The art of living: Moosewood author, local chef spice up JFCS fundraiser

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Odds are that somewhere in your cookbook collection sits a dog-eared, tomato sauce-stained copy of “The Moosewood Cookbook.”

If so, Mollie Katzen, author of the Moosewood series, gets the credit. The famed Jewish food guru has long been an esteemed figure among cookbook writers and foodies.

The same goes for Michael Wild, the Jewish chef who founded the Oakland eatery BayWolf in 1975.

Both chefs will be the main course at The Art of Living 2008, a fundraiser for Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay.

The Oct. 19 event at the Oakland Museum of California will also feature a silent auction. Among the items are the right to name a character in Ayelet Waldman’s next novel, a behind-the-scenes tour of Pixar Animation Studios and a week’s stay in a Paris apartment. Katzen and Wild will share the stage and talk about — what else? — food.

“Hopefully,” says JFCS Executive Director Avi Rose, “they will talk about their approach to food, about their Jewish backgrounds and journeys, and how that shaped the choices they made in their lives.”

Katzen, who is friends with Wild, looks forward to the conversation, as well as helping an important Bay Area Jewish agency.

“We are going to mutually interview each other,” she says. “Our emphasis will likely be our Jewish upbringings and how that influenced our food.”

Katzen, who grew up in an observant home in Rochester, N.Y., says her kosher background did influence her philosophy of food.

“It made me aware at an early age that food needed to be respected,” Katzen adds, “and where the food came from was worth thinking about. Kashrut led me to understand that we needed to be conscious about it.”

Born in Paris in 1940, Wild spent his first years with his parents on the run from the Nazis. At age 10 he came to America, eventually settling in Los Angeles. He recalls his mother’s European attitudes impacting his early culinary sense.

“My mother had this bias against sandwiches,” Wild remembers. “She thought it was something you ate if you had the misfortune of being stranded in a train station.”

Wild later relocated to the Bay Area, where he — along with chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse — pioneered a high-end cuisine characterized by fresh, locally grown ingredients.

Wild says he is pleased to help out JFCS.

“I’m very supportive of organizations that serve needy communities, especially Jewish ones,” he says. “I have been in the position of being helped by such organizations. I myself am an immigrant, so it’s a privilege to help.”

Rose is glad to have the two helping out. He worries that the current economic crisis will impact agencies like his, so he hopes this event headlined by two superstars of the kitchen will prove a draw.

“This is a hard time for a fundraiser,” Rose says. “It’s exactly in these times that people need our services most, but people are understandably anxious about spending money. We’re putting out the plea to step forward now more than ever to be with us for this work we do in the community.”

Rose sheepishly admits that he is also a fan of the two celebrity chefs.

“I’m almost embarrassed to bring my ‘Moosewood Cookbook’ for [Katzen] to sign,” he says. “It has so much food on it.”

The Art of Living 2008 takes place 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland. Information: (510) 704-7480 or www.jfcs-eastbay.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.