This precollege culinary course is a cultural exploration through food

Liz Alpern
Photo/Ty Ueda

Liz Alpern

Liz Alpern first came to Genesis in 2000 when she was 15, as a participant in the precollege program for high schoolers with an interest in exploring Jewish thought, culture and identity. She met people from different types of Jewish backgrounds and learned about different ways to celebrate Jewish traditions.

"It was like an entire new world opened up for me," she said.

More than a decade later, she's helping others have that same kind of experience. Alpern is the co-instructor of Culinary Art and Anthropology. Over two weeks in July, Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz lead precollege students in cultural exploration through food.

"We learn about the world through the lens of food," she said. "We have a classroom environment, but we reinforce everything we learn in the classroom, in the kitchen."

Along with teaching the course together, Alpern and Yoskowitz are co-founders of The Gefilteria, a culinary venture with the mission of reimagining old-world Jewish foods. The company started in 2012 as a line of artisanal gefilte fish available online and in stores. Alpern and Yoskowitz also travel the globe hosting pop-up dining experiences, teaching workshops, and the duo published a cookbook, “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods,” in 2016.

Alpern had stayed involved with Genesis over the years, coming back to Brandeis for a two summers to do administrative work for the program. Years later, she was having dinner with Ellen Alt, a longtime Brandeis pre-college faculty member, when the idea for the course popped into her head.

"It occurred to me, maybe Genesis should have a culinary class," she said.

To create a framework for the course, Alpern and Yoskowitz started with questions. What makes Jewish food Jewish? What is the role of food in Jewish culture and identity? What is happening in Jewish food now? How do we envision the future of Jewish food?

Participants in the course learn about food through a combination of research into how recipes have developed over time, examining their own family recipes, visiting chefs and urban farms, and of course, cooking.

"The foods we cook each really tell a different story," Alpern said. "Our hope is that participants learn to see food as something more impactful and significant than just something that sustains us physically. When they move on in their lives hopefully not only do they cook more, but they look at their meals differently."

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Student Life

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