Chef Spencer Horovitz (Photo/StarChefs) is the man behind the new San Francisco pop-up Hadeem, which serves such dishes as cold smoked yellowtail with labneh and za'atar (Photo/Angelina Hong)
Chef Spencer Horovitz (Photo/StarChefs) is the man behind the new San Francisco pop-up Hadeem, which serves such dishes as cold smoked yellowtail with labneh and za'atar (Photo/Angelina Hong)

Cheddar scallion babka? Tomatillo zhug? One chef’s California twist on Jewish food

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Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Chef Spencer Horovitz has been busy making a name for himself by cooking at some of the Bay Area’s buzziest restaurants, but he first caught my eye last fall on Instagram.

“Everything in my life is babka,” his post read. “This cheddar scallion loaf is babka. I see babka on the train. The floor is babka. I wake up in the middle of the night to kiss my girlfriend. She is babka.”

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that Horovitz’s babka is Proust’s madeleine.

“There’s something about the nostalgia of it,” he told me. “The technique is relatively simple, and it’s just delicious. It can be made savory or sweet. It’s also one of those words that just sounds like what it is. It’s onomatopoetic. It’s a fun word to say.”

Horovitz, who lives in San Francisco, has created a “California-Jewish” food concept called Hadeem that will unfold as pop-ups on four dates between May 17 and July 18 at wine bars across the city. After years spent cooking California cuisine, he felt it was time to both take pride in and explore his love of Jewish food.

Culinarily speaking, he said, “I was feeling a little lost. I was at a point where I wanted to do something new.”

Hadeem means “echoes” in Hebrew, and he believes it encapsulates his concept, which is rooted in the Jewish food he grew up eating but with his own spin.

“An echo is a small part of something that bounces back at you from another location,” he said.

 

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Growing up in Los Angeles, Horovitz came from an ethnically mixed family and had Jewish friends who came from diverse backgrounds too.

His mother is Lithuanian Jewish and Greek, his father is Russian and Polish Jewish and his stepmother is Romanian — so there were many influences on the food in his family growing up.

“I had Jewish friends who were Persian, Moroccan and Israeli,” he said. “I ate so many different types of food at their houses and began to envy my friends who were first and second generation, as they had such strong ties to their own cuisines.”

Food played an oversized role in his family, too. Horovitz, who is 33, said he’s non-practicing today but grew up Reform and still travels to spend Passover with his family.

His paternal grandfather worked for Hebrew National in the ’60s and ’70s and owned a deli in South Miami. When he visited, he would often show up at the door with large quantities of matzah ball soup or a fresh loaf of rye.

“Food was his love language. He’d spend every last dime on a meal if it meant he could bring his family together, and that’s a huge undercurrent in everything I do,” he said.

His mother was the kind of talented home cook who never uses a recipe, and he has early memories of his father taking him to farmers markets way before they were fashionable, teaching him how delicious a seasonal tomato can be with nothing but a sprinkling of salt.

Horovitz graduated from the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona and took courses at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in Napa.

It’s not my place to re-create a memory of your grandmother’s kreplach or the zhug you ate in Israel. I would never try to replicate that memory.

While he has cooked at such notable restaurants as Yountville’s Redd Bistro, San Francisco’s The Progress and Oakland’s Snail Bar, he said, “I didn’t have that deep connection to the food I was making.”

When a herniated disk and complications due to years of kitchen work forced him to slow down and reflect, the Jewish diasporic concept began to take shape.

Yet as Horovitz explained his concept further, it was clear that elaborating on what Hadeem is not means as much to him as explaining what it is, in order to set appropriate expectations.

“My dishes aren’t direct interpretations of anything,” he said. “It’s not my place to re-create a memory of your grandmother’s kreplach or the zhug you ate in Israel. I would never try to replicate that memory. It’s important that I don’t.”

His preliminary menu has crudo of raw yellowtail, cold-smoked and served with labneh and za’atar. He makes babka of many flavors, including nutella-tahini and barbecued pork versions, but a favorite is one with Chinese five-spice powder. At the pop-up, it will be served with dulce de leche ice cream.

An egg noodle kugel will be made with the non-traditional ingredients of crème fraiche, Comté, which is an aged French cheese, and black truffles. Dolmas will have chili crisp inside. Hummus will be made from black sesame seeds. Lamb kibbeh will be served with tomatillo zhug.

Hadeem will pop up at four one-day events open to the public in May, June and July in San Francisco, with ticketed events to follow. And then? He’s open to whatever opportunities might present themselves.

Hadeem’s first pop-up is set for 5 to 10 p.m. May 17 at Buddy, 3115 22nd St. in San Francisco’s Mission District. See future dates and sites here.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."