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Tantalising kitchens around the world and giving back at the same time

By Chandrea Serebro

When a group of ladies get together in the kitchen to share recipes and create new ones, the end result is either chaos or culinary heaven. Considering every Jewish woman’s reluctance to share her bubbie’s matzah ball recipe, I would imagine it’s more likely the former than the latter. But, when the four ladies of Tantalize with Salads recipe book fame got together each week in the shul kitchen to delight their community at the brocha of the Linksfield shul, what ensued was magic. Enough to make the simcha of countless Barmis and Battis, as well as to help those who couldn’t afford to put on a big simcha wow with the menu. Enough for a sick man to request their cucumber soup as an uplifting taste experience, for people to return to shul week after week with the promise of the brocha to come. Enough, even, for the community to rally behind them and support them in their endeavour to go public, to put all of this magic into order for the layman with their very own recipe book.

“Food is a passion for all of us, and we all love creating and tasting in our own way,” they say – Gia Raz, Nadine de Koker, Shardi Mathews, and Fran Ungar – “and in the kitchen together, we literally made masterpieces.” Busy lives, children, jobs – but, in the kitchen, stealing away from it all whenever they could to meet, they tweaked their recipes, turned old favourites into new stars, and realised the potential to share their energy and joy for doing what they love. And while it was no easy task to fit it in, they tackled the project head on, with Fran cracking the whip to get them together and get the project going. They played with ingredients and spices, vegetables and seeds, agreeing on some and differing on others – “adding our very own unique geshmak” – but from the get go, each and every one of these ladies was certain of one thing, each for their own personal reasons: whatever proceeds, if there indeed were any, would go to charities of their choosing.

“This project was a labour of love, and because we were indulging in our passion, we thought that it might be a struggle to sell,” explains Shardi. “Not in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine that it would turn out to be what it became.” And after selling out every last copy, over 4000 books and two reprints later, there is not a bone in any of these ladies that regrets this decision. “When I lost my mom, I was young and I was broken, and I always knew that the only way that I could do anything more for her was acts of chesed in her name. It gave me meaning to be able to turn what I love, what I am good at, into an act of purity to honour my mother. So I decided to do this recipe book in my mother’s name,” says Gia.

For each of them, receiving the overwhelmingly positive feedback was inspiring, realising how far around the world their recipes had gone when they received word that it was seen in Kenya, sold as fundraisers in Australia, and at almost every home in South Africa. But the moment of reckoning came when they tallied the numbers for their last donation to the charities, each one chosen for the way they change the lives of others – the Linksfield Senderwood Hebrew Congregation, Hatzollah, Yad Aharon, Selwyn Segal, Durban Jewish Society Kosher Meals on Wheels, and the Malka Ella Fertility Fund. They realised that through their determination, hard work, love and imagination, R733 984 had been raised.

For Fran, the surprise at the fact that now they too were changing lives, through the undeniable success of their book and their donating everything to charity, impacted her life in a way that only came into focus in what she calls her “light bulb moment”. “When Yad Aharon told us that through the monies donated from Tantalize they had paid for the chicken for every recipient’s Rosh Hashanah meals – and knowing the cost of kosher meat, that really brought home to me the impact that we were having.” “This was an amazing experience for us, a singular moment in time, a tick off the old bucket list. The experience from start to finish has been exceptional,” says Shardi. For Nadine, the time in the kitchen making fast friends with the same ladies who recognised their shared passion and “welcomed me into the kitchen the very first Shabbos I spent at the Shul” became her “relaxation”, bringing “peace and togetherness to her life”.

The Recipe Book is a treat, with salads to rock your table, featuring the standard potato salad recipe with a twist to make it mod to more complex greens. But it is also a visual delight, which the ladies attribute to their partner and photographer Jason Crouse, whose work, done with the same altruistic energy and verve, spotlights the joy and taste that can come out of healthy eating, making the greens come alive and burst from the page. One of the key features of this book is that every recipe is tried and tested, and, of course, the ladies pay homage to the Linksfield community, who tasted their creations at their shul brochas and their functions, their “biggest fans” who supported them throughout the endeavour and whose kitchen was home to the magic. “There were many life lessons to come out of this journey, mostly good, but some were bad too, but mostly what we realised was that together we can change lives.”

And their advice to budding cooks, which, like all things from the kitchen, can be taken out into everyday life, is to never be afraid to try. “Don’t be intimidated, play with ingredients and tastes, and if it doesn’t work, try again. Cooking kosher doesn’t have to be a limitation, especially when you have got your imagination. Use it, and above all – enjoy the journey.”

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