Nicole Berrie loves to share good food. She’s built her entire lifestyle website, Bonberi, around sharing wholesome, good-for-you recipes that are just as satisfying as they are nourishing. Her latest endeavor, vegan eatery Bonberi Bodega in New York City's West Village, serves up yummy vegan food along with the comfort and familiarity of walking into your favorite corner grocery. For Berrie, the experience you have while eating is just as important as the food you put in your body — a lesson she says she learned from her dad. One of her favorite food traditions growing up? Sharing challah (an often braided loaf of bread usually served during Shabbat and on Jewish holidays) with her family… but not in the way you'd expect.
I grew up in New Jersey in a town called Englewood. Throughout the holidays, but also throughout the year, we would celebrate Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sunset on Friday). Every Friday, particularly during Hanukkah or any of the high holidays, we would have challah. My dad is a big New York Giants fan, and one tradition that is always burned in my memory is he would make us walk all the way to the end of the table to the other side of the room, and we would throw the challah to each family member. We would just rip off a piece of challah, and throw it to whoever could catch it. It was kind of my dad's way of mixing his love of New York football with the Jewish Hanukkah tradition. It always made me look forward to our family meal together.
If I sit at another family's dinner table and they're breaking the challah and are just handing it to people, that's weird for me.
My dad was really conscious of instilling a family tradition around food, and around sitting at the dinner table with our family. Going to Shabbat or celebrating the holidays with family was always something fun — it wasn't a drag. My earliest memory of throwing challah around is probably from when I was around seven years old, and the tradition lasted until we were full-on adults. Now I have two little babies, and I really hope to bring that tradition along to my family now. If I sit at another family's dinner table and they're breaking the challah and are just handing it to people, that's weird for me. I'm like, "why aren't they throwing it?"
My dad was American, raised in the Bronx, and Jewish, and my mom is from Korea, so we kind of had both sides of the world growing up. We had our bagels and lox, and we also had our bibimbap. All of those different traditions, all of the alternative things I grew up eating, I want my kids to be aware of those things too. I want them to try all different types of food, so they know their heritage, and also so they aren't afraid of trying new things.
For me, just working in food and cooking with food, I've come to learn it's not just the food that's special, it's the meaning behind it — it's the memories each dish conjures. Looking back, it's not just the dishes I remember eating with my family, it's sitting down at the dinner table and talking about our days, what happened during my dad's day at work, or my day at school. I think that's one of the reasons why I love working in food so much, because it is comforting. There's love and happy memories that surround food. I definitely want to continue making those kind of memories with my kids.
Through my work, I try to make nourishing yourself feel fun and natural. I guess the thing with the challah was that it was fun, and we were laughing. I want to incorporate that joy of food and cooking with my kids. Getting involved in the process as a kid was so key with me. Now my son is three, and I put him on the counter and he helps me. My baby, who's only six months, I have her next to me in the kitchen watching — just being around the kitchen. So my kids are in on it. That's my new tradition.
As told to Bustle's deputy lifestyle editor Kathryn Kattalia. This interview was edited for length and clarity.