What’s a kosher foodie to do?

What’s a kosher foodie to do?

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Being a kosher foodie is not so impossible thanks to the wide variety of cuisine and recipes now available LESLIE PEREZ PHOTOS
Being a kosher foodie is not so impossible thanks to the wide variety of cuisine and recipes now available LESLIE PEREZ PHOTOS

A few months ago, a conversation on Jewish news and politics with a few of my peers turned to a topic I thought would be far less polarizing: food. I quickly learned, however, that people take their culinary exploits as seriously as they take their politics.

“You can’t be a kosher foodie,” one friend said.

I was stumped. “Why not?”

“Too many restrictions,” he replied. “You can’t try all the new food trends and techniques.”

I pondered this for a moment before deciding to investigate. A quick Google search belied his claim.

Not only are there thousands of kosher foodies out there, but kosher food itself has experienced nothing short of a revolution over the past decade, catching up to trends in the wider culinary world.

The term “foodie” was first coined by American restaurant critic Gael Greene in a June 1980 edition of New York magazine. It gained popularity in culinary circles and continued to grow through the 1980s and 1990s.

Today, thanks to popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, many argue that foodie culture has reached dizzying new heights.

But what of Jewish foodies, and specifically kosher foodies? Do the dietary restrictions that come with being kosher actually make it impossible to be part of the foodie tribe? Can one be kosher and a foodie?

Food enthusiasts who spoke to The CJN seem to be in agreement: yes.

“A foodie is someone who’s thinking about dinner while they’re eating their lunch,” says chef Bob Blumer, host of Food Network programs like The Surreal Gourmet and World’s Weirdest Restaurants. “Being a foodie is maximizing the pleasure you get from what you’re eating, regardless of what your restrictions are. If you’re a celiac and you can’t eat wheat, that doesn’t mean you can’t gain pleasure from food and go out of your way to make everything you can eat delicious.”

It’s a common sentiment among food enthusiasts, kosher and otherwise.

“A foodie is someone who cares about food quality, ingredients, process, experience, and everything that goes along with it,” adds Dani Klein, 33, founder of YeahThatsKosher.com, a blog for kosher travellers. “There are kosher foodies, halal foodies, gluten-free foodies, organic foodies, lactose intolerant foodies, vegan foodies, carnivore-only foodies, etc. Just because one has a restriction doesn’t mean they can’t care about the quality.”

“Food restrictions might make a kosher (or other) foodie limited in terms of what we can have, but that doesn’t mean we are not lovers of good food,” Klein says. “Thanks to the web, there’s increased awareness of many hard-to-find kosher options in cities all over the world.”

The Internet has also enabled the kosher foodie revolution in other ways. It has increased awareness about kosher food in general – on Instagram, the hashtag #kosher has been used 270,900 times – but it’s also enabled a digital community of devout kosher foodies who share recipes, photos, and ideas with one another, thanks to a mutual, and delicious, common bond.

Montrealer Leslie Perez, founder of the blog Everyday Kosher, says the last five years in particular have seen an explosion in Jewish food culture. Jewish food finally has a voice, and it is influencing others in ways we could have never imagined. Through social media, we are connected to Jewish bloggers and foodies from around the world, from Texas to Morocco, and what unites us is that we are Jewish, love expressing our culinary art, and feed into that passion together as we share it.”

In Toronto, the community of kosher food enthusiasts is also on the rise.

Eran Marom, a founder of Mobius Culinary Labs, an R&D centre that develops new methods in cooking, attributes the rise of the kosher food scene in Toronto to a thirst for knowledge, and loyalty.

“In my 12 years working in Toronto’s kosher industry, I’ve found our kosher clients to be very open, and very loyal,” he says. “We’re seeing younger chefs being more creative and influenced by the kosher foodie scene in New York and Israel, which is obviously much bigger. I believe in the next few years we will continue to see big changes in Toronto’s kosher food industry.”

Marom also argues that having certain restrictions forces kosher chefs and foodies to be more creative.

“Limitation is the force of creativity,” he says. “Because we are so limited, every time someone makes something new, we all get excited. There’s nothing to be afraid of in the kosher industry, so kosher Jews always want to try new things. When a new kosher restaurant opens up in Toronto, everyone will go there.”

Norene Gilletz, chef, food blogger and CJN contributor, notes that although Toronto has a burgeoning kosher food culture, it pales in comparison to cities like New York or Tel Aviv.

“Even with kosher food being so much more available today, with fresh produce coming in from all over the world, it’s still so much harder here in Toronto than in the U.S.,” she says. “There they have kosher restaurants for everything, and millions of choices. It’s very different.”

In Montreal, home to a Jewish community of about 90,000, the restaurant scene has more or less stayed the same for many years, says Michel Ben-Haim, manager of Chops Kosher Restaurant.

“A lot of restaurants have come and gone, and it’s always the same places that have stayed open. The clientele is very limited. It’s not like in New York, where anybody eats kosher. In Montreal, it’s only members of the community or business meetings.”

The Montreal community is fairly conservative when it comes to food, he continues. “People here like simple food, but prepared with great ingredients. Everything needs to be fresh, clean-cut, and prepared properly.”

Daniel Davidzon, manager of marketing and communications for the Aroma Espresso Bar chain, says the demand for kosher food in Toronto has never been higher.

“We live in a time when people are more concerned than ever with what they eat, where it comes from, and how it’s made. Many are looking for accessible, affordable, and healthy options when eating out, and are looking to do so in modern restaurants serving modern cuisine. The food culture in Toronto is especially strong. Diners are exposed to ingredients and cooking styles from around the world and are savvy enough to realize they can be easily duplicated with special regard to dietary lifestyles such as keeping kosher.”

The kosher restaurant scene in the city is also getting more attention. In fact, May marks the second Kosher Restaurant Month in Toronto, an initiative of the Kashruth Council of Canada. The first one was held in 2013. More than 20 kosher restaurants are participating this year by offering patrons a 10 per cent discount. According to Richard Rabkin, the council’s managing director, Toronto is the only city in North America that has such a month-long event.

“Kosher restaurants are an important part of making a Jewish community viable, so we want to do our part to encourage people to visit their local kosher restaurants,” Rabkin says. “The more people who visit, the more viable they will be.”

“The kosher food market is definitely on the rise here,” adds David Blum, corporate executive chef at Toronto’s Savours Fresh Market kosher grocery. “Kosher consumers are more educated now, allowing companies to introduce new lines of different foods. Being a kosher foodie today is very exciting, because everything is new. No one was talking about beef bacon and kosher salami a few years ago. We’re taking items from the non-kosher market and twisting it around to meet our dietary needs.”

The rise in popularity of Food Network shows like Chopped and Master Chef has also helped, he says, because they influence and inspire Jewish chefs to do something similar.

“Being a foodie means you love to explore. When it comes to being kosher, it’s equally doable, you just have a smaller market to work with,” Blum says. “Just look at sushi. Twenty years ago, the only kosher restaurants were delis. Today, kosher sushi has become a staple in most Jewish communities.”

So it appears my friend really was wrong: you can keep kosher and call yourself a foodie.

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