Upmarket Kosher
Tue, 06/21/2011
Editorial Assistant
New gourmet kosher food magazines are really starting to pile up: with three new publications launching just this year.
New gourmet kosher food magazines are really starting to pile up: with three new publications launching just this year.

When Shifra Klein’s son was flipping through a copy of Bon Appétit magazine, his eye caught on a turkey and cheese sandwich that looked particularly good. “We could just make it without the cheese,” he said to her.

But sick of the necessary substitutions, switches and alterations, Klein, an avid kosher cook, decided to take matters into her own kitchen, so to speak, by creating her own gourmet kosher magazine. Together with her husband, she launched Bitayavon (Hebrew for Bon Appétit) earlier this year. The bimonthly publication, on glossy paper with color photographs, features recipes, articles and interviews targeted to home cooks.

“I want people to feel that kosher food is just as exciting as non-kosher food,” said Klein. “The magazine is very much about food,” and it focuses on seasonal and healthy eating.

The second issue, with a printing of more than 15,000 copies, hit subscribers’ mailboxes and kosher supermarkets just before Passover. Including interviews with gourmet chefs, recipes recreated from upscale restaurants and tips for preparing the best of farmers’ market produce, the magazine goes farther than any sisterhood cookbook of the past. A third issue will be out next week, and Klein is in talks to stock it in national bookstores and supermarkets.

Klein, a resident of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, isn’t alone in seeing an untapped market for upscale kosher: three other food publications directed at the observant population were created in the past six months. Kosher Inspired, affiliated with Mishpacha magazine, launched at the end of last year, and the weekly Ami Living, which published its first issue in November, includes a pullout section with recipes called “Whisk.”

Jamie Geller, the cookbook author behind “Quick and Kosher,” is branching into magazines as well, with her “Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller,” also a bimonthly, hitting newsstands in April. An initial run of 15,000 copies of the first edition (newsstand sales only) was upped that to 80,000 (including subscribers) for the second issue, out now. “The response has really encouraged us to move forward,” said Geller.

“Joy of Kosher” recipes include bison sliders, spanakopita and roasted beets with honeyed pistachios — elevating kosher cuisine beyond cholent and potato kugel. While many see the print medium as a dying art form, Geller sees unique opportunities in the kosher market. “I don’t think the same model can be applied to the Jewish community,” she said, noting that many people may not have regular Internet access, and that people use Shabbat to “curl up with a magazine.” But Geller isn’t leaving the online users behind: the magazine launched in conjunction with a recipe website, joyofkosher.com.

While it is too early to say how these publications will fare in the long run, they are not the first to push kosher upmarket. Jewish Living magazine lasted less than a year before folding in 2008. Cookbook author Gil Marks was the founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine, in 1986, which ran for about six years before closing in the early 1990s.

But the kosher foodie movement now extends beyond the printed page. The Kosher Food and Wine Experience, an annual culinary event, held its fifth gathering earlier this year at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan. The evening included tastings from almost 30 kosher restaurants and caterers, and dozens of kosher wines to sample. For the first time this year, the event sold out over a week in advance, with more than 2,000 people shelling out $100 each to attend.

“It took getting to the point where there was enough interest in gourmet food and enough restaurants making it that the timing just was right,” said Jay Buchsbaum of Royal Wine Corp., which hosts the event each year. Last year, the first time expo offered a variety of food, organizers had to coax restaurants into feeding the 1,350 guests, said Buchsbuam. But by this year, “we had to turn restaurants away,” he said. “It’s an amazing opportunity, especially now that the kosher restaurant scene has got so much better; it’s an opportunity for them to crow a little and show their wares.”

Royal Wine Corp. is hardly the only company luring in adventurous kosher foodies. Gemstone Catering held a kosher whiskey tasting alongside a five-course meal earlier this year, and City Winery hosted a “Kosher Taken to the Next Level” luncheon, pairing each course with both a wine and a work of art.

These days kosher foodies can get a cutting-edge dinner any night of the week, at restaurants that are pushing the boundaries of traditional kosher cuisine.

One such eatery is Etc. Steakhouse, in Teaneck, N.J., a bistro with an ever-changing menu and innovative dishes. Start the meal with goat chili crepes, alongside an orange, coconut and ginger sauce, then follow it up with coffee-rubbed hanger steak, paired with chamomile roasted cauliflower and onions. “We definitely wanted to try to be different, to set ourselves apart,” said Seth Warshaw chef and owner of Etc., which opened two years ago. Warshaw also operates his own greenhouse in Central New Jersey, full of produce he uses in his restaurant. “I just had this almost romantic idea about cooking the food in season,” he said.

And while the restaurant appears to be thriving two years after its launch, Etc. may not be for everyone. “Some people are just more adventurous [with their food],” said Warshaw. “I think a lot of people appreciate that we try to be a little more creative,” said Warshaw, but he recognizes that many kosher consumers, “just want a good piece of meat and french fries and ketchup.”

Even that classic can be brought to new levels at the Pardes restaurant in Brooklyn, which opened last fall. Order the fries and they arrive with a side of garlic truffle mayo and red wine ketchup. Follow them up with Aroncini di Riso (fried rice balls) stuffed with spicy duck ragout.

“The kosher community tends to follow often several years behind the general societal trends,” said Gil Marks, the historian and cookbook author, whose latest book is the 700-page “Encylopedia of Jewish Food.” The first (and most well known) fusion of kosher and international cuisine happened in the 1950s, when the kosher deli Bernstein’s on Essex starting serving Chinese food. In the 1960s, kosher pizza stores began to open, and in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Japanese and Thai food became the new adventurous dishes. “Now you can’t go to a wedding without a sushi station,” said Marks. “It’s a phenomenal change in the mentality.” Today, kosher Indian restaurants are the newest trend, with two glatt kosher eateries in Manhattan opening last year, and a host of kosher vegetarian places in Midtown.

So as today’s kosher home cook seeks out more exciting and innovative techniques, flavors and dishes, they have more help on their side. Every year new products and ingredients are available on the market, often launched at the Kosherfest trade show.

“Truffle oil hasn’t been around all that long,” said Warshaw of Etc. He also noted many dairy-substitute products and “the amount of sauces and marinades and glazes” available on the shelves of supermarkets.

Geller, editor of the Joy of Kosher magazine, agrees. “There are so many products now available to the kosher consumer that are easier and more accessible,” she said. “Manufacturers have taken notice of the desire for kosher consumers to break out of that brisket and gefilte fish world.”