Exploring local cuisines around the world when you keep strictly kosher can be supremely challenging. So when celebrity kosher chef Susie Fishbein tasted an authentically prepared Cornish hen with a chocolate port sauce in Portugal at a Shabbat dinner, she was excited and intrigued. This summer, she will help other kosher foodies, get an authentic taste of another cuisine.
Fishbein, author of the “Kosher By Design” cookbook series, will team up with Jerusalem-based Naomi Boutique Kosher Tours for a 10-day kosher adventure in Tuscany from June 29 until July 9. Forty or so high-end foodie travelers who keep strictly kosher will stay with Fishbein at the 900-year-old Villa Principessa, the former home of Elisa, Princess of Lucca, and sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and enjoy authentic Tuscan food and kosher Italian wines with her. Fishbein will not be doing the cooking herself, but she will serve as a VIP host and a “cook’s friend,” answering questions and explaining fine points as local chefs conduct master classes.
Although the focus is on food and fine dining, participants can opt for a variety of activities, including long bike rides and hikes. Otherwise, local guides will lead tours to points of general and Jewish interest in Pitigliano, Florence and other towns. On several days in the late afternoon, Fishbein will lead master cooking classes on Tuscan cooking together with the Villa’s chefs.
Fishbein was on a Jewish heritage trip in Spain and Portugal for the bat mitzvah of one of her daughters last summer when her family joined a Naomi Tour group for Shabbat dinner and tasted that outstanding Cornish hen. She told The Jew and the Carrot that she was blown away by “the authentic Portuguese dishes with a Shabbos flair,” as she put it. “I was travelling incognito,” Fishbein recounted in a recent phone interview, “but I just had to go up to the group’s leader and tell him how impressed I was with the food.”
That leader was the British-Israeli Eric Goldberg, who has been running the tour company with his wife of 35 years, Naomi, since 2006. The couple also owns a 25-year-old Jerusalem-based catering company.. Fishbein and Goldberg hit it off immediately, and Goldberg ultimately asked Fishbein to co-host a tour.
As Goldberg explained it, he and his wife want to enable kashrut-observant tourists travel and eat as though they don’t keep kosher. Although their company arranges for a variety of activities for tour members, the real emphasis is on five-star accommodation and dining. “The whole idea is that we eat local food cooked by local chefs,” Goldberg said, as he explained that the whole idea behind these tours is to “not compromise” the authentic regional cuisine.
The local chefs, who have no prior kosher cooking experience, prepare their regular menus, so long as they meet the kashrut guidelines and use the kosher ingredients provided or approved by the company. A mashgiach is provided and Goldberg himself makes an advance trip to make sure that the chosen hotel will meet his company’s needs.
“We make it so that you don’t need to stay in big cities, or in specifically Jewish neighborhoods,” Goldberg explained. However, this concept only works for travelers who are willing to limit their stay to one base during their weeklong vacation (extensions are usually available prior and following the main trip), and who are seeking a “very boutique” experience together with no more than 40 other people of different ages. The tours which are available in France and Spain, along with South East Asia, are also only within reach of those who can pay between $3,500 and $7,500 per week per person — not including international airfare.
But for those who keep kosher and are seriously interested in food, this tour may be one of the few ways to experience authentic local cuisine. “I can’t think of a place with more foodie value than Tuscany” Fishbein said as she looked ahead to the trip. “I will have to learn some Tuscan cooking between now and the summer. I’m always looking to learn something new and authentic.”