Toronto restaurant owner and Food Network Canada judge Zane Caplansky conducts his Seder dinner just as his father did, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather before him. “Jewish families have celebrated Passover this way all over the world, for thousands of years,” he says. “The word ‘Seder’ means order. It’s a very unifying tradition because whenever I am with my family or other people on Passover, I always reflect that families all over the world are sitting doing this exact same thing and have been doing it for thousands and thousands of years.”
For more than a hundred of those years, the Caplansky family has celebrated Passover in Toronto. Caplansky’s great-grandfather Benjamin emigrated from Poland in 1896, promptly changing his surname to Caplan. “I’ve never met the man, but I always imagined one of the reasons he might have changed the name was to try and fit in better,” says Caplansky. “At the time the idea among the immigrant class was ‘be Yiddish, look British.’”
Now Caplansky, who legally changed his name back to the original when he opened his restaurant, Caplansky’s Deli, embraces his roots. “In Toronto, we celebrate our diversity,” he says. “So, the idea of being different and being from somewhere else is part of my authenticity.”
Lucky for hungry Torontonians and tourists who can’t get enough of his celebrated smoked meats, Zane Caplansky is driven to share his culinary heritage.
On Passover in particular, his family’s recipes are a focal point at the restaurant’s public Seders, when his bubbie’s brisket and other family favourites take centre stage. The same dishes are available through Caplansky’s Deli’s Passover catering service, or you can make them your own with this menu from Zane Caplansky.
Matzo Ball Soup
“My matzo ball recipe came from my other grandmother, my bubbie Doris,” says Zane. “So the matzo balls are as classic a dish as a person could possibly have at Passover. Matzo is unleavened bread. The story is that the Jews were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that somebody forgot to either bring the yeast, or didn’t have time to let the bread rise. To commemorate that, we eat unleavened bread. Matzo ball is a chicken soup, and has really come to symbolize Jewish food.”
“There is a wonderful cook named Phyllis Grossman, who — twice — has won our Latkepalooza competition for Toronto’s best potato latke. Phyllis is a former advertising executive, turned caterer. She’s an absolutely brilliant cook. She actually had me over at her house for dinner not too long ago. She served me her version of carrot tzimmes that has pineapple in it. I told her I was going to rip that off and she said go right ahead. So I have to give Phyllis due credit on the pineapple.”
Chocolate Matzah Crunch
“The matzo crunch was the brainchild of the talented Elspeth Copeland. Elspeth is a friend and also a product developer at the restaurant. She came up with the chocolate matzo crackle, or crunch, and it’s a great garnish that we put on all our desserts, all year round at the deli.”