Why An Italian Restaurant In Texas Celebrates Passover

Food & Drink

Adam Orman and Fiore Tedesco are a couple of friends who, despite hailing from very different Northeast upbringings, found common ground in their love for family, traditions, music and food.

Tedesco’s fascination with food began rolling meatballs with his Italian grandmother in her kitchen at age three, moving up to making fresh cheeses and sausages at his uncle’s deli in upstate New York. The time spent in his family’s kitchens provided as much inspiration and backdrop to his career as anything else. He trained under the tutelage of Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern, Carlo Mirachi at Roberta’s, and Aaron Franklin at Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas. His traveling restaurant, The Brooklyn Laundry, debuted in 2007 and was featured in W magazine and the New York Daily News.

Orman grew up in a traditional Jewish family in Pennsylvania. His restaurant career began as a server in 1998 at the Cafe at Rockefeller Center where he learned the basics of serving and clearing. While in New York, he served at An American Place and then began his managing career at Savoy. Under these legendary owners, he learned the impact of local sourcing, sustainability and how a restaurant could be part of the community and not just a place to eat.

Both moved to Austin for separate reasons, but soon collaborated to start a series of music-themed pop-ups, eventually opening their own place, L’Oca d’Oro, in 2016. From opening day, L’Oca distinguished itself as a trendsetter. An Italian neighborhood restaurant that does not compromise, starting with sourcing ingredients and cooking methods. Tedesco’s team makes the sourdough focaccia, the mozzarella and scamorza, the Coppa and N’duja. The pastas are made from heirloom grains from Barton Springs Mill. Behind the bar, Orman’s team make amari, bitters, vermouth, anisette, and green pecan nocino.

Tedesco and Orman believe in providing equitable compensation and benefits for staff, a memorable experience and enriching their community. They led the Austin restaurant scene in social advancement by paying over the federal minimum wage through a 20% service charge which pooled for the whole kitchen and floor staff. They provide and advocate for paid sick leave and access to health care for restaurant workers, and have become stalwarts in helping and building community. Weaved into the restaurant’s culture is the non-profit Tedesco and Orman co-founded, Good Work Austin, which provides resources and support to Austin small businesses to make a better workspace for their employees.

Seven years ago, as part of their dedication and commitment to build community for everyone, they started hosting community Seders for Passover. “We have Seders at our home on one of the first two nights with our kids and friends and brisket and parsley and salt water,” says Orman. “But we also have two Seders in the middle of the holiday at L’Oca d’Oro because the Savoy and its owner, Peter Hoffman, showed me that restaurants can be nourishing, provocative community builders. That is what we strive for. That Savoy Seder was ultimately transformational, leading me on a path to explore what more can a Seder do besides bring a family together to mark time. This is still an important part of Passover for me.”

Growing up, Orman’s holidays were spent at home, with his parents and sister. But, Passover, as he remembers, was about the whole family.

“We would go into Philadelphia to my grandparents’ place. They would set up extra tables for my aunt and uncle and cousins. Gobby (as far as I know, the only grandmom who’s ever had that honorific) made the whole meal and all the symbolic foods that went along with it. The charoset was the traditional Ashkenazi blend of out-of-season apples, walnuts and Manischewitz, a mixture that meant to represent mortar and, like the other foods, remind Jews of when we were slaves in Egypt, but is really a crunchy, spiced apple sauce. The Gefilte fish came out of Manischewitz jars, but my Pop Pop would soup it up by warming the jelly with extra carrots.”

There was a long path from this Seder to the one that they hold annually at L’Oca.

“Fiore loves family and food traditions as much as I do. We had Seders in San Francisco with friends from the restaurant world. The ‘no family, just friends’ Seders from your twenties are a rootless affair of too many clashing traditions. Foodie Passovers are similarly unmoored. While I think riffs on classic dishes are a fun way to honor the different places that Jews come from, there are expectations around Passover, like turkey on Thanksgiving, that must also be honored,” says Orman.

Tedesco, an Italian brought up loosely Catholic, has worked alongside Orman to craft and perfect the menu, which usually consists of pastrami-style brisket, matzoh ball soup with lots of fresh herbs, tzimmes parfait, rosemary-olive oil matzoh or flatbread, and an undeniably delicious flourless caramel-pecan-sea salt matzoh.

The style of L’Oca’s seder has become more conversational and participatory. They invite clergy from local synagogues to co-host, and are open to all faiths. “We want folks to leave with the strength to not just remember when we were slaves but to fight the other injustices that we’ve talked about during the Seder,” says Orman. “For me, dinner is no longer the point of the Seder but a necessary part of keeping our community whole.”

Sweet Potato Tzimmes & Earl Gray Meringue w/ Spiced Pecans

by Fiore Tedesco III, chef/co-owner L’Oca d’Oro

Tzimmes is a traditional Ashkenazi dish. It rides the line of sweet and savory. In trying to find a voice in the dish for our first Passover celebration at L’Oca d’Oro, one that welcomes all backgrounds and faiths, I decided on a version that was reminiscent of sweet potato & marshmallow Thanksgiving dish. The version of the dish is sweet because it’s traditionally a Rosh Hashanah dish when you eat sweet foods to bring in a sweet New Year. We felt like changing the profile for a more complex holiday makes culinary and theological sense. The dish looks most fun, or I dare say impressive, when plated in a wide glass jar, celebrating the appetizing and quasi 1950’s effect of a layered casserole.

.75 lbs fresh carrots, large diced

1.5 lbs large sweet potato

1 cup dried apricots, diced

1 cup spiced pecans

50g golden raisins

2 tbsp honey

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground coriander

1 Tbsp salt

1 ea orange zest

1 tsp fresh thyme

½ cup orange juice

½ cup olive oil

1 Tbsp pink peppercorns

Rub sweet potatoes whole, with skin on, with a touch of olive oil and salt and roast at 325 for about 1 hour, until very tender.

In a small pot add the orange juice, cinnamon, coriander, salt, honey, orange zest, thyme and olive oil. Bring to a simmer. Poach the carrots until just tender, about 7 minutes. Add raisins and apricots. Let cool together, covered, for 20 min.

Remove skin from sweet potato. Mash a bit and then mix the still warm carrot/orange mix into the sweet potato mash. Fold together until fully incorporated, adding in the pink peppercorns.

In the bottom of a glass jar (at least 4” opening is ideal here), place 1⁄3 of the carrot/sweet potato mixture, snip the piping bag to about a 1⁄2-inch opening and pipe in 1⁄3 of the meringue then top with about half of the spiced pecans. Repeat another layer of each in the same order, then place your last round of carrot mix in and pipe your meringue all around the top of the mix.

Bruleé the top of the meringue with a torch until just a bit golden. Top with the last few pecans and serve right away, or as soon as possible, so the meringue does not deflate.

Earl Grey Meringue

1 Tbsp (about 3 bags), Earl Grey Tea

3 large egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

Whisk egg whites until they begin to form small air bubbles. Add sugar and whisk vigorously until you have stiff glossy peaks. Grind the tea to fine in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Fold the tea into meringue. Place it all into a piping bag or a large ziploc bag.

Spiced Pecans

1 cup pecans

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

¼ tsp chile flakes

1 tsp ground coriander

.5 tsp cumin

.5 tsp black pepper

.5 tsp fresh thyme

.5 tsp fresh rosemary

1.5 tsp sea salt

1 qt neutral oil, for frying

Combine sugar and water, add pecans. Let boil in simple syrup for 30 minutes. Combine all spices, blend on high in the spice blender. Strain from syrup, fry at 375*F until bubbling ceases. Toss immediately in salt & spice mixture.

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