Jewish Telegraph, March 2020
LENNIE Ware is the kneidel queen of Britain. But don’t take our word for it . . . it’s what she’s been told by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, music star Mark Ronson and television presenter Dermot O’Leary.
The trio have all enjoyed Lennie’s matzo ball soup as guests on Table Manners, the weekly podcast she presents with her pop star daughter Jessie.
The podcast sees Lennie and Jessie prepare a meal for a celebrity while interviewing them about their lives and careers — and their appreciation of food.
“My chicken soup is legendary now,” the 68-year-old states proudly. “I’ve got my matzo balls down now. They are like eating clouds.
“Jamie had three bowls of soup. Mark had four bowls. It was Pesach so I made chicken soup with matzo balls, latkes with smoked salmon, more of the American style. I’ve made the soup for Dermot and actress Emilia Clarke, among others.”
Lennie started life in Coventry, but moved to Manchester with parents Pat and Morley Keell when she was four as her paternal grandparents, Minnie and David Keell, lived there.
Her father was from Ireland, while her mother was from Birmingham. Her mother converted to Judaism in Cardiff — “they found someone there who could maguyir (convert) her quickly.”
In Manchester, the family lived in the Orthodox enclave of Broughton Park, although they were members of Manchester Reform Synagogue (Jackson’s Row).
“It’s always very difficult when your mum has been maguyired because Jewish people are very cliquey and they always asked ‘where does your mum come from?’.
“Just thinking about it has made my heart sink and it brought it all back to me being just slightly on the edge of things, never quite in the midst of it.”
Lennie, who still works as a social worker, added: “I’m a member of a shul in London, my son was barmitzvah. I have my own version of God and being Jewish is very important to me.
“My mum was at Gan Eden (Jewish sheltered housing in Salford) and would come out with Yiddish phrases. She was as Jewish as anyone could be. She went to shul every Saturday.
“We were Reform Jews, so it was nice. We went as a family. It was a very pleasant experience. I was batmitzvah with 13 other girls. That was very important to me.
“After my father died I definitely wanted to be a member of a shul, so I joined Wimbledon Synagogue.
“I had thought about joining the United Synagogue because it was closer to me, but it closed down. Miriam Margolyes used to go to the same one as me. She asked why I didn’t join the synagogue.
“There was us two and everybody else was old. She’s much older than me, but she was nearer my age than anybody else.
“I told her that my husband wasn’t Jewish and she said ‘neither is my partner. I’m a lesbian’. All I could think of saying was ‘is she Jewish?’ I couldn’t think of anything else to say.”
Educated at Manchester High School for Girls, Lennie graduated in social administration from Birmingham University.
“I always mixed in Jewish circles in Manchester,” she said. “My best friend is Susan Grant, now Susan Bursk.
“I chose Birmingham because of the J-Soc, but it wasn’t very good. For my first year I stayed with a nice Jewish family, but it’s miserable being in digs; everyone was in halls having fun and getting drunk while I was having to get up to have my breakfast cooked.”
Lennie met her husband John Ware, an investigative reporter, through a mutual friend, Linda Brockman. The couple are now divorced, although they had three children — actress Hannah 37, 35-year-old Jessie and doctor Alex, 32.
“Hannah is extraordinarily beautiful and was always being stopped and asked to do modelling,” proud mum Lennie said. “She’s quite academic as well. She went to UCL to read history of art.
“She was modelling and someone asked if she could act. She’s done alright. She’s been in lots of TV series. She’s in a new series as lead female in the autumn called The One.
“She lives in Los Angeles, but has been over here filming in Cardiff, Bristol and London.”
Lennie is equally proud of her other two children.
“Jessie has sung since she arrived on this earth,” she said. “She was the lead in every school musical. I think she got into her secondary school because she sang so well. She was a legendary lead. People still talk about her performance in Guys and Dolls.
“She got into all the musicals. At university she read English and drama. If you read Table Manners: The Cookbook, she writes so beautifully.
“She sang in a jazz funk band and had a friend called Jack Peñate, who was at school with her. He asked her to do backing vocals and it just went from there.
“Her new single, Spotlight, is beautiful. I adore her music. She has a fantastic voice. I love hearing her sing.
