Itta Werdiger. Photography: Matthew Septimus
Itta Werdiger. Photography: Matthew Septimus

The Kitchen is Like an Old Friend

Itta honors both her mother and her paternal grandmother's cooking in her own kosher cooking style, like with these Schmaltzy vegetables

Who are we?

Itta Werdiger
Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1982. Itta is a professional kosher “Farm to Table” chef. A member of an Orthodox-Hassidic family, Itta spent a lot of her childhood in the kitchen. “Every day after school we would come home starving and stand around the kitchen counter, eating sliced vine ripened tomatoes and Australian cheddar cheese on kosher Israeli crackers, and just hang out. It was our own version of a bar” she says. In 2006 she moved to the US, opened a restaurant and a supper club. “As a new single mother, I enjoy reconnecting with my family,” she says.

And her daughters:

Born in New York in 2008, Yalta is a 7th grade student at a Jewish school in Brooklyn. Yalta is a big fan of her mother’s cooking- as long as the different foods are placed on her plate separately and at maximum distance from each other. According to her mother, Itta, Yalta is a talented baker thanks to her patience and precision, and bakes an amazing challah for Shabbat (“the first thing I taught my daughters how to bake was challah,” says Itta. “If I had a son, he too would learn how to bake challah, it is an essential part of who we are”).

Freda Belle
Born in New York in 2010, Freda Belle is a 5th grade student at a Jewish school in Brooklyn. The most sassy of the girls, according to her mother, Freda Belle is the scrambled egg champion and thus is in charge of preparing them, according to her mother’s recipe. As the daughter of an Australian mother, Freda Belle also loves to eat a sandwich with the vegemite her grandmother sends from Melbourne every few months. “it’s the only place that carries the kosher version,” Itta explains.

Born in New York in 2014, Rashi is a 2nd grade student at the same school as her older sisters. Rashi loves to climb trees and cut vegetables. She never passes on the salads her mother prepares, like the Israeli chopped salad. Itta: “but if I season the salad with black pepper, I get into trouble.”

Born in New York in 2016, Olive attends kindergarten in a Jewish school.
She was given her special name by her parents, who are very fond of olives. “For me it is a spiritual fruit,” says Itta. “The olive is one of the seven species, and even back in ancient times it was used for making the oil used to light the temple Menorah.” According to her mother, Olive is her best eating buddy. “We enjoy eating from the same plate, and Olive will always eat what I eat. Being the adventurous eater that she is, she especially enjoys smoked fish and sardines.”

Where was the photo taken?

“When we first moved here, we renovated the kitchen and made it kosher- adding additional sink so that there is now a sink for dairy and a sink for meat,” says Itta. “Yes, Kosher kitchens are two kitchens in one. You need double of almost everything and that makes space tight but I love my kitchen, it’s full of warmth and it’s been a constant part of my life. During very difficult times in my marriage the relationship I have with my kitchen kept me going. My kitchen is like an old friend (or mother) that is always there for me in some capacity.”
When the weather is nice and the mosquitoes are not too bad, Itta and the girls prefer to eat on one of the two porches in their 110-year-old house situated in the Victorian Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Our family kitchen 

“Even today, after adapting Judaism to my lifestyle, kosher is my truth and what makes me feel part of the Jewish people,” says Itta. As someone who used to attend Kapores, the traditional village ceremony on the eve of Yom Kippur every year, Itta saw how factory farmed chickens were kept and handled and has since been very particular to use eggs that come from pasture-raised hens. “I even became one of those moms who sneaks vegetables into Mac and Cheese – but please don’t tell my kids!”

The House Special: Schmaltzy Vegetables

Itta honors both her mother and her paternal grandmother’s cooking in her own cooking style. “It’s the food I grew up with and many of us have a special connection to the food of our childhood – especially if it’s damn good like mine was,” says Itta. “My grandmother is skilled at traditional Ashkenazi Jewish food, she grew up using a lot of schmaltz (chicken fat),” says Itta. “In contrast, my mother cooks with a lot of fresh vegetables and herbs. And me? I combine all of the above, as in this dish. For me, vegetables are the star of this dish, but, as is the case in any family who gathers every evening to eat together, each member enjoys food a little differently: you can eat the sausage, and I will eat the schmaltzy vegetables underneath.”

Get the recipe for Schmaltzy Vegetables here

*שמנו לב שחסרים כמה פרטים קטנים להשלמת הפרופיל שלך ב־FOODISH, אפשר להוסיף אותם בקלות בעמוד המשתמש שלך.