Kosherfest, the largest (and only) kosher food industry trade show in the world, hosted its 24th annual expo in Secaucus, NJ, on November 13th and 14th. Thousands of players in the kosher food world show up each year, from giants like Manischewitz, Streit’s and Osem, to the godfathers of kosher certification, including the big four: the Orthodox Union, Circle K, Star-K and Kof-K.
But a multitude of small, niche entrepreneurs in the industry show up as well, reflecting not just the trajectory of kosher food over the years, but the way in which overarching American food trends filter into the Orthodox world. Kosherfest is a far cry from the artisan food world of Brooklyn, where we are from — and where our business, The Gefilteria, is located. So we went down to New Jersey to report as independent purveyors. Here’s our minute-by-minute view of this very kosher landscape.
A mom, a food crafter and a chef glare at one another in a Baltimore parking lot ready to throw down with fire and sharp objects. No, this is not a surprise culinary season of The Wire, or a bizarre new John Waters film. It’s a “Gefilte Fish Throwdown” sponsored by the Jewish Museum of Maryland as part of their exhibit “Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity.”
Aromas of fresh fish, piquant onion and horseradish, with faint notes of celery and short gusts of white pepper seem “louder” than the dogs yelping in the distance or the occasional siren. As the brisk cool air dances with the flames of the camping stoves, and the hot, bright sun beats down on the 100 or so people in the audience, it may be a Sunday in October, but it’s beginning to smell a lot like Passover.
Hosted by honored guest, Aaron Harkin of Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR, and host of The Signal, the competition got under way as the eager audience was introduced to the three participants. Dave Whaley of Baltimore’s acclaimed restaurant, Wit and Wisdom at The Four Seasons, unveiled his novel gefilte fish corndog, dipped in corn batter and deep fried served with a birthday-cake-pink tinted sauce of cream, horseradish and beet powder. “I didn’t have whitefish or pike, so I decided to use cobia, another kosher fish, that I knew would stand up to being made into a fish sausage and would remain firm and flavorful throughout the process.”
Never in the history of gefilte fish — perhaps the most haimish of Jewish dishes — has it drawn so much attention from the discerning food world. In Adeena Sussman’s recent article, “From Haimish to Haute” Zach Kutsher, owner of Kutsher’s Tribeca commented: “It’s our most controversial menu item.” Indeed their upscale preparation sparked intense debate among New York’s top food critics who placed more weight and emphasis on it than any other dish of the Jewish food revolution we seem to be in the midst of.
But Kutsher’s isn’t the only place responding to the call for a makeover of this oft-disliked — or perhaps misunderstood — dish. “More than almost any other Jewish food, gefilte has a bad reputation,” said Jeffrey Yoskowitz, one of three young New Yorkers who recently launched The Gefilteria, what they call a “pushcart start-up,” that sells sustainably sourced artisanal Jewish foods.
Purim might be over but you can still savor some hamantaschen out in Midwood, Brooklyn. [Serious Eats]
Or, feast like the Persians with a homemade feast. [Haaretz]
The Gefilteria, which will sell sustainably sourced gefilte fish and DIY gefilte fish kits, along with other updated Jewish classics will launch this weekend. [Grub Street]
Legendary cheese monger, Anne Saxelby, provides her picks for great places to eat on the Lower East Side, including some great Jewish classics like Kossar’s Bialy’s. [Edible Manhattan]