Julie Chernoff and the Power of Food

As part of our ongoing 30 people for 30 years series, Meals on Wheels Chicago recently sat down to speak with Julie Chernoff, Dining Editor of Make It Better Media.

“I really learned to cook from my grandmother, not only to prepare traditional Eastern European Jewish dishes, but in observing the power of food to heal. Cooking for family and friends was an expression of love for her. She loved to make chicken soup and apple strudel and deliver them to people who were ill or in need. When she moved to an assisted living home, I saw how important it was for her to share a meal with a neighbor, to connect with others rather than take a solitary meal in her room.  A lot of chefs and food professionals I know learned to cook from their mothers and grandmothers, and was often the impetus for why they pursued a culinary career.

I first became involved with Meals on Wheels Chicago in 1990, and co-chaired the Celebrity Chef Brunch in 1993. Meals on Wheels Chicago is close to my heart — I felt my grandmother’s influence in helping people who are homebound, hungry, and lonely.

It is mind-boggling to contemplate the stature of talented chefs who have participated in the Celebrity Chef Ball over the years. Chefs like Joyce Goldstein, Norman Van Aiken, Wolfgang Puck, Barbara Tropp, Patrick Clark, Jeremiah Tower, Emeril Lagasse, Thierry Rautureau and even the legendary Paul Bocuse flew in to participate back in the early ‘90s.

Thirty years ago, the Holiday Meals on Wheels Celebrity Chef Brunch, as it was originally called, was the first of its kind. Now, many great organizations both locally and nationally host chef tasting events to fundraise. But there is a special connection between the mission of Meals on Wheels Chicago and the Celebrity Chef Ball that resonates within our community.

Chefs know the importance of food and company. It seems that too often in this country, we do not revere our seniors as they do in other nations; sadly, many go hungry and feel the sharp sting of loneliness. It means a great deal to the chefs who come together in service of this basic human need, perhaps spurred by the memory of the grandmother who taught them not just the importance of food, but also the importance of their presence. Food is more than sustenance for the body — it is nourishment for the soul.”

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” – Anthony Bourdain

Julie’s Best Kugel to Celebrate the New Year

(Originally published in Make it Better, September 29, 2011)

To some, the Jewish New Year brings thoughts of apples and honey.  But for me, all I can think about is my Glencoe cousin Susan Huvard’s delicious noodle kugel. We have it, by popular decree, at every holiday gathering. It’s creamy, just sweet enough without being cloying, and packed with deliciousness (and carbs). Of course, you will have to atone after eating this!


Serves 10-12

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 pound cream cottage cheese (can use low-fat)
  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 pound farmer’s cheese
  • 1/2 pint sour cream
  • 2 cups milk (no lower than 2% or kugel will be watery)
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 pound medium egg noodles, cooked, drained
  • 1-2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar
  • 1/2-3/4 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or almonds (optional)

1. An hour or so before you’re ready to begin, take cheeses and sour cream out of the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature.

2. Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter or spray a 10” x 13” casserole dish.

3. In mixer, combine all ingredients except noodles. Whisk smooth. Stir in noodles (and raisins, too, if you’re that kind of girl) then pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar, and chopped pecans or almonds if you like.

4. Bake 1 1/2 hours uncovered. Serve now, or let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to cool completely. At this point, you can freeze the kugel to be reheated later…just cut into serving pieces first.