How Sharon Feldstein Makes Matzo Ball Soup

“I would put my soup up against anyone's.”

Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Sharon Feldstein is not only the woman who raised actors Beanie Feldstein and Jonah Hill, but also the cofounder of Your Mom Cares, a nonprofit dedicated to kids’ mental wellness. At her Los Angeles home, Sharon made her famous matzo ball soup in The Dutchess and shared how she conquered her fear of cooking.

My mother did not really do much cooking, but my grandmother, she was the most amazing cook. Five stars. Potato pancakes and matzo ball soup and stuffed cabbage and brisket and chicken salad. People used to fly to her apartment, and all the grandchildren would visit just so they could eat. She was an amazing cook, and she’d just kind of improvise. So that's how I learned that people could know how to cook.

I was very afraid of cooking when I was younger. I'm a costume designer and stylist, and what I realized was if I could use spices like I use accessories, or like a makeup artist would use makeup, I could conquer my fear. That was how I learned. I would layer the spices like I layer my clothes. And what I realized was that I could just create rather than cook by a recipe.
What taught me not to be afraid is looking at food like any other creative endeavor — painting — and just saying, “All right, so there's too much red.” Then you fix it. Too much salt, you add water. I know a lot of chefs use their nose, but I'm not good at that, so I would use the colors. I look at the way it looks. My kids joke that I became a great cook when they all grew up and there was no one to cook for.

I cook for my husband and whenever my kids pop by, or some Monday nights I have girls over. And when I say girls, I mean Beanie's friends. I don't mean my friends — I mean 25-year-old girls. I work full time, so it's hard to come home and cook. But I'll make very simple things like pasta with fresh vegetables or shrimp. I love soups. I love to make big, huge amounts of soup and freeze some of it. I love to bake. I like to have sweets in the house that are gluten-free and dairy-free so I have something for anyone that comes over.I'm not a great cook, but I would put my matzo ball soup up against anyone's. But if you asked me for my recipe, it’s like there is no recipe. And I feel that's so much of Jewish cooking. I know the steps, and I know how it should taste, but you eyeball everything else.It's pretty simple. First, cook your onions, carrots, celery — tons, tons, and tons. Vegetable or chicken broth, doesn't matter which. I cook it for a long time, until the vegetables get pretty soft. In the meantime, I make the matzo ball soup mix from Manischewitz. I buy gluten-free mix so I can accommodate anyone with it. I put the ball mix in the refrigerator. It says 15 minutes, but I leave it in way longer. That's a key to why they’re so good.In another pot, I cook the chicken. I get boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or sometimes with the skin, sometimes with the bone — it doesn't really matter. I boil it, and I’ll add some of the broth. When it’s cooked, I take the skin and bones off the chicken, and I cut the chicken in large pieces. I don't shred it like most people do, because there are a lot of people that don't eat chicken. So this way they could take the chunks of chicken out and still eat the soup.Then I make the matzo balls as directed. When it’s all done, I’ll cover the soup and leave it hot all day. That way people can eat it all day as they come and go. I put dill on top — unless my grandchildren are coming. I make everything chunky ‘cause I feel like if people don't want things they should be able to take them out. It's almost like a build-your-own bowl for soup, in a way. You can just make it any way you want.I don't like fluffy matzo balls; I can't stand them. That's why I think everybody likes mine. They pretend they like fluffy, but then they eat mine. It's like having a well done French fry and they're like, "Wow, this is so great." They're not like rocks. They're just perfect. My matzo balls are really not pretty. I'm saying that as a stylist. Do you want to go and buy an outfit that looks like a uniform, like everybody else?

Photos by Luke Austin