What was the tuba player doing inside of Jack’s Wife Freda?
On Tuesday night, a marching band passed through the restaurant’s Carmine Street location to celebrate the publication of Jack’s Wife Freda: Cooking From New York’s West Village. Actress Piper Perabo, a partner in the restaurant, was among those hobnobbing and swilling New York Sours. The recipe for that and other cocktails can be found in the book, whose cream-colored cover matches the bistro’s walls.
If you missed the festivities, worry not: this Saturday during a signing at McNally Jackson, Jack’s Wife Frieda will take over the bookstore’s cafe and pass around signature bites like its paprika egg salad, its grapefruit and yogurt cup, and its avocado toast with pickled carrots and tomato jam.
Aside from coughing up the recipes for these dishes, the book tells the story of owners Maya and Dean Jankelowitz, who based their menu on the Jewish cooking of their Ashkenazi and Sephardic grandparents; their experiences growing up in Israel and South Africa, respectively; and also their time as denizens of downtown New York, where they met while working front-of-house gigs at Balthazar.
When the couple, now married with two sons, decided to open a restaurant named after Dean’s grandmother (a consummate “balaboosta,” or ideal homemaker), they tapped Julia Jaksic, chef at Employees Only. In the words of the cookbook’s intro, she “took everything they loved and made it make sense.”
During a conversation yesterday, Jaksic confirmed that not everything made sense to her when she and the Jankelowitzes began collaborating on the menu, just a couple of weeks before the restaurant opened its original location in Soho. She recalled her confusion when Dean told her, “I want this dish that smells like Durban.” Only after some research did she discover Durban was a South African beachtown with a sizeable Indian population. The result: mussels with fennel coriander curry.
"But there is a sense of traveling home when eating at Jack’s Wife Freda, and it’s no mistake that the restaurants are named after Dean’s grandparents. Everyone has an origin story. Maya’s and Dean’s stories started some 6,000 miles apart and eventually converged in a love song to New York." From the Introduction to our @JacksWifeCookbook, where every one of our visitors and friends are part of this love song to New York and our own immigrant love story. Book introduction written by Sarah Tihanny @sveetee Photo by @mikeypozarik #LinkInBio to Preorder:) #deanswifemaya
Given that Dean’s grandmother appears in the restaurant’s logo, it’s not surprising that some of its dishes were inspired by her cooking, including her “amazing” matzo ball soup. But Jaksic says only one recipe came directly from the family: the tuna salad dressing was a “go-to” of Dean’s mom.
The bistro is perhaps best known for its peri peri chicken (inspired by the one Dean grew up eating at Nando’s in South Africa), but Jaksic said it’s the hot sauce recipe that customers have always clamored for. Ironically, it was born from a misunderstanding of sorts: When the Jankelowitzes asked her to come up with a green sauce, it didn’t occur to her that they were probably talking about an Israeli-style one rather than the Mexican-inspired combination of cilantro, chiles and garlic that she ended up creating.
The popular shakshuka (inspired by the one Maya’s Buba would make for her in Israel) also got a Mexican twist, with a tomatillo-based sauce inspired by the Latin cooks Jaksic has worked with in New York.
These days, Jaksic makes her home in Nashville– she moved there a little over a year ago with the idea of opening a restaurant of her own. (She’s also been bouncing around opening new locations of Employees Only in Singapore and Miami.) Writing the cookbook’s recipes there made it easier for her to appreciate the challenges non-New Yorkers might face in scoring ingredients like Lebanese yogurt and watercress. “I think as New Yorkers we think you can get that at the Met [supermarket],” she laughed.