Joan, Thanksgiving, and the Jews of France

Award-winning author coming to UMD for talk on French cooking

By Joanna McQuillan Weeks
A Slice of Life

November 14, 2012 10:25 AM

Like any enthusiastic cook, Joan Nathan is already planning her Thanksgiving menu.

But before the holiday rolls around, the award-winning cookbook author and food journalist will be making an appearance at UMass Dartmouth.

At the invitation of Professor Mel B. Yoken, Nathan will be guest speaker at an event sponsored by UMD's Boivin Center of French Language and Culture. Her talk and demonstration, titled "My Gastronomic French Journey," is set for 7:45 p.m. Monday (November 19) in the second floor of the Dining Commons on the North Dartmouth campus.

The most recent of Nathan's 10 cookbooks is "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." Published by Alfred A. Knopf, it was named one of the 10 best cookbooks of 2010 by NPR, Food and Wine, and Bon Appétit magazines.

Nathan earned a master's degree in French literature from the University of Michigan as well as a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University.

"This was an important book for me," Nathan said in a phone call from the West Coast, "because it was through France ... that I came to like cooking," when she traveled there at age 15 to visit relatives.

Nathan's books aren't just compendiums of recipes; they are rich explorations of history and culture that have earned her the prestigious James Beard Award and the Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award. And "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous" is in the same mold.

"This was a great journey for me, because I got to go all over France," she said of her research trip. "I was able to find so many Jewish stories all over."

Just one of those stories involves Quiche a l'Oignon (Onion Tart Lorraine), which she said will likely be the dish she demonstrates Nov. 19. Since the classic quiche Lorraine, with its bits of bacon, is off-limits to those who observe kosher dietary law, the Jews of Alsace and Lorraine created this delicious variation.

During the UMD program, Nathan said, "I'll tell a little bit of the history of food and the Jews of France" which is so richly illuminated in her book.

Nathan and her husband, Allan Gerson, split their time between Washington, D.C., and a home on Martha's Vineyard, where the family will be spending Thanksgiving. (She said she was disappointed to learn that the ferry service from New Bedford had already been suspended for the winter.)

Nathan, who was born in Providence, will be signing books after the lecture and presentation, which is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Professor Yoken, director of the Boivin Center, at