TWO STORIES. ONE CHALLAH.

Each year, Domenica celebrates the birth of a new year and new life during the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. One of the more important food traditions associated with this holiday is Challah, a soft, delicious loaf of bread that is shared with the whole table. We asked Chef Lisa White, our pastry chef at Domenica and also the creator of the Domenica Challah, and Chef Alon Shaya, Executive Chef of Domenica Restaurant and Co-Owner of PIZZA domenica for their perspectives on this special braided bread.

Challah by Chef Lisa White

When I was nine, my Mom married a Jewish man from Long Island, New York. We were from California, and yes, the Valley... all I can say is “like” Long Island was “totally” different.

The adventure into a new land and new family was exciting, scary, loud and fun. Prior to moving to New York we were a very, very small family with a working Mom that celebrated the big three holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. My mom had made the deliberate decision to make holidays for her girls about magic & believing, which I truly treasure to this day. I mean I remember seeing bunny footprints through the house. Pure magic.

Our new life in New York brought holidays of remembrance and holidays that centered around the family table. Some of my fondest memories of my youth in New York were the times spent at this new family table… it meant we were going to dinner at Uncle Irwin & Aunt Rochelles house.  If we were going to Uncle Irwin & Aunt Rochelles house that meant the whole family was getting together grandparents, cousins, family friends... everyone. Easily over 25 people. It was a party!

Often times the food was new and strange to a 10-year-old California kid. You are not going to tell me that Gefilte Fish out of that Manischewitz glass jar with its jellied broth is not a strange new food to a kid that ate tacos and carrots out of her back yard.  I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like anything though. I still to this day remember Aunt Diane’s corn pudding which was for a specific holiday that I can no longer remember, but I remember that pudding. If I remember correctly it was Grandpa Joe that gave me a bite of my first NYC Knish with mustard of course. Everything was just new.

Often times I remember sitting and watching to see what my new cool older cousins ate in order to learn how to navigate this new family table. There was always one thing that was familiar: bread. Although the bread had a new name, it was soft and sweet and comforting and way better than Branola (the “bread” my mom made us eat with our school lunches).

This new bread was called Challah. It makes me smile now thinking of it.  When everything else was just too new or different, I would take a bite of that bread that I never seemed to pronounce correctly, and feel at home.

Chef Lisa can be reached at lwhite@chefjohnbesh.com.

Challah by Chef Alon Shaya

Challah has played an important role in my life. One of my first food memories is devouring a bowl of matzoh ball soup with a generous hunk of challah at the kitchen table. It has grown to mean much to me over the years. 

I was born in Israel, and moved to Pennsylvania at a young age. As a Jewish family, we upheld our traditions and held Shabbat dinner every Friday night. And every Friday night, there was challah. I looked forward to the beautiful display of glowing candles, china and platters of amazing food reserved for Shabbat. My mother, grandmother, and aunt spent all day preparing the food for dinner. If I was well behaved, they let me help cook the meal. No Shabbat dinner was complete without a loaf of fresh challah. I remember my grandfather stealing me from the work in the kitchen to go with him to his favorite bakery and help pick out the challah we would enjoy that night. He was adamant that theirs was the best. But everyone had an opinion on the matter; and this would often become a heated topic of conversation during Shabbat dinner. Before we lifted our forks to eat, we recited the Ha-Motzi blessing over the challah. We performed this prayer not only on Shabbat, but also at almost every other religious ceremony that my family observed.

I grew a respect for this holy bread. I admire the connection between spirituality and the sharing of a meal that the tradition of eating challah represents. I still feel a tie to a force more powerful than just a dedicated baker every time I tear into a loaf.

I always look forward to Rosh Hashanah for the round challah specifically baked for the holiday. Rather than the typical braided challah, the round challah baked for Rosh Hashana symbolizes the cycle of life and the New Year. I am proud to serve challah at Domenica during this holiday. Chef Lisa White is baking challah that would make any Jewish Grandmother jealous! We are serving it with local Tupelo honey, candied walnuts, and my grandmother’s recipe for Lutenitsa: a Bulgarian spread of roasted eggplant, tomato, and pepper. I hope you will come partake in one of my favorite dining traditions —even if you are just on the prowl for some delicious bread!

Chef Alon can be reached at ashaya@chefjohnbesh.com.

For reservations at Domenica, please visit www.domenicarestaurant.com or call 504.648.6020.