Jewish Heritage Influenced David Gilberg

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David Gilberg, chef of the new and buzzing Cry Baby – a Place for Pasta & Wine, has an impressive restaurant resume, having worked in renowned Philly kitchens such as Matyson, Novelty, Lowe and opening Koo Zee Doo with his wife Carla Goncalvez.

Growing up in a traditional Jewish family in Rochester, N.Y., Gilberg always loved food and cooking.

“Shabbos dinner was a big deal in my house. Every Friday, my mom would roast a chicken, we would have challah, Manischewitz,” he said. “It was the ritual that was really special, sitting around the table, talking, so food became important to me.”


He worked in restaurants as a teenager, and upon graduating high school, left Rochester to attend Haverford College.

“I came to the Philly area and never left. I majored in sociology at Haverford, which is pretty good training for the restaurant business,” he said. “Throughout college, I worked in restaurants. During my last two years, I moved into the city for a job as a sous chef and commuted back to Haverford for classes.”

Having spent time in the kitchens of many local restaurants — even running Morgan’s Pier for a summer, which he describes as “crazy” — Gilberg tried a stint on the corporate side of the business. He ran purchasing and managed several locations in Avram Hornick’s restaurant collection. But in the end, he missed the stove.

Two summers ago, Gilberg and Goncalvez were approached to run The Wellesley Hotel, a small historic inn in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York. They went for the season and loved it. They ran the kitchen, special events, hospitality and the bar. The following year, they were rehired and asked to add a pub, a deli, an ice cream and candy shop and a general store.

Realizing they needed help, they placed an ad on Craigslist; two days before the season started, husband-and-wife restaurateurs Bridget Foy and Paul Rodriguez responded.

The quartet worked well together and decided to collaborate on a Philadelphia restaurant. They found the site at Third and Bainbridge streets, visited Italy last fall for a crash course in Italian cuisine, designed the menu, and the rest is history. Foy runs the front of house, Rodriguez handles the beverage/bar operations, Gilberg is the chef and Goncalvez is the pastry chef.

Judging from the crowds, they have a winning formula.

One popular menu item is the bruschetta selection. Four or five options are offered daily, and a favorite is the basil-honey buffalo mozzarella. Goncalvez makes the focaccia for Cry Baby’s version, but any good quality, hearty bread like ciabatta will work.

Gilberg grills his, but brushing with olive oil and toasting it is a reasonable facsimile for home cooks. He recommends a “schmear” of buffalo mozzarella on each slice, then a light drizzle of the basil honey, see recipe below.

The basil honey is a wonderful condiment; if you have leftovers, Gilberg recommends using it with cheese plates, mixing it with lemon juice for a salad dressing, drizzling it over roasted lamb or tossing it lightly into couscous with toasted almonds.

Basil Honey

Makes about 2 cups

  • 1 pound basil leaves
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup honey

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the basil for a few seconds. Remove the basil from the heat and immerse it in ice water immediately. Drain thoroughly, squeeze dry.

Place the basil in blender with both types of oil. Puree.

Place a strainer lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl and pour in the oil mixture.

Allow the mixture to drain, reserving the flavored oil. Discard the basil solids or save for another use.

Mix the oil with the honey. Use as desired.

Lemon Basil Salad Dressing

Makes about ⅓-cup dressing

This dressing is wonderful on just about any salad. The fresh citrus burst of the lemon plays well against the sweetness of the honey and the herbaceous basil flavor. Try it on a caprese salad or baby greens tossed with grapefruit sections and avocado.

  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons basil honey

Mix well, toss over salad immediately.

Couscous with Basil Honey and Toasted Almonds

Makes 2 servings

This is a wonderful side dish to accompany meat, poultry or fish. Add a cup of canned chickpeas for extra protein and you have a light, healthy vegan meal.

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • ⅓ cup sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons basil honey (to taste)
  • Salt and pepper

Bring the stock to a boil in a medium-size saucepan with a cover. Add the couscous, give it a stir, remove it from the heat, cover and let it sit for 6 minutes.

While the couscous steams, toast the sliced almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shake them frequently, and watch them carefully so they don’t burn.

Remove the cover from the couscous, fluff the couscous with a fork and add the basil honey. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the couscous into a serving bowl and top with toasted almonds.

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