I shared an hour on the phone with Moshe Aelyon last Friday afternoon and hung up with a deep hankering for Turkish cuisine. I had planned to spend the afternoon with him, chatting in his handsome kitchen while he prepared a distinctly Turkish, kosher style, Sabbath dinner for his regular, weekly client.
But our plans were blown away by yet another Nor’Easter in CT and I didn’t taste these deeply flavored dishes until this week. When I did, I was so busy kvelling (gushing), that maybe it was better that the tasting and interview had been forcibly separated by a weather event.
Moshe is an event planner, interior designer, cook, and most recently, creator of Dinner with Friends by Room Temp.
I wanted to know more.
Kosher Like Me: What is the concept behind Dinner with Friends by Room Temp?
Moshe Aelyon: Dinner with Friends is a service I offer to prepare delicious food and coordinate a meal in one of our selected venues. Venues might be a client’s home or my place, a garden or nursery, a wine shop or garage. I am open! My concept is both an attitude and a description of the food. Serving dishes at room temperature allows the host to serve family style so she can relax and be a part of the fun.
KLM: What are you preparing for your client’s Sabbath dinner, today?
MA: The dinner tonite is very Turkish. The leek meatballs first require careful cleaning of the leeks, and then a lot of chopping. My maternal grandmother used to make these and when guests oooh’ed and aaah’ed over them, she would remind them of how much loving prep they required by exclaiming, “You have to have golden teeth to eat these!”
KLM: How did your Turkish and Jewish upbringing influence the foods you cook?
MA: My first understanding of celebration came from the weekly preparations for our Friday night dinners. My two grandmothers (two “Queen” Esthers) and my Armenian step-mother began preparing on Wednesdays and cooked straight through until they served it after my father recited prayers on Friday night.
The Sabbath dinners of my childhood were a little like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. There were often over 20 dishes on the table. Our immediate family numbered 14 and we always had guests. I would nap in advance of our late dinner and was soothed by the fragrance of borekas wafting into my grandmother’s bedroom where I slept. So my most distinct food memories are tied to celebrating as we ushered in the Sabbath and enjoying it all over again as leftovers for lunch the next day.
KLM: Who were your greatest influences in the kitchen?
MA: My Turkish/Armenian step-mother, Iren, joined the family when I was five and she was the best non-professional cook I ever met. She was deeply influenced by French and Turkish cuisines. Her flavors were bolder and unfussy, though, more like fabulous street food.
KLM: What role did your father play in your family’s food story?
MA: My father, Yusuf, was a textile merchant in Istanbul and he worked near the food markets. He was a foodie to his core, willing to travel an hour to the edge of the city for the best charcuterie. He knew how to focus on the best ingredients and they didn’t need to be highbrow.
He had clout in the markets because he did the food shopping for three women: his mother, mother-in-law and his own wife. He was sous chef to his powerful Armenian wife and “producer” of the our Friday night Shabbat dinners!
KLM: How would you describe Turkish cuisine?
MA: Turkey has four seasons and the menus reflect seasonal crops and local ingredients. Turkish cuisine is quite refined and often simple, allowing fresh ingredients to shine. It is a melange of French, Ottoman, Mediterranean, Aegean and Middle Eastern cultures.
KLM: What about outside influences impact your cooking?
MA: When I discovered Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurants in London, it was as if all of my food preferences and styles had been fully articulated by this brilliant chef. His vegetarian book, Plenty, is a great resource. Jerusalem, co-authored with Israeli Arab business partner, Sami Tamimi, is an inspiration. They explore their families’ food cultures, having both grown up in Jerusalem. His focus is on ingredients and community sharing. That resonates deeply for me and I carry that through in my own cooking and entertaining style.
KLM: What was the most challenging event you have been asked to produce or cater?
MA: I’ve produced a lot of store opening celebrations. It is really challenging to plate sizzling wontons for 300 people from an eight foot table wedged into a dressing room!
KLM: With Passover approaching, what is your favorite holiday dish?
MA: I love my Mom’s traditional nut cake, lightened with lots of whipped egg whites and mixed with walnuts. NOBODY makes it like my Mom, KOKO!
I also love these leek meatballs which are easily adapted for the holiday by using matzah meal to bind them along with the eggs.
Note: Moshe has been helping his clients celebrate their major moments by planning events, designing interiors, entertaining and cooking for more than 17 years. His work has been featured in many magazines including Westport Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Brides and House Beautiful.
Moshe Aelyon may be contacted at: Room Temp by Moshe or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Enjoy Moshe’s flavor jammed Leek Meatball recipe. Consider adding it to your Passover Menu!