In their cookbook The New Jewish Table, Equinox owners Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray delve into and the culinary intersections of her Jewish upbringing and his Episcopalian one. That, and the Grays’ experience operating a vegan cafe in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, caught the attention of an unexpected suitor: the forthcoming Museum of the Bible.
Now, the couple is slated to open an Israeli street food cafe called Manna and a coffee shop named Milk & Honey inside the museum, which replaces the Washington Design Center at 409 3rd St., Southwest, when it opens in the fall of 2017.
“One of the things that attracted them to us was our love of cross-culturing and doing it through food and the table and the family that comes with it and the holidays and traditions of the holidays,” Kassoff-Gray says.
Kassoff Gray expects their involvement won’t be without controversy. The museum comes from the evangelical billionaire behind Hobby Lobby, which has become a political lightning rod for its Supreme Court case over contraception and Obamacare.
“When I first saw the plans, I was like, ‘Huh? What? Really? Are you serious?'” Gray says. But after getting to know more about the museum, he felt it was a good fit. “It’s not Christian-driven. It’s not Jewish-driven. It’s an historical journey. So it’s stuff that’s been very interesting to us.”
Kassoff Gray adds: “There’s a lot of history in the Bible, and we love the educational pursuit of it. That’s the number one factor for doing this.”
The Grays learned a lot about historical dishes and foods related to the Bible while researching The New Jewish Table. Kassoff Gray also spent a few years off-and-on in her 20s in Israel, where she lived on a kibbutz, worked on a scuba diving boat, wrote about wine, and witnessed the First Intifada. It’s also where she first got into cooking.
Manna will be a cafeteria-style restaurant with different stations in an “Israeli-Mediterranean street food market type of spirit,” Gray says. Of course, the cafe will serve falafel, which will be made of seasonally changing ingredients like green garlic, sweet peas, or roasted kabocha squash. To go with it, Gray also has a recipe for pistachio and golden lentil hummus.
Manna will have flatbreads—maybe topped with fig and walnut—as well as grain bowls and stews. Gray has also played around with artichoke soup and a cumin and coriander-spice tomato bisque garnished with mint-lime yogurt. Although the menu will be heavy on vegetables, there will also be rotisserie lamb leg and likely some fish.
The cafe will be accompanied by a 70-seat coffee shop upstairs called Milk & Honey. In addition to cappuccinos, lattes, and tea, the spot will offer grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, hummus with pita chips, and soft-serve yogurt.
The Grays will also provide catering for events at the museum.
“Just like the Corcoran, we loved—for the four years we were there—having the food juxtapose with the art. It [brings] just a much more cerebral context to things,” Kassoff Gray says. “We were cooking food that was going along with the exhibitions… so it’s going to be the same with the Bible museum.”