Chef Brett Swartzman is a chef with passion. The Chicago native started working in his parents’ Jewish bakery when he was 10 years old, making bagels, muffins, cookies, challah and sandwiches.
Chanukah was always a big celebration at his grandparents’ home. Coming from a big family, there was always a kids’ table, and because there were so many cousins, Swartzman sat there until he was 17 years old. But while his cousins were busy playing dreidel, he was in the kitchen, helping his grandmother fry latkes.
This year will be his first preparing Chanukah dinner for the Brentwood Country Club.
His experience goes far beyond what he learned from his bubbe. Swartzman went from prep cook to line cook at a Marriott hotel, but decided he needed more training and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. There he received an associate degree in culinary arts and an additional certification in baking and pastry arts.
Returning home to Chicago, Swartzman landed a job as sous chef at the Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest, Ill. His first executive chef job was at Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights, Ill., where he met his future wife, Sheila Wu, the pastry chef.
Upon moving to California, Swartzman continued his career at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach. Then this young, ambitious and accomplished chef with more than 15 years of food preparation, catering, banquets, à la carte and fine dining experience was offered the position of executive chef at the Brentwood Country Club.
More than 350 guests are expected on Dec. 9. for Swartzman’s first Chanukah event at the Brentwood. A special holiday menu will be served buffet style, with a special buffet table for the kids.
When asked what Chanukah celebrations were like when he was growing up in Chicago, Swartzman explained that the holiday always centered around food, especially the traditional dishes. His grandmother prepared foods fried in olive oil: potato latkes served with applesauce; zucchini latkes; kreplach; sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and beef brisket with tzimmes. But the family’s favorite was kishke, a dish he is still trying to perfect.
Everyone at the Brentwood loves his chopped liver. The secret ingredient is lots of chicken shmaltz, and he suggests using a meat grinder rather than a food processor for a coarser texture.
His family’s influence continues to live on in other ways. Swartzman’s mom is a pastry chef at Lake Forest Place, a retirement community in Lake Forest, Ill., and he still uses her recipes for mandelbread, coconut macaroons and rugelach.
CHEF BRETT SWARTZMAN’S
2012 CHANUKAH MENU
BRETT’S CHOPPED LIVER
1 pound fresh chicken livers
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 cup shmaltz
5 hard-boiled eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped
white onions, for garnish
1 or 2 hard-boiled
eggs, sieved, for garnish
Sauté livers in 1/4 cup shmaltz until cooked through. Caramelize the sliced onions in the remaining 1/4 cup shmaltz until golden brown. While livers and caramelized onions are still warm, place in food processer or meat grinder, add hard-boiled eggs, salt and peppers; pulse until thoroughly combined. Do not overmix. Chill. Serve with rye bread, chopped onions and sieved eggs.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
1 whole beef brisket
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups red wine
3 carrots, diced
3 onions, diced
8 ribs celery, diced
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Season the whole untrimmed brisket liberally with salt and pepper. Then, over high heat, sear the brisket in olive oil in a roasting pan until deep golden brown. Deglaze pan with red wine, then add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, undrained tomatoes, thyme, rosemary and enough chicken stock to come halfway up the sides of the brisket.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 3 hours. Turn brisket over, cover and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the brisket.
Check for doneness with a cooking fork — it should slide easily in and out of the brisket. If it feels like the brisket is holding onto the fork, it’s not done yet. Once done, remove brisket from braising liquid and let rest for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid and skim off the excess fat. This will be the gravy. After the brisket has rested, trim it of excess fat, then slice the brisket against the grain.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
BLACK LENTILS AND RICE WITH SHMALTZ AND ONIONS
1 cup cooked black beluga lentils
1 or 2 bay leaves
2 cups cooked white rice
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup shmaltz
Fresh chopped thyme
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Place the lentils in a small saucepan with 3 cups water. Add bay leaves. Simmer slowly until the lentils are just done, al dente, about 20 minutes.
Caramelize the onion in the shmaltz, cooking until deep golden-brown. Add chopped thyme; cooked lentils and cooked rice. Season with salt and pepper.
Can be made ahead of time and reheated in an ovenproof dish.
Makes 6 servings.
POTATO LATKES WITH GRANNY SMITH APPLESAUCE
2 potatoes, peeled, shredded,
rinsed and drained
1/2 medium onion, shredded
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
Shmaltz or oil for frying
Serve with Granny Smith Applesauce
Combine shredded potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, salt, pepper and flour; mix well. Heat shmaltz or oil in skillet. Drop potato mixture by large spoonsful into schmaltz; fry until golden brown on both sides; drain on paper towels. Can be made ahead of time and reheated in the oven on a cookie sheet. Serve with Granny Smith Applesauce.
Makes 18 to 20 latkes.
GRANNY SMITH APPLESAUCE
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled,
cored and diced
1 cup sugar
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 vanilla bean, split
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Combine all ingredients in a wide-based pot. Simmer over low heat until apples are falling apart and liquid is reduced, about 1 hour. Remove vanilla bean, transfer apple mixture to food processor, and blend until smooth. Refrigerate.
Makes 2 to 3 cups.
SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS)
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 F)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine,
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Place flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center; add eggs, yeast mixture, 1/4 cup sugar, margarine, nutmeg and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms. On a well-floured work surface, knead until dough is smooth, soft and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if necessary). Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch-round cutter or drinking glass, cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise 15 minutes.
In deep saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 cups oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 370 F. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 dough rounds into oil. Fry until golden, about 40 seconds. Turn doughnuts over; fry until golden on other side, another 40 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rounds to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Roll in sugar while warm. Repeat with remaining dough rounds, frying in oil and rolling in sugar.
Fit a pastry bag with a No. 4 tip and fill bag with jam. When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, make a small hole in the side of each doughnut with a wooden skewer or toothpick, fit the pastry tip into hole, and pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and jam.
Makes 14 to 16 doughnuts.