“I go to every single performance she gives. I’ve been to the States with her, including for the Coachella festival.”
Youngest child Alex was halfway through the first year of a politics degree at Bristol University when he told his mum he wanted to switch to medicine.
“I knew it was hard to get into medicine, but he landed a place at UCL,” she said. “He is like the serious one of the whole family. He watches the news all the time.”
The Table Manners podcast started after one of Jessie’s friends suggested it.
“I didn’t know what a podcast was,” Lennie explained. “Jessie wanted it to be reminiscent of Friday night dinners. We’ve always had good fun together as a family, we’ve always had people over for dinner. We would eat, put music on and dance around.”
Lennie was initially meant to just be the cook, but, she laughs, “I got involved because I’m so terribly reserved. You must hear that. I just couldn’t resist getting involved in conversation”.
She added: “The first guest we had was Radio One DJ Clara Amfo. She’s a delight. I was chatting to her because I knew her and I’d met her lots of times.”
Lennie admits that she was “terrified” in the early days, but: “I love chatting to people. I’m very nosey and love to hear about their lives. I’ve met people I never thought I’d meet — Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi and Kiefer Sutherland, to name a few.
“We hosted Jo Brand last week. She was completely different to how I thought she’d be. She was the sweetest, gentlest person and sent us the most beautiful thank you card afterwards.”
That episode went online on Wednesday.
Most of the famous guests visit Lennie’s Clapham home which led to a funny incident for one neighbour.
She explained: “The neighbour three doors down nearly had a nervous breakdown when (London mayor) Sadiq Khan knocked on her door with a bunch of flowers and two bodyguards behind him.
“She didn’t know what was going on. He’d gone to the wrong house.”
Lennie had no idea that Table Manners would become such a big deal.
“It has a lot of influence so people approach us now instead of us having to approach them,” she said.
“I would like to have the whole Manchester United team on. I’d love Pep Guardiola or Gary Lineker, but we’ve found it hard to get sportspeople. I don’t know if it’s because their PR people don’t trust them in a social situation and don’t trust what they will say.
“Some people purposefully don’t drink in case they let something slip, but we always say if you don’t feel comfortable about something, just tell us.”
Lennie admits she “fell slightly in love with David Schwimmer, even though he was so disrespectful about poor Alex’s banana bread. When we had Alan Carr on, we couldn’t breathe because we were laughing so much. John Bishop was such good fun, too. Everyone has been interesting in their own way”.
She added: “It is interesting that we have an inter-generational podcast and people are very taken with that. I’m really glad as the way forward is to look after each other intergenerationally.
“My friend Judith Ish-Horowicz started an intergenerational nursery at Nightingale House, which is a Jewish aged home around the corner from us, where Alex and I volunteer and Jessie is a patron.
“What the tiny children have done for the older people has been truly wonderful.”
Wednesday saw the publication of Table Manners: The Cookbook (Ebury Press) and a tour featuring dates in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and London.
“The recipes in the book are super easy,” Lennie said. “I wanted everyone to be able to make my chicken soup.
“I’m very conscious that I haven’t followed kashrut. That’s why I call the section in the book ‘Jewish-ish’ as I didn’t want people to criticise me. This is how I cook.
“We have no kosher butcher where I live. For me to get kosher meat I’d have to schlep up to north London and I have been known to do that to get a boiling fowl. But now I’m more likely to use chicken thighs from M&S. Don’t tell anyone.
“If we do a second book, I’d like to have a go at being more vegetarian. I hadn’t realised before how much meat I cooked.”
After the recent episode featuring Friends star David Schwimmer, Jessie has started thinking about having a batmitzvah.
“Her husband Sam isn’t Jewish, but before they married under a chuppa we made in Greece, they were given a blessing in shul.
“For the wedding, Sam wore a yarmulke. They did the seven blessings. Their friend Maytel married them in a Jewish ceremony after a civil service; and they broke a glass.”
Lennie added: “My shul is very inclusive. lots of mixed couples. They invite them and they want them to come because that’s the only way their children will be brought up Jewish.”
n Lennie and Jessie appear on Graham Norton’s Radio Two show tomorrow.