Food

Reliable sources recount the moment of Michele Pfeifer’s gastronomic epiphany.

Pfeifer, the head chef at the JCCSF’s Community Table Cafe, and a career chef in her own right, was visiting Israel on a staff tour. For days, she had been tasting  hummus here, and tasting hummus there -- the genuine article. Swiping her finger in this dish and swabbing her pita in that. Ducking into into the back doors of Israeli restaurants, holding impromptu conferences in the kitchens.

When the epiphany arrived, she was sitting with some fellow staff in a cafe in Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv -- the facts get murky here -- with her finger in her mouth and a frown on her forehead.

“My hummus,” Chef Michele pronounced, “sucks!

When she returned to San Francisco and her regular job, it was with a resolve to make a cafe hummus that matched the smooth deliciousness found in Israel, and a copy of “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” under her arm. Let the well-traveled patrons take note!

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Michele Pfeifer, whose family is Italian-American, has traveled widely to broaden her understanding of the world’s cuisines. Not suprisingly, she developed a second career as a photographer, but that is another story. She spent a number of years in the state of Hawaii, where she ran a restaurant and still owns a little property to which she may someday return.

“It’s my little special corner of the world. My heart is there,” she confessed to her colleagues before setting off on the trip to Israel.

She has cooked in numerous other types of restaurants and catered deluxe corporate meals, and is always seeking to expand her repertoire.

“I can go from a basic sandwich to an elegant banquet,” she says. Witness the feature photo on this story, displaying her recent preparation of mini potato latkes with salmon. This is not the everyday presentation whipped up by the Community Table Cafe -- although they do serve it -- but it is a skill she is prepared to draw on for catering. Recently, she and her staff catered deluxe Rosh Hashanah dinners, and the Cafe will be taking orders for latke dinners for Hanukah in the coming months.

More immediately, the Community Table will be taking at least some of their lunchtime offerings upstairs to the JCCSF Rooftop Garden for International Barbecues, on Fridays through October 25. The weather in September and October being the closest thing San Francisco has to “summer,” the idea might be dubbed the JCCSF Autumn Barbecue Initiative.

The weather in September and October being the closest thing San Francisco has to “summer,” the idea might be dubbed the JCCSF Autumn Barbecue Initiative.

This coming Friday, September  20, will feature Mexican cuisine, with such specialties as Blackened Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos, Barbecued Carne Asada Tacos or Marinated Chicken, Eliote (corn on the cob w/spicy cotija cheese), Jicama and Mandarin Salad, and for drinks, Watermelon Agua Fresca.

Other Friday barbecues will take cues from Asia, the Ballpark, and other themes.

While some San Franciscans remember a time when the cafe at the JCCSF was managed by an outside agency, Chef Michele’s reign coincides with the organization’s decision to take over the cafe as one of its many programs.

“Having a restaurant that anyone can come in to, allows us to showcase this beautiful building and everything that goes on inside it,” Michele points out. ‘People don’t have to go anywhere else to eat before a show by Arts and Ideas. It’s a place to go when your kids are in ballet class or in the swimming pool, or between appointments. We even have a Happy Hour.”

And while everyone is welcome to come to the Cafe to eat, Chef Michele is also taking her cooking skills to the people. Starting Monday, September 23, she’ll be offering a series of cooking classes for adults, which will include hands-on practice, tastings and take-home recipes. In the first, class, called “Harvest Harmony” in honor of Sukkot,  Michele will make Mediterranean dishes featuring  fresh, fall vegetables -- probably still under the influence of “Jerusalem.”

For more information and registration, go to https://www.jccsf.org/adult/adult-classes/food-and-wine