Since his striking appearance in the Play4 series ‘Shalom Allemaal!’ the spotlight is on Tulli Padwa. Much to the delight of the friendly chef himself, who seems to enjoy all the attention. After the TV series, there is now a cookbook full of Jewish recipes and culinary traditions. “For years, Flemish people avoided eye contact with me, now everyone wants to see me. I’m not used to that, but I love it!”
“That’s it. Tulli. By Shalom Everyone!.”
I hear two Limburg ladies whisper it not so subtly when they sneak past our table. Since Shalom Everyone! Tulli (58) is a star. The enfant terrible of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community gave the Antwerp Jewish Quarter a face. A sympathetic and very human face, of a 58-year-old rascal who drinks and smokes and – as it turns out – listens to American rap. His newly acquired star status allowed him to write a cookbook with Jewish recipes and culinary traditions, to once again reach out to the Flemish. “The ultra-Orthodox Jews form a closed community in Antwerp. To understand each other, we must let down the walls. That’s exactly what Shalom Everyone! did. And with this cookbook, Geschmack!I try to go further.”
What does Sunday mean to you? Saturday is the Sabbath, but what does a Sunday look like in the Jewish community?
“No different from you. Saturday is our time-out day; we don’t actually do anything. No work, no phone or TV. It is a day for family or friends. But on Sundays we do like every Flemish person when he or she does not have to work. Relax, chores, enjoy. Personally, I cook a lot on Sundays and test ingredients or recipes.”
Who would you like to spend a Sunday with?
“That could be anyone? With Eminem then. I really enjoy listening to his music and love his lyrics and writing style. He often breaks the rules and lets the rhythm of the language take precedence over those rules. I find that very interesting. I wonder if he does that when he speaks. Eminem is obviously not highly regarded in our community, but I always found him fascinating. I let my daughter listen to his music when she was three or four years old. How much harm could that do, I thought. At one point she asked me: can we hear that angry man again?” (laughs)
Am I correct when I say that you also like to break the rules? Or at least likes to kick shins.
“I’m not a teddy bear, that’s right. I like to push the boundaries. I am often asked about that too. But I’m not 22 anymore; people have resigned themselves to the fact that I am like this. It is accepted, although I have become a threat in my community: Just be careful, or you’ll end up like Tulli. (laughs) That is really said.”
You have ensured that the Jewish community is better understood. Do you feel that since ‘Shalom All!’ is more rapprochement?
“Absolute! Something has changed in the atmosphere. I am spoken to more quickly, I get a smile more quickly instead of people looking away. That was also the intention of the program. I wanted to show that we are not so different. I wanted to show that there are also funny Jews, or Jews who smoke and drink and enjoy life, despite the 613 rules we have to follow. Yes, we have strange customs in your eyes, but we are very normal people. The program has made a significant difference in this regard. And I’m not the only one who thinks so; I hear that regularly from others in our community. There is more understanding and rapprochement.”
“I’m not a teddy bear, that’s right. I like to push the boundaries”
Let’s look at your book, which will be released next week: do you think Flemish people are ready to dive into Jewish cuisine?
“I think that when you taste other cultures, there are always ingredients or dishes that you don’t like. But I am trained in the Belgian-French tradition and I know more or less what you like. I also chose dishes where the ingredients are easy to find. I realize you don’t eat carp, so I replaced it in the ‘gefilte fish’ with cod, hake and salmon.”
Which dish should definitely not be missing from this book?
“Tsjolent, the Jewish version of the cassoulet. That is a typical dish for which we come together, with a large pot of tsjolent in the middle of the table, best in combination with a beer. Traditionally, tsjolent is an afternoon dish on the Sabbath, but it has evolved over the years into a typical Thursday evening dish, when all the young people get together to taste tsjolent. Nowadays there are tossing clubs all over the world.”
Would you like it with a beer? So alcohol is not a taboo topic in your community at all.
“Gosh, it is frowned uponIt is somewhat frowned upon. For example, you will never see an Orthodox Jew, except on Purim, an exuberant festival that can be compared to Carnival. Yet there is a huge appetite for whiskey and vodka in our community, without causing too many problems. There are surprisingly few people addicted to alcohol in our community.”
Do you have any other sins yourself?
“I certainly don’t have one I want to face right now. Or want to share with you.” (laughs)
‘Geschmack!’ (Manteau Publishers), Tulli Padwa’s cookbook, will be available in bookstores from Thursday.
“It is terrible what is happening in Israel and Palestine and every innocent death is a tragedy. I feel the pain of every innocent person. But I am a British Jew with an Austrian passport living in Antwerp. I am neither Israeli nor Palestinian. It is a war fought thousands of miles away. Please do not import that to Antwerp. It’s such a complicated conflict too and I’m a chef. So I can’t add much to the debate. All I want to say is that there is only one antidote to all this misery, and that is bringing people together.”