Chef Spencer Horovitz knows his way around the kitchen, having worked at popular restaurants such as Itria and, most recently, Slug in Oakland. He’s even done the pop-up thing before, cooking at Mission bar Elda, for instance, during the pandemic. Yet, despite his extensive experience, Horovitz says he felt that for most of his career, he struggled with what to cook and the story he wanted to tell. “I think that it’s not what we’re cooking, it’s why,” Horovitz says. “I’m in a place where, as far as my understanding about how I want to cook and why I want to cook, I can cook pretty much whatever I want. But I really wanted to tell personal stories, more than I want to tell someone else’s stories.”
Horovitz exited Slug late last year after three months at its helm due to an escalating and persistent back injury, paired with the fact that the kitchen at the wine bar-slash-restaurant was set to pivot to a casual menu more fitting to the downtown Oakland space. But following his departure, he thought again of those stories he wanted to tell through food.
With his new pop-up Hadeem, Horovitz creates a distinctive menu inspired by his experiences and nostalgia of growing up in Los Angeles, telling his story in a way that only he can. He’s not setting out to cook an authentic Jewish meal, he says, but to make something that grows out of his own wealth of life experiences in a multi-cultural household with a Greek and Lithuanian mother from New York; a father who’s Polish and Russian by way of Miami; and a stepmother who immigrated from Romania. “As a kid,” he says, “I had friends that were Israeli Jewish, they were Persian Jews, there were Moroccan Jews, so there was a large, cultural shared identity I had with both the Jewish community and also LA’s community, in general, when it comes to foods — it’s much more blended than you’d think it would be.”
The resulting menu isn’t a recreation or replication of anyone’s dishes; as Horovitz is quick to point out, he doesn’t consider himself an authority on Jewish food. Instead, it’s his own take on a variety of dishes. A black truffle kugel, for instance, wraps in creme fraiche with egg noodles, Comté cheese, and shaved black truffle. A cold-smoked yellowtail crudo, meanwhile, incorporates za’atar and labneh, along with citrus. Horovitz also reimagined a kibbeh dish from his Lebanese great aunt, substituting her ground beef dish with ground lamb, and adding walnuts, bulgur wheat, and a tomatillo zhug sauce. A holiday spanakopita dish from his grandmother is also on the menu but made with spinach, wild greens, and fava leaves, with Bulgarian feta folded in between layers of phyllo dough, punctuated with fig leaf oil. Babka is also creatively reimagined with five spice and served with dulce de leche ice cream from Oakland’s De La Creamery.
Horovitz explains that Hadeem is the Hebrew word for “the echos,” which is part of his concept. “It’s not my place to try and recreate anyone’s memory of a special meal they had,” he says. “My goal is to simply provide little tastes and flavors and inspirations that might unlock a childhood memory that you had or something that bounces back at you from like another location. So that was really how the name Hadeem came to be — this reverberation of a shared memory, or collective memory through a community.”
Already, Horovitz has a number of pop-ups scheduled for the next few months — much like a music tour, he says — with the first pop-ups more on the fun, casual side. Coming up after that is a second run of ticketed events, with a shifting menu that will evolve with the venue and style of meal. “I felt so relieved because I was really struggling to figure out what my food is, what my voice is,” Horovitz says. “Then I realized it’s always been there, it’s been there as a culture, it’s been there for well before me — I finally feel like I’m starting to understand that.”
Hadeem launches on Wednesday, May 17 from 5 to 10 p.m. at Buddy in San Francisco, with upcoming dates in June and July at Birba, Habibi, and Bar Iris. Follow Hadeem on Instagram for the latest information on dates and menus, @wearehadeem.