Jodie and Jeff Morgan are co-owners of Covenant Winery, which moved its operation from Napa to West Berkeley in the spring of 2014. “The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table” features more than 100 mouth-watering kosher recipes and detailed suggested wine pairings, including for some of Covenant’s own kosher pours. A launch party for the book takes place at the winery on Sixth Street on Sunday (see details below). We spoke with Jeff about the inspiration for the book, and also why he thinks Jewish dining is having its moment in the spotlight.
Congratulations on your first Covenant cookbook. What was your journey both to this book and to the opening of your West Berkeley winery last year?
When we started making kosher wine (almost on a dare) a little more than a decade ago, Jodie and I were not particularly connected to our Jewish roots. With time, and while working with more observant Jewish winemakers in the cellar and throughout the world, we discovered a Jewish community that appealed to us and our sense of belonging. The book chronicles the evolution of our longstanding wine country perspective on daily dining and how we’ve integrated it into a Jewish lifestyle.
Our move to Berkeley was inspired by our desire to live closer to a larger Jewish community than the one that exists in Napa and Sonoma. Plus, I think after more than 25 years in the wine country, we were ready to come back to the city with all its hustle and bustle. It’s great to be able to make our wines in our new urban winery!
What motivated you to write this book?
I’m an educator as well as a winemaker and author. I felt the Jewish community needed a book that integrated wine with daily dining and provided advice on the various wine styles; plus how to pair wine with food. Many of our recipes might not be perceived as “traditionally” Jewish. But they incorporate a broad range of flavors that reflect our travels throughout the world. I hope the dishes in our book will answer a call for new culinary excitement and diversity that can be found at the reach of anyone with a desire to eat and drink well.
For those who keep (or would like to keep) a kosher home, the book can act as a basic primer on both kosher food and kosher wine. For those who don’t keep kosher, the book still offers a lot of advice (along with recipes) for bringing a wine country lifestyle to your table, wherever that might be.
You are accomplished home-cooks and entertainers. What’s the inspiration for the recipes and wine pairings included in the book?
Well, as far as entertaining goes, I can tell you that putting on a dinner party is a lot easier than playing the saxophone in Monte Carlo (my previous career). But a great meal should unfold just like any great performance. The book, the wine pairings and the recipes are set up to reflect this unfolding — with lighter foods and wines at the beginning to whet the palate and more full-bodied dishes and wines later on.
How does kosher wine and Covenant fit in to the wine scene here in Northern California?
Covenant is a boutique winery — just like any other small winery in Northern California. We try to make the best wines we can using artisanal methods that you’ll find at many other similarly styled wineries. We just happen to make sure that all our wines are kosher, too. But there is no “kosher method” for making wine. We use native yeast in all our fermentations, and many of our wines are unfiltered. The kosher aspect is important to us and anyone who wants to drink fine kosher wine. But it is not particularly relevant to anyone else looking for something good to drink! Our wines should appeal to everyone.
We understand you have been involved in writing other cookbooks ?
I am actually a mercenary cookbook author, with eight books now under my belt. The first was “Dean & Deluca, The Food and Wine Cookbook” (Chronicle Books, 2001); then “The Working Parents Cookbook,” co-authored with my wife, Jodie (Chronicle Books); “The PlumpJack Cookbook; Domaine Chandon Cookbook;” “Ruby Tuesday, Simply Fresh; Rosé, a Guide to the World’s most Versatile Wine” (also a cookbook); and another called “Celebration.” I also recently co-wrote the new Tommy Bahama cookbook.
The Covenant Kitchen is our first cookbook with a Jewish theme, and also designed with a kosher kitchen in mind.
You write in the book that we are in the midst of a renaissance in Jewish dining. What evidence do you see for that?
I eat out a lot. And in areas where there are higher concentrations of kosher restaurants than the Bay Area — like New York, L.A., Chicago, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv — kosher chefs are expanding their repertoire in a similar fashion to many non-kosher chefs. It’s now easy to find outstanding and inspiring kosher meals in many parts of the world.
In addition, both kosher restaurateurs and consumers are plugged in to such concepts as “farm-to-table” and artisanal food production just the way many other Americans are today. Of course Jewish cooking doesn’t have to be kosher. It’s no accident that Perbacco, the great Italian restaurant in San Francisco, offers a stunning — though not kosher — Passover-inspired menu every year created by chef Joyce Goldstein. People everywhere are waking up to the joys of fresh produce, home cooking and star chefs in a way that should excite anyone with a sense of culinary adventure. Jewish cooking is very much a part of this new wave.
Any favorite recipes in the book?
With Passover coming up soon, I am particularly fond of our Gefilte Quenelles (salmon dumplings) and our Fish Soup with Matzo Balls and Aioli. It’s time to embrace these variations on an old theme with a great bottle of wine, family and good friends.
The release party for “The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table” takes place at Covenant Winery on Sunday March 1, 3-5 p.m, 1102 Sixth Street, Berkeley, 94710. Jeff and Jody are offering wine and special snacks from the book. Admission is free.
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