And I think when you're present in the moment and making the right decision for the moment, then one thing leads to the next, even if it takes a while. And there have been really hard years. In opening the first restaurant was, I have lost, I think it should be in the book, but there's lots of memories of crying. And it is that hard. A lot of people ask their moms those questions, and their answers are usually superheroish, but it's hard. And it gets easier. Some days are easy and there are miracles. Some days are hard, so I think it's just being open to you know, anything can happen and you just have to do your best. And you want the best for your kids and that's the most important thing before anything. And it's hard. It's hard. You don't want to make mistakes your parents have made. It's a lot I'm still working on.
Suzy Chase: You're the only person I know that can wear denim overalls and still look so stylish. And Intermix called you the unofficial queen of denim overalls. That's huge.
M. Jankelowitz: You did your homework.
Suzy Chase: I did.
M. Jankelowitz: That was really nice of them.
Suzy Chase: The other night for dinner, I made your green shakshuka from page 63.
M. Jankelowitz: Amazing. You should send me a picture.
Suzy Chase: It's on Instagram.
M. Jankelowitz: Did it come out green?
Suzy Chase: It did come out green.
M. Jankelowitz: Oh cool. I'm going to find you again. Okay.
Suzy Chase: It's gorgeous. And I'd never cooked with tomatillos before. They were always kind of intimidating, but they were so easy to cook with. It kind of reminded me of salsa verde.
M. Jankelowitz: I agree. Totally. Yesterday we did a video. Julia and myself at the restaurant and we made a shakshuka for InStyle and it's exactly what you were talking about. The shakshuka is a traditional Middle Eastern baked eggs dish and it's traditionally made in red tomatoes and we've really wanted to revise and have a twist on that classic. And I think the green tomatillos were just genius. And she was talking about how it was such a normal thing in all her years of cooking in New York City kitchens. It's just that Latinoism, it's in all the Mexican dishes, pretty freely all over, and it works out beautifully I think.
Suzy Chase: It's so fresh.
M. Jankelowitz: Yes, it's very fresh. That's the word.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you in New York City and on the web?
M. Jankelowitz: Jacks Wife Freda, we have two locations for our restaurant. One is in the West Village at 50 Carmine Street, which is just the most charming neighborhood in the world. I always feel like it's a little Woody Allen moment walking on those streets. And our first location is in Soho at 224 Lafayette Street. It's also the heart of that whole thing, Soho, which is awesome. And we have our website JackswifeFreda.com and some pictures and information there. And the cookbook that just came out of course, where the whole story is there.
Suzy Chase: With this cookbook, you can bring South African, Israeli, Jewish, grandmother cuisine into your own kitchen. Thank you Dean's wife, Maya, for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
M. Jankelowitz: Aww, thank you so much. That was great. I can't wait to see you in the neighborhood. Cute.