MADISON — Executive Chef Jason Kierce may be a Christian from Alabama, but if you’re looking for glatt kosher cooking or a large, luscious matzo ball about the size of a baseball, he’s your man.
He runs the only kosher-certified restaurant in the state capital, effortlessly salting conversation about his work with words like “hametz” and “hechsher.”
Hametz refers to food you can’t eat on Passover. Hechsher refers to the mark of rabbinical approval, like the circle around a “u” that’s placed on some foods. If there’s anything else you need to know, just ask Kierce, who started cooking kosher in 2015 and later that year took the helm here at Adamah Neighborhood Table. The restaurant is mere steps away from student life, at Madison Hillel, 611 Langdon St.
He’s learned a lot in his brief tenure here. So much is open to rabbinic interpretation, he said. Sometimes he’ll ask his kashrut supervisors from Kosher Supervisors of Wisconsin for leniency on a particular ingredient. “I may win, I may not,” he said, but he has a better understanding from it.
“I could pretty much guess every time what they’re going to do, but it’s not my choice, not my call,” he said.
Having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama, earned a master’s in business administration, and worked in some of Madison’s fine restaurants, he admits he knew little about Judaism.
Some of his time here has been eye-opening, like when he’s had to turn the burners off so that a Jew can turn them back on. Kosher supervisors generally have someone on site, and when they’re not, they’ve got cameras in the ceiling to watch everything that happens in the kitchen.
Kierce has also had a blow-torch put to metal in the restaurant, heating it up to red, to kasher it for Passover. Or items are boiled in water.
“Every single item has to be re-kashered,” he said. Only a handful of people locally are interested in this strict level of kosher supervision, but Kierce said he gets visitors to Madison who appreciate the glatt kosher food.
“We are attempting to serve all members of our Jewish community locally, in the state, or attending school as resident students and as visitors,” said Greg Steinberger, executive director of Hillel at University of Wisconsin – Madison.
He sees the effort as part of Hillel’s commitment to diversity on campus. Adamah Neighborhood Table is a program of Hillel at University of Wisconsin – Madison. It opened in August 2014 and is intended to bring good food, community and gathering to Madison Hillel. It is certified glatt kosher by Kosher Supervisors of Wisconsin, which also certifies dozens of other sites around the state.
“The impact is that a kosher consumer can exist in Madison,” Steinberger said.
Adamah Neighborhood Table does catering, with people served including prospective students coming from Jewish day schools, visiting faculty and doctors, and attendees at faculty recruiting events.
For Kierce, it’s been an immersive experience that’s led him to appreciate the Jewish community.
“In the South, you hear about the southern hospitality,” Kierce said. “I think you could say the same thing about Jewish hospitality.”
“There’s a sense of community.”
Kierce, who feels cheese on meat can be a crutch to rescue meat that’s not tasty, said keeping strictly kosher has made him a better chef.
He’s approaching the restaurant as a chef “who wants to push the kosher envelope.”
“I believe that every person regardless of religious background deserves a good meal.”
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About Adamah Neighborhood Table
611 Langdon St., inside the Madison Hillel building
Vegetarian matzo ball soup — $5
Classic vegetable broth served with an oversized matzo ball
Ain’t no challah back girl!! — $12
Challah roll, smoked and braised BBQ brisket, horseradish aioli, cole slaw, tomato, pickled veggies, bag of chips and pickle
Mediterranean fried rice — $8
Basmati rice, kalamata olives, red pepper harissa, tomato, fried basil, seasonal vegetables, balsamic reduction
Lamb shoulder — $15
Braised lamb shoulder, red wine demi glace, Israeli salad, schug, pita, herbed basmati rice, seasonal vegetables
Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday closed.