The year Jewish cuisine finally hit the big time

As we loosen our belts and limber up for the last Shabbat of 2012, it seemed a good time for to reflect on what has made our eyes light up and our mouths water during the past year.

At the end of 2011, with the opening of Mishkin’s Deli by Russell Norman — one of the West End’s most prolific and trendy restaurateurs — almost at the same time as the launch of kosher salt beef bar Deli West One, it looked like Jewish food had finally arrived. No longer just frumpy fare from the shtetl but a cuisine worthy of London’s West End.

While not actually making it to Michelin stardom, Jewish and kosher food continues its journey into the 21st century.

Several other food trends have been embraced and adapted for the kosher market over the last 12 months. Pop-up (temporary) restaurants have been a growing mainstream development for a few years. Foodie Amy Beilin set up Kosher Roast, the first Jewish pop-up, late last year to allow kosher folk to enjoy a pub-style roast meal.

Throughout 2012, the Kosher Roast team hosted a series of sell-out events, culminating with their first-birthday gourmet banquet this month.

Another mainstream trend taken up was the supper club. These are dinners hosted by home chefs. Jodie Krestin and Alex Franklin launched My Big Fat Jewish Supper Club (MBFJSC) in November with a traditional Friday night meal. The girls wanted to give everyone the chance to taste a traditional Ashkenazi Friday night. They had to bat off their Jewish friends and family in order to make room for those uninitiated in Friday-night food as they served up latkes, chicken soup and salt beef.

The first MBFJSC Shabbat meal was a sell-out and more are planned for 2013.

This has also been a good year in print. The book that had every food writer (and keen home cook) clamouring for a copy was Jerusalem, by chefs of the moment, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The pair should be awarded a medal for services to grocers as they brought to the attention of the cooking public a raft of unusual ingredients. Middle-class shopping baskets up and down the land have been heaving with date syrup and chard, and dinner parties have been echoing with oohs and aahs from amazed and impressed guests.

Kosher cookbooks by English authors are few and far between. But in 2012, in the manner of buses, two came along at once.

At Passover, the delightfully named Warm Bagels and Apple Strudel by Ruth Joseph and JC writer Simon Round hit the shelves. Packed with images good enough to eat, the selection of dishes — both Ashkenazi and Sephardi — gave tradition a twist with recipes like “Jewish Penicillin Vietnamese style” but also respected it with an indulgent loskshen pudding and old-fashioned mandelbrot.
Denise Phillips’s The Gourmet Jewish Cookbook landed on the JC’s desk for Rosh Hashanah. Her crunchy fig and pistachio biscotti wins this year’s award for “most talked about recipe”. No single dish has had better feedback.

Another foodie highlight was Gefiltefest 2012 in May. Founder Michael Leventhal has his finger on the pulse of Jewish food and is the first stop for anyone who wants the lowdown on rising stars of kosher cooking.

And 2012 was a good year for kosher wine too. The 2011 opening of Avi Roth’s Wine Cellar in Stamford Hill was an indication that it may finally have truly arrived. The launch in Danny Saltman’s sexy new Edgware kosher off-licence, The Wine Man, was proof that it has. The two outlets doubled the number of kosher wine retailers in under a year.

So the most notable trend of 2012 has been the rise of young foodies broadening the horizon of kosher food. Long may it continue into 2013.


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