NEW YORK (Reuters) - Noah Bernamoff hopes “The Mile End Cookbook,” which he wrote with his wife Rae about their modern spin on the Jewish deli food he enjoyed during his childhood in Montreal, will inspire others to make the comfort dishes at home.
The couple opened the Mile End Delicatessen in the borough of Brooklyn in New York in January 2010. The restaurant offers updated deli staples such as matzo ball soups and smoked meat, also known as pastrami. They launched the Mile End Sandwich shop in Manhattan earlier this year.
The 30-year-old former law school student spoke to Reuters about making deli food at home and sandwich sizes, and shared his view about modern delis.
Q: What do you want to achieve with your book?
A: “I want them to understand the difficulty and uniqueness of making deli food from scratch. Delis have become a generic thing. Many delis have become the Disney World of delis. They have become the caricature of this former thing. What we and a few new guys around the scene are doing around the country is that we are saying this food is legitimate and it’s a unique North American treasury, just like what Italian-American cooking is and what Chinese-American cooking is. It has a life and tradition on its own.”
Q: What is your advice for making deli food at home?
A: “Ingredients are 50 percent of the battle in making delicious food. Smoking meats, pickling vegetables, they are accessible but you might not get it right the first time. It’s not like sautéing onions and this is the level I need my burner at. These are techniques and methods people rarely employ in their kitchen on a daily basis. My tip is just be patient.”
Q: What could someone expect at his first time at Mile End?
A: “Everything is clearly intentionally vetted ahead of time to make sure that it’s an unquestionably great dish. We want to put something on the menu that ought to be on there in the context that this is a Jewish deli, a Montreal-style restaurant. Ultimately we are in the business of serving really great food.”
Q: So it’s not about nostalgia?
A: “I don’t necessarily want people to have an Eastern European shtetl (small village) experience. I‘m not asking people to have nostalgia for the food. I don’t have a picture of Woody Allen on the wall. I don’t have a picture of the old country on the wall with an old Polish guy with a string of bagels.”
Q: What is the feedback from your customers?
A: “It’s really a mixed bag. Some people have a hot salami sandwich and say, ‘Wow I haven’t had a salami sandwich since I was a kid.’ Then, we have some other people who come in who say, ‘Wow, it’s pretty good but what the hell is it with these portions? It’s too small. I don’t understand it. You clearly don’t understand what a deli is supposed to be.’ They want these gigantic sandwiches. For me, it’s a selective memory thing. Sandwiches have not always been this big.”
Q: How did deli sandwiches become ‘super-sized’?
A: “It became a style of the 1950s and 1960s to stuff your face with food. That’s fine. I‘m not going to argue whether that’s good for the Jewish people. But the reality is that that’s not how we used to eat.”
Q: So it takes a brash Canadian to tell New Yorkers what’s good deli food?
A: “For all the people who we rub the wrong way, we also encourage a lot of people to think differently about the food. It comes with the territory, not everyone is going to love us ... Maybe at first, I was more pushy about that stuff, and really stuck my neck out and that’s brought us more attention. Maybe now, I’ve matured over time. I‘m a little less divisive. I just did what I wanted to do.”
Roast Beef (for 12 to 15 sandwiches or serves 6 to 8 as an entrée)
7-pound beef chuck-eye roast
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 500 degree Fahrenheit. Rub the beef all over with oil and sprinkle it very generously with salt and pepper. Place the beef in a roasting pan fitted with a rack and cook for 1 hour for rare.
If using a round eye, roast for only 30 minutes. Then, without opening the oven door, turn off the heat and let the roast continue to cook for another hour or so, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reads 120°F. Let cool for 1 hour. Slice as thinly as possible.
Note: Bernamoff uses a chuck-eye roll of wagyu beef, which is a cross of Angus and Japanese Kobe and has incredible marbling. He recommends making a pan gravy with the drippings, and serve the beef warm with a pickled horseradish, or serve it cold and sliced thin as a lunch meat.
Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Casciato