Deemed "New York's best kept culinary secret," Deena Chanowitz doesn't believe in serving her guests predictable crudite boards featuring cheese and crackers and carrot sticks. Born in Israel to Orthodox parents with very little money, Chanowitz is the oldest of 11 children. Her early attempts at cooking consisted of creating Bat Mitzvah fare using local ingredients from the souks of Jerusalem.
Years later, her imaginative approach to cooking remains rooted in the philosophy of her childhood: preparing beautiful, bountiful spreads using local ingredients and lots of imagination. She recently popped by the Domino offices and whipped up three high vibrational hippie crudite boards in deep, luscious colors—truly the perfect hors d'oeuvre platter for an outdoor summer garden party or wedding. Here she shares her secrets behind creating psychedelically delicious food that will make your guests go gaga.
On her culinary roots: "My dad was a rabbi and we were always celebrating something and I was the designated chef. I had the freedom to cook whatever I wanted. Because we had so little money, we had very little utensils and serving platters, so I had to get creative with display. Instead of bowls, I would use a hollowed out head of cabbage. Instead of trays, I would put down a bunch of kale on the table and arrange the food on top of it. I would steam fruits and cut up vegetables and make dips out of whatever was available: nuts and herbs and carrots. I would sweeten them with apricots. Everything was always delicious."
On becoming a healing-focused chef: "In my early 20s, I managed a restaurant, and was also working as a private chef and caterer. I also went back to college, and I fell in love with organic chemistry and started applying the principles of science to food. I was fascinated by how food changes molecularly when you cook it. I studied how food interacts with other ingredients, and eastern approaches to food versus western approaches. In Chinese philosophy, the cure to acid reflux is to add more acid to the body. I started to think of food as medicine with healing properties, and it changed my whole approach to catering.”
On spirituality and cooking: "Throughout my studies, I got a closer connection to a higher power. I started realizing how much there is in the world that we don't know—like why is the sky blue when we're looking at it from the earth? How does light reflect? I became aware of how tiny we all are in the endless universe, and what a privilege it is to be on this planet.
I became aware of the responsibility it was to cook for other people, and I started to pray before I cooked. I would ask the universe the bless the food with goodness and positivity, and pray that I became a channel for healing so that I could infuse the food with love."
On cooking for the fashion world: "A couple years ago, I started catering a lot of fashion parties. I think the fashion industry was getting tired of standard hors d’ouevres, and people were interested in exploring new kinds of food inspired by sustainability and creativity. I have worked with Warby Parker, Ace & Jig, Scosha, Stone Fox Bride, and more.
I did an event with Aveeno to launch a new skin care line where the main ingredients were lemon and soy, so everything I made had lemon and soy in it, including these beautiful little lemon souffles I served in the rind of a lemon. Scosha is a jeweler and wanted me to create boards of food inspired by the jewelry she was debuting: rubies and emeralds and diamonds. Lots of bright blush colors, lots of shimmer and decadence. I created crostini with ricotta and braised figs, pink roast beef of bellinis with micro greens, and tarts with rhubarb and sherries, adorned with goji berries."
On creating a hippie charcuterie board for a summer wedding: "I love working with violet and indigo colored foods. Violet is the highest energy color we can see. It means passion and excitement and radiates a warm summer vibration. It's the color that bends the most, scatters the most, and has the most flexibility. It reminds of the sky and feeling expansive, full of adventure, and love. It's a great color to work with for summer weddings, since it's so rich and vibrant.
To get started making your own, I recommend a trip to your local farmers market. Pick up all indigo and violet colored produce—think blueberry, radicchio, blue and purple potatoes, and beets. Adorn the bottom of the board with purple kale leaves. Then use your intuition and start color blocking your ingredients.
Place piles of steamed cut blue potatoes next to handfuls of blueberries and fresh cherries. Add tomatoes and cut open blood oranges. Create a vibrant purple dip out of steamed beets mixed with horseradish, creme fraiche, lime zest, herbs, and salt and pepper. Sprinkle with dried orchid petals. To balance out all the blue and purple, add pops of gold and yellow. On the color wheel, it helps to equalize all the purple. I like to add peppers, peppino lemon, dehydrated yellow beet chips."
On surprising your guests: "Scientifically, we actually eat with our eyes, and so taking the time to prep beautiful, aesthetically stunning color blocked boards is a great gift for your guests. When they see these beautiful displays of bright, abundant fruits and vegetables, they will already love it before they even take a bite. Everything tastes better when it looks beautiful. Plus, it's really fun for them to be surprised by the new bursts of flavor in every bite."