The Ashkenaz Festival will be serving up an eclectic culinary program this year.
Lectures and demonstrations will feature traditional Ashkenazic cuisine such as herring, bagels and smoked meat, along with Sephardic desserts – just some of the Jewish fare to be showcased at the 2018 festival, which runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 3.
Festival-goers will even be able to participate in the Bagel Battle at 5 pm on Sept. 2 in Miss Lou’s Room at the Harbourfront Centre.
Eric Stein, artistic director of Ashkenaz, said he’s very excited about the Global Shtetl, a new program that combines culture and food.
The Global Shtetl, a series of curated excursions to different neighbourhoods, is designed to appeal to tourists who appreciate Toronto’s diverse culture. “This program gives tourists an opportunity to see neighbourhoods and local hotspots in different locations around the city,” he said.
Since 2012, Ashkenaz has featured more cross-culturism within Jewish music and the arts world, making the Global Shtetl a natural development, Stein added.
Participants (pre-registration is necessary) will enjoy a special meal in one of Toronto’s unique neighbourhoods. The food will reflect a particular ethno-cultural community whose music or culture will be highlighted at the festival, he explained.
“A Taste of Poland in Little Portugal” is an evening of Polish-Jewish music and cuisine to be held at Lula Lounge on Aug. 29. The featured singer, Olga Mieleszczuk, splits her time between Poland and Israel.
She performs popular musical selections from Warsaw and Tel Aviv along with the cabaret music that was popular in Poland during the 1920s and ’30s.
Polish Jews were very active in the cabaret scene before the Second World War, Stein said.
The Polky Village Band, a local group known for traditional Polish and eastern European music, will also be playing that evening.
Lula Lounge will be preparing a special fixed-price Polish dinner of schnitzel and borscht, Stein noted.
The Global Shtetl moves north on Aug. 30 for a concert tribute to Leonard Cohen at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.
Stein said this suburban venue was chosen as a means of reaching out to “the massive growing Jewish community” north of the city: “We’re broadening our footprint as a provider of great Jewish music and cultural programming.”
In deference to Cohen, the accompanying dinner will be Montreal smoked meat.
Stein described the meal as a type of “lunch and learn” as Seth Rogovoy will give a pre-show talk about the Jewish influence on Cohen’s work while people eat their sandwiches
On Aug. 31, the Global Shtetl venue is Beth Tzedec Congregation. “We’re teaming up with Beth Tzedec for the first time,” said Stein, noting that Mizmor Shir, the Kabbalat Shabbat concert – to be performed by Montreal’s Sela-Rosenblatt Quartet – will be followed by an inclusive family service and dinner.
He stressed that pre-registration is necessary for the multi-course traditional Shabbat meal.
Stein said he’s very excited about the Global Shtetl’s Italian-Jewish programming, which features Enrico Fink, an Italian storyteller and musician, whose body of work reflects the Italian-Jewish experience.
His performance at noon on Sept. 1 will be paired with an authentic northern Italian-Jewish lunch prepared by DROM Taberna, an eastern European restaurant.
The meal will be based on Jenny Bassani’s recipes. Her family was featured in The Garden of the Finzi Continis, a historical novel about Italian Jewish life in the ’30s and ’40s written by her brother, Giorgio Bassani.
Stein said the Italian program is scheduled for the afternoon to avoid a conflict with Ashkenaz’s evening programming.
The Global Shtetl wraps up on Sept. 2 with a walking tour of Kensington Market in the morning, followed by the Jewish-themed brunch at Free Times Cafe, which takes place every Sunday. Dobranotch is the featured musical group.
“They are Russian klezmer-superstars,” according to Stein. “They just performed at the Markham Jazz Festival and the they were fantastic.”
He called the Global Shtetl a real bargain.
“As far as value goes, where else can you have a show and a meal for 40 or 50 bucks?”