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Matzo Balls Meet Bacon At Top Chef's Restaurant

One of Ilan Hall's bacon-wrapped matzo balls.
Guy Raz
One of Ilan Hall's bacon-wrapped matzo balls.

At his restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, Top Chef Ilan Hall is wrapping a piece of bacon around a traditional matzo ball.

"It's a pretty simple recipe, except in place of vegetable oil, we use either rendered bacon fat or lard," he tells Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "The pork fat makes it incredibly fluffy."

Since winning the reality show Top Chef, Hall has become famous for dishes that meld Scottish and Jewish cuisine.

"My mother's from Israel and my father is from Scotland — both Jewish," he says. "When you really want to make your best food, you need to go back to your roots."

Hall didn't grow up eating bacon-wrapped matzo balls, but haggis, schmaltz and kishka were often on the table.

His father was the cook in the family, and when he decided to open a restaurant, he named it The Gorbals, after the neighborhood in Scotland where his father grew up.

In The Gorbals you can find latke and pork belly hash, gefilte fish and chips and pork belly braised in Manischewitz — the traditional the sweet kosher wine many Jews use on Sabbath.

"It's not for the sake of being offensive, I promise," Hall says. "Pork belly lends itself really well to sweet cooking preparations."

One critic of The Gorbals called Hall's food "confrontational cooking." Hall says his dishes were designed to get people's attention.

"We're stuffed inside the lobby of a very nondescript building here in downtown L.A., so we don't have lots of street presence," he says.

And even with all the pork products, Hall says dining at The Gorbals is still a Jewish experience.

"We have the gribenes sandwich, the matzo balls, the latkes," he says. "We had a schnitzel special last week ... really, really good, pork shoulder schnitzel."

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