Neither Rick Pushinsky nor his father, Steven Morris, are chefs. Pushinsky is a professional photographer with 10 years experience doing editorial shoots for the likes of The Sunday Times Style, Vogue and the FT. His father is an optician. But that didn’t stop them from putting together a series of 21 recipe cards – a three-course meal for every day of the week – inspired by the family’s Ashkenazi heritage, adapted dishes from dining in foreign restaurants, and Morris’ “60 years of making a mess in the kitchen”.
Pushinsky’s bright and playful photography pairs up with his fathers’ recipes and stories, and he’s also added in relevant family photographs. A flaming crêpe falls before a bright yellow backdrop to accompany a recipe for Crêpes Suzette, for example; a sliver of sea bass draped delicately over a towering structure of fennel represents, well, Sea Bass on Fennel. The more artistic representations are the ones that stand out, and they were also the most tricky to set up.
“They were a lot more time-consuming than I expected them to be,” Pushinsky says. “As with lots of things, you approach something with a visual idea but when you come in contact with the physical objects they don’t do what you imagined them to do. This is especially true with food because there’s so often a time limit.
“There’s a tension between the time limit and trying to come up with an engaging idea that doesn’t contradict the recipe and still relates to the story,” he adds. “There ended up being quite a few hidden things supporting structures and a few tricks. It was obviously different to an editorial shoot where there’s always a vaguely set outcome that you’re aiming toward. With this I had to experiment and start from scratch again and again until something worked.
“My parents didn’t like most of them!” he laughs. “But that’s just the loving conflict you get in families.”
And ultimately this is a family document – a touching, educational insight that warms the heart as much as the tummy. The collection feels a lot more personal than your average cookbook, and includes individual takes on classics such as Helen’s Onion Soup and Gillian’s Lokshen Kugel.
“The things you ate are such a big part of your childhood,” says Pushinsky. “I left home when I was 18, 22 years ago, and hadn’t really made any of this stuff. In writing the recipes down and working on them with my parents, I’ve ended up cooking them and they taste just same as they did when I was growing up.”
The title Just Not Kosher feels like a family in-joke; it’s perfectly true but slightly deceptive, because each dish in the collection can be made Kosher-friendly with slight tweaks. But the sheer variety of dishes on offer attempts to speak of the average experience of a modern Jewish family.
“I suppose we wanted to reflect the ‘real’ Jewish experience,” Pushinsky explains. “The majority of Jewish people don’t eat Kosher, and eat in all sorts of places, so I guess it’s just a reference to the culture we actually live in. There’s an interplay between Eastern and central European Jewish traditions in cooking, and just living in England in the 21st Century.”
And while he readily admits that “no one needs these recipes exactly”, Pushinsky has been pleasantly surprised at how well Just Not Kosher has been received. The project has already made it into the FT Weekend Magazine, and both father and son have been invited to talk at the annual Jewish Book Week in London next March.
“It’s going to be an ‘in conversation’ with a food critic,” says Pushinsky. “It will be really interesting because like… Dad’s not a chef. This is just what he does.”