Profile: Igael Gurin-Malous
Igael Gurin-Malous is a very good cook. My friend Vanessa texted me the other day and said, “You should meet Iggy—he likes to cook, and you guys should be friends.” They work together at Beit T’Shuvah, a recovery center in L.A. He’s a rabbi/spiritual counselor, and she’s a therapist. Iggy also officiated Vanessa’s marriage to Dashiell.
“I grew up Jewish Orthodox in Brussels, Belgium,” Iggy told me last Saturday, when I went to his house in Hancock Park to talk all things food and spirituality. “In our tradition, men are not supposed to cook, but I was always fascinated by the rhythm of cooking—this methodical thought of what to make and how to make it, what goes with what, and how you balance flavors so it all tastes good.”
His household included his grandparents, who survived the Holocaust. Iggy’s grandmother is a talented cook—she’s 98 years old and still insists on making him pan-fried sole fish with mustard and mayo when he visits her in Belgium—and had a significant influence on him, giving him small tasks in the kitchen when he was a boy.
“I remember her making a challah and saying, ‘A person who knows how to make bread, his family will never starve.’”
Iggy’s grandfather introduced him to pigeon. “It was either poached or roasted. It’s gamey and has a texture of a duck, but lighter flavor than duck. You eat one—it’s the size of a chicken breast. Total delicacy. We even had a special fork for it.”
Other delicacies he remembers: steak frites (“my most requested meal growing up”), fresh chocolate (Belgian specialty—chocolate made within the last few days), and young green garlic and merveilleux (rings of meringue filled with cream and rolled in cream and chocolate shavings).
As a kid, Iggy had a subscription to a magazine called Elephant,which had recipes at the end. “It was more about arranging food, cutting it into shapes, than cooking. I remember once making a porcupine from cheese and pretzels for my parents for breakfast before they woke up.”
Later in Israel—where he spent time with family, volunteered in the army, and went to school to study theology and philosophy—he developed his palate for Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food. “Belgium is cold and has lots of stews and warm things like that, and suddenly I was introduced to this amazing brightness: salads, lemons, hummus, shawarma, lamb, and falafel.”
I wanted to know why he chose theology and philosophy.
“I was drawn to it by curiosity and because it reflected parts of my own struggles. Being gay in an Orthodox family wasn’t kosher,” he said, laughing. “I had questions, like ‘Do I matter?’ or ‘What’s my place in the world?’.”
Iggy became a rabbi and spiritual counselor. “I wanted to teach. My gift is the ability to take large concepts, like theology and philosophy, and explain them in easy terms. I help people to understand their spiritual journey—with or without religion. My philosophy is: What is awareness, and what actions are you taking? Growth only happens when awareness and action are put together. Awareness for awareness’ sake is nonsense; it’s spiritual masturbation. When I’m aware of something, I also want to do something about it. “
In the early 2000s, Iggy was hired to teach at a school in the States. He moved from Belgium to San Francisco, where he explored authentic Asian and Mexican food, stopped being kosher, and discovered crispy bacon.
“I was with friends in a diner one day and thought, I’ll order it and try it. I felt so transgressive. I was taught pigs are dirty and disgusting. I was ashamed I was gonna get struck by lightning. My friends had no idea. But I loved it. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I wanted to tell the whole world.”
Iggy also met his partner in San Francisco, and the two later moved to Los Angeles. “He is a public health director and got recruited,” Iggy said. They have two adopted children, whom they raise Jewish—including holidays, bat and bar mitzvah, and Shabbat. “Last night, we had chicken soup with noodles, poached salmon, beef stew, pan-fried potatoes, challah, and a few salads.”
Iggy cooks every day and loves having people over. “The fridge is always full. My home is a place of nourishment, both spiritual and physical. People call and ask if they can come over. They want to talk about what’s going on in the world. They want to process, ask spiritual questions. Happens often.”
Age 43 — Hometown Brussels, Belgium — Where do you live? Los Angeles — Occupation Rabbi and spiritual counselor — Signature dish Gaufre (real Belgian waffles) — Who taught you how to cook? My Oma (grandmother), and my mother, and many other cooks I’ve encountered around the world. I used to love to watch cooking shows; some of them changed how I cook and see food. — Favorite kitchen tool My Le Creuset enameled cast-iron Dutch oven — Always in your pantry Lemons — Go-to snack Potato chips — Favorite cuisine Belgian and Korean — Do you diet? Not really… I should… — Food addictions I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like. — Food allergies Unfortunately, I discovered later in life that I’m highly allergic to Brie, Camembert, and blue cheese of all sorts. The fungus in the rind makes me break out in hives. — Food fad pet peeve Truffle oil. I hate it. Most of what we see in restaurants is not real truffle oil—it’s synthetic—and you can’t smell or taste anything else if it’s around. — Who’s your sous chef? My daughter, sometimes — Drinking while cooking? Obvi — What’s for dinner tonight? Schnitzel — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? Alas, I do. — Best meal you ever had The French Laundry in Yountville
Flemish Beef Stew (Carbonnade Flamande)
This beef stew is one of Iggy’s favorite recipes that he makes fairly often. “Every Belgian family has one, and each has their own variation.”
It’s a hearty, delicious, one-pot dish with an interesting combination of ingredients: beer, juniper berries, and a slice of bread smeared with mustard to thicken it.
The meat is quickly browned at the beginning to seal in the juice, followed by some flavor layering thanks to lardons and onions. Then the whole thing goes in the oven, and you don’t have to pay attention to it for a couple of hours. Super easy, yet with an impressive result: chunks of meat that melt once you bite into them, and a rich, complex sauce with a pleasant gingerbread taste.
You can serve it with pasta or crusty bread—or like Iggy, with sliced tomatoes mixed with parsley, balsamic and white vinegars, lemon, salt, and pepper. “The salad brings a nice acidic balance to the meaty carbonnade.”
- Serves 4
- 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 3-inch cubes
- ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup lardons or finely diced pancetta
- 3 medium yellow onions, peeled, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 2 cups Belgian Trappist beer, such as Leffe or Chimay, divided
- 1 slice pain d’epi (Belgian gingerbread) or whole wheat bread
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 cup beef stock
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon juniper berries
- 1 clove
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 sprigs parsley
- In a large bowl, toss the beef with the flour, salt, and black pepper until the meat is completely coated.
- Melt the butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven or a similar heavy stockpot that can go into the oven. Working in batches and without crowding the pot, brown the meat on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Add the lardons to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re crisp and fat is rendered, about 4 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and soft, about 5 minutes. Pour in 1 cup of the beer and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom, until boiling, about 4 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Spread the mustard on the bread slice, and add to the pot. Add the beef, remainder of the beer, stock, sugar, vinegar, and all the spices and herbs. Stir and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot with a lid, and transfer to the oven. Cook undisturbed for 2–2½ hours, until the meat is very soft.
- Remove from the oven. Take out the juniper berries, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley sprigs. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
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