Cuisine, wine star at Sonoma Sukkot fest

In celebration of the fall harvest season, a Jewish camp in Sonoma is preparing for a crowd of festive food-tasters to descend upon its grounds.

To enjoy Sukkot, the festival of the harvest, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations is hosting a soaking of the senses with food, wine and study at Camp Newman, its new camp facility in Santa Rosa.

The overnight camp for adults, which costs $450, will take place from Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 8 to 11. Since the camp contains a maximum of 500 spaces, reservations are limited.

The event, called "Sukot in Sonoma," will be flavored by visits from notable Bay Area chefs Flo Braker, Joyce Goldstein and Marlene Sorosky.

Braker, a Palo Alto food writer and baking columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, will concoct quick-baking sweets that can be prepared swiftly before Shabbat.

Sorosky will feature recipes from her new cookbook "Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays." On her plate for the cooking demonstration will be salmon gefilte fish with pear salad and warm brownie pudding.

Savoring her upcoming appearance, Sorosky, who lives in Danville, said, "I'm looking forward to meeting new people and sharing cooking ideas. It is a new experience and I hope to learn a lot."

Goldstein, whose most recent cookbook is titled "Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen," will prepare sautéed tomato with fresh grape vinaigrette, caramelized figs with lemon peel and a risotto.

"I wanted to do things with produce because Sukkot is a harvest festival, so I stayed with all vegetables," said Goldstein, a San Francisco restaurant consultant who was chef-owner of the city's Square One.

"I think it's a good way to teach about Jewish food that is not just Ashkenazic," she added. "I think that is important."

The UAHC camp is specially suited for a throng of hungry guests since it used to be a cooking training facility for merchant marines.

When Rabbi Larry Raphael, director of UAHC's department of adult Jewish growth in New York, heard of the camp's facilities, he "did some brainstorming with the camp director. Since it is in Sonoma, we thought it would be nice to do something based around food and wine."

Sukkot seemed to fit perfectly for the occasion. In addition to offering a cornucopia of foods, the camp will feature "the tradition of welcoming people in the sukkah and decorating the sukkah," he said.

Raphael is anticipating a "totally sensory experience. There is food [to eat] and food for the mind. This is really a unique, all-encompassing learning experience."

The camp will also feature talks by several other members of the Bay Area Jewish community.

Professors Fred Astren of San Francisco State University and Reuven Firestone of Hebrew Union College will speak about the historical significance of food in Judaism.

Rabbis Richard Block of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, George Gittleman of Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa and Judy Shanks of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette will discuss the spiritual aspects of blessings over food and lead study on the meaning of Sukkot.

Santa Rosa glass artists Michelle and David Plachte-Zuieback will demonstrate how to make kitchenware. Storyteller Marilyn Price, coming from Evanston, Ill., will entertain at mealtime.

Ernie Weir, owner of the kosher Hagafen Cellars winery in Napa, will host a tasting of five or six of his finest wines. Weir said he is "looking forward to the whole energy. This celebration is an evolving portion to Jewish culture."