When it felt like the world was ending in March of 2020, Jamie Lauren and Jessica Mei Gershen did what any Jewish woman might do in a health crisis: Made matzoh ball soup. Whether you call it Jewish Penicillin or liquid gold, the comforting deli staple is the undeniable star of the menu at the pair’s Los Angeles pop-up, 2 Jewish Girls From NYC.
Lauren, a chef and former contestant on Top Chef, officially started the project with Mei Gershen, her fiancé and business partner, in January of 2021. The origins of the duo’s matzoh endeavor began with a friendly wager “in the before times” as Mei Gershen put it. “We were joking around like, ‘Oh, I bet my matzoh ball soup is better than yours, chef.’ We were going to have a matzoh ball soup cook-off, but we ended up just hosting a holiday party where I made the matzoh ball soup for everybody. And it was a giant hit.”
No surprise there. The soup is a master class in Jewish home cooking. Rich in organic chicken, golden stock and root vegetables, the recipe is inspired by her grandmother and father’s original dish. “I always made matzoh ball soup based on a family recipe of mine,” said Mei Gershen. “I would make it for my daughter. I would make it for friends who got sick.” Lauren’s “chefy” twist on the family favorite has hit the spot, garnering the pop-up much love from hungry Angelenos seeking comfort in difficult times.
The duo attribute much of their soup’s mouthwatering flavor to fresh, organic ingredients that help it stand apart from standard delis. “I think ours is so special because we have this beautiful matzoh ball, which is like super fluffy and not dense at all. But then we’ve got the organic chicken and the huge chunks of parsnips and carrots and all the herbs,” said Lauren. “I think it sets us apart from all of those places. We just put all the time and care into it.”
Matzoh ball soup is not the only classic deli item to grace the menu. The two also make their very own Guinness mustard, hot sauce and, of course, what Jewish food pop-up would be complete without homemade pickles?
Lauren and Mei Gershen’s version departs from the classic half-sours in that they come with the addition of Scotch Bonnet peppers (now habaneros) for a zingy kick. The peppers come from the pair’s very own backyard garden. “We started with the Scotch Bonnets because we were growing them and our plant had a ton of Scotch Bonnets on it and I needed a place to use them,” explained Lauren.
All products are canned, prepared and sold out of the pair’s home in Mount Washington, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles. “It’s out of the kitchen in our home right now. Eventually we’re hoping to get into a commercial space and scale the whole thing and make it a lot more legit and larger,” said Lauren. Back in winter, the two were making as many as 60 jars of the soup from home. “We’re lucky we have a second refrigerator, so we learned how to make it work, but our storage space is taken over by jars,” she laughed.
As far as the future for 2 Jewish Girls From NYC, Lauren has a greater vision for the pop-up, one that’s bigger than her home kitchen. “I don’t necessarily want it to be a restaurant. I think for me, I’d love to see us be able to ship nationwide. You know, our soup to New York, Chicago and Florida and all these places where people have asked for it,” she said. “I would love to get our soup into grocery stores and same with the condiments.”
In the meantime, L.A. eaters can enjoy matzoh ball soup, pickles and other deli offerings during 2 Jewish Girls From NYC’s next drop, scheduled for June 19th. Their products can also be found at Sara’s Market, Kitchen Mouse LA and Wine + Eggs Shop, upon availability.
Want to cook up some Jewish delicacies in your own home? Try “Jew-ish” by Jake Cohen!
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