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New Jewish cooking club: the best family dinner on campus

Bubbie’s Bakery uses grandmothers’ recipes and traditional Jewish cuisine to feed students.

When the five founders of Bubbie’s Bakery, Kenyon’s new Jewish cooking club, told their families about the project, their own “bubbies” — which means “grandmothers” in Yiddish — quickly got involved. Talia Light Rake ’20 received her grandmother’s entire cookbook as an email attachment, and Tracey Thompson’s ’20 mother sent her an audio recording of Thompson’s grandmother reciting, by heart, a recipe for chicken noodle soup (which called for “a big handful” of carrots).

But the founders did not expect an equally enthusiastic reaction from the Kenyon community. When they sent an email inviting students to the club’s first free, home-cooked meal, 40 students reserved seats. Yesterday evening, the Rothenberg Hillel House filled with those guests — and with the smell of food the founders had spent all afternoon preparing.

“Much more than we bargained for,” Suzy Goldberg ’19 said.

Goldberg, Light Rake, Thompson, Franny Alani ’19 and Ari Tooch ’19 founded the group in an attempt to strengthen Kenyon’s Jewish community, but also to connect with their own Jewish heritage. All five of them attended Jewish summer camps, and after spending summers immersed in their culture, they said the transition to Kenyon was rough.

“I noticed the Hillel was kind of dead here, and that there wasn’t a lot going on,” Tooch said.

Bubbie’s Bakery will focus on family recipes and popular Jewish cuisine, the founders said. They cited Friday Café, a weekly pop-up restaurant held in the Parish House, as an inspiration for their event. But in many ways, the first Bubbie’s Bakery more closely resembled a family dinner. It was free of charge, and as the first arrivals trickled in, they joined the cooks in the kitchen to help put the last batch of pita bread in the oven. By 6:30 p.m., the Rothenberg Hillel House had filled with diners.

“Welcome to Bubbie’s Bakery! Opening night! Yay!” Light Rake announced.

The first menu featured popular Israeli cuisine, including chicken shawarma, Israeli salad, pita, jeweled rice and apple cake. Tooch said the group drove to a Kroger in Columbus with a kosher meat section to buy meat for the meal; Tooch keeps kosher, although the other founders do not.

The guests served themselves buffet-style and sat together at a long dining table. Ben Reingold ’20, who sat at the table with a group of friends, said he came because Jewish food reminds him of home. He thinks many Jewish college students connect to their heritage through food.

Several items on the menu were close to the cooks’ hearts: The jeweled rice is a staple in Alani’s family, and the recipe for the dessert, an apple cake, came from Light Rake’s grandmother.

Non-Jewish diners, like Nina Samaan ’20, appreciated the meal as well.

“It’s really good,” Samaan said. “It’s like a home-cooked meal.”

The five students working in the Rothenberg Hillel House kitchen on Wednesday looked like they were cooking in their own home. Light Rake cleaned dishes, and Goldberg pulled an aluminum tray of apple cake from the oven, while Thompson wiped the counters. Throughout the meal, they stayed in the kitchen, cleaning and refilling bowls of food. Israeli rapper EZ played on someone’s phone.

The founders are still deciding how often they want to host the meals and whether they want to charge money in the future; Hillel provided the funds for the first event.

They do know that next time, they want to make Thompson’s grandmother’s matzo ball soup.

Frances Saux

Frances Saux is Arts Editor of the Collegian.