The Jew And The Carrot

Debating the Future of Kosher Food in London

By Anthony Silverbrow

  • Print
  • Share Share
Chaim Bacon

Fressing and kibbitzing. Eating and talking. It’s what we Jews do so well, which is why on an unseasonably cold Sunday, the beautiful Ivy House, HQ of the London Jewish Cultural Centre, was heaving with over 500 people for this year’s Gefiltefest.

Setup in 2010, Gefiltefest — a British celebration of all things food and Jewish related — is now in its third year. Organized by the perennially cheerful Michael Leventhal, it is the ultimate Jewish food conference across the pond. Warmed by fragrant samosas topped with chili and yogurt made by a collective of North African women who call themselves Spice Caravan, people gathered for a mix of talks, panel debates and stalls more or less all focusing on the wonder that is food. Topics ranged from the silly — making edible portraits for kids — to the more serious like the panel debate I hosted on the future of kosher food.

The other panelists were all kosher restaurateurs, of one shade or another. Kenny Arfin runs Bevis Marks The Restaurant, one of London’s smarter kosher restaurants; Elliot Hornblass is one of the backers of The Deli West One, a New York deli style restaurant and Amy Beilin is the force of nature behind Kosher Roast, London’s first kosher pop-up (as far as I’m aware).

The first question I posed was whether it matters if there is a future for kosher food. With the Jewish population in the UK at under 300,000 realistically how many people are religious enough to care? And even if they do care, are there sufficient numbers to make it commercially viable.

The conclusion was that there is a future because even if the market is small, there are enough people who care passionately to keep it going. Where the panel had differing views was on the cause and cure of the current stasis in the market.

There was consensus that suppliers and religious kosher authorities don’t help the situation. One example given was chickens. There;s only one major supplier in the UK for kosher chickens, meaning limited price competition. Similarly, there are only a handful of kosher certifying authorities and they err towards a conservative approach.

These are not uncommon complaints from kosher restaurateurs, but one area of difference among the panel was the role of the customer. Kenny felt that the customer invariably is conservative and expects traditional Ashkenazi fare when they eat out, reflecting views of what “Jewish” food is. At an event he recently catered, he tried to serve pareve cheese on top of hamburgers, but these were widely rejected.

Amy took a different line, she felt that her experience showed the kosher customer wants more innovation, that there is an expectation of good food, clever marketing and a decent drinks menu. Surly waiters and meat with the consistency of shoe leather — two features of sorely missed Blooms restaurant — are a thing of the past. If she’s right the kosher consumer is catching up with their secular cousins. At long bleeding last.

If questions from the floor are anything to go by, Amy’s view, supported by Elliot are a fair reflection the London Jewish community. Kosher keeping Jews are clamoring for their food to catch up with their values. It’s no longer good enough for food to be kosher — provenance, appearance and flavor have entered the kosher lexicon.

It will be interesting to see whether the market changes over the next year and by Gefiltefest 2013 we are talking about how the public has at long last got what it wants.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Kosher Restaurants UK, Kosher Pop-up London, Kosher London, Gefiltefest 2012

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.