My second article in the “Celebrate!” supplement of the March 20 Detroit Jewish News.
Stacy Gittleman | Special to the Jewish News
There are people who eat to live. Then, there are those seeking unique, exotic tastes created with the most superior ingredients chefs can get their hands on. These are the foodies — the people who live to eat. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, it is no longer about the restaurant that just opened, but the foodies who are following the hottest chefs sweating it out in the kitchen of a particular restaurant, which is making it impossible to get that Saturday night reservation.
Local kosher caterers agree; the foodie craze has also caught up to their business as well. The kosher-catered affair is no longer about the stuffed derma and kasha served at your grandmother’s wedding. Unless, of course, for nostalgia’s sake, you know your guests will want an “Old World Eastern European” station with old standbys like knishes and chopped liver spread. Then it will be there. Guests should also be prepared to make room on their cocktail-hour plate for cuisine from India, Ethiopia and Japan.
Daniel Kohn, manager of Quality Kosher Catering in Southfield, was witness to the global gourmet trend as he worked in the hospitality business in New York and Colorado. Now back in Detroit, he keeps the legacy of the business his grandmother started in 1968 going strong for the next generation.
He knows that not all in this generation who seek a kosher caterer keep strictly kosher. In fact, statistics from the industry show that 55 percent of consumers buy kosher products for health reasons, 38 percent are vegetarians, and 16 percent eat only halal. Only 8 percent surveyed said they buy kosher products because they adhere to kashrut.
“There used to be a time not long ago when the food was just one more element at a big occasion, like the flowers or the band,” Kohn said. “Today, as people have developed sophisticated tastes and have become involved themselves with new cooking techniques, the food takes front and center stage.”
It is this sophistication of the foodie’s eclectic palate that is driving chefs to create anything but the standard chicken or beef offerings at catered affairs. At a typical wedding catered by Quality Kosher, food selections may cover “at least” four different ethnic tastes, from sushi and noodles at an Asian station to Moroccan meat cigars and tagines, or Indian curries.
Casual, But High End
Another trend in eating is that party guests still love their casual food, even if they are in sequined gowns and tuxedos.
“You can take burgers and fries and other casual American food to another level and make them high end,” Kohn said.
A fine menu starts with advanced planning.
When Franci Goodstein Shanbom, 38, and Sam Shanbom, 45, of West Bloomfield planned their Nov. 27 wedding — the night before Thanksgiving and the first night of Chanukah — they knew that the food would have to meld these two holidays. Because they married later in life, the Shanboms said they did not want to subject friends and family to just another “sit down chicken and baked potato dinner.”
What Quality Kosher planned was something completely “off the board,” said Franci Shanbom. The evening included four buffet stations with varied types of potato latkes and pareve sour cream, mini turkey potpies in cups made of phyllo dough, a Pan Asian station featuring Asian noodle slaw and orange chicken, a Tex Mex station with steak fajitas and a burger station including sliders made from salmon and portabella mushrooms. “We wanted a fun affair with a cocktail party feel, with lots of casual good food. Daniel is very youthful, and he had great ideas of how to make the party fun and hip,” Shanbom said.
Chef Cari Herskovitz also wants to treat her kosher-observant clients to a meal and a catered affair with international flavors they may not ordinarily have a chance to sample. Herskovitz graduated from the Natural Gourmet Cookery Institute for Food and Healing in New York City in 2000 and worked in the food industry there for many years preparing gastronomical delights for Lenny Kravitz, Ralph Lauren and Elie Wiesel.
She moved back to Detroit in 2003 and founded Chef Cari Kosher Catering, a Glatt kosher company housed at Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield. As vegetarian and vegan kosher venues open up in Detroit — such as Gold ‘n Greens at Wayne State University and Herskovitz’s summer pop-up falafel stand at Campus Martius Park — she loves to hear how they surprise the average restaurant goer. They realize that you don’t have to keep kosher, or even be Jewish, she says, to enjoy kosher food. What they are enjoying, simply, is good food.
“I want people to come to me to cater an affair, first and foremost, because they are coming to me for well-prepared food,” Herskovitz said. “I want them to know if they want that vegan wedding that will keep even their nonvegan guests happy, they can come to me. They can also come to me if they keep on the more traditional side and want a meal with beef or chicken as the centerpiece.” Herskovitz said she enjoys offering clients the healthiest food choices, creating vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as more traditional meat or dairy menus for affairs.
For the adventurous vegetarians, she will create entire menus using greens like the ever-popular kale or taking a cue from the trend in using ancient grains like farro, amaranth and quinoa. Herskovitz said that vegan and vegetarian entrees could go beyond pasta and tofu. She likes to experiment with proteins like tempeh and seitan and introduce different grains, all enhanced with fresh herbs and greens.
For one recent wedding, she created an entire vegetarian Indian feast consisting of eight to 10 dishes complete with yogurt raita and naan bread. As health trends evolve, so have the offerings of kosher caterers. Kohn and Herskovitz can attest that they have catered vegetarian and vegan weddings where courses included meatless entrees, such as stuffed manicotti or textured vegetable protein layered with roasted portabella mushrooms and asparagus.
“When we sit down with the clients, we explain to them: ‘You are inviting 350 guests; you want them to come and then leave happy,’” Kohn said. “We round out the vegetarian and vegan offerings with interesting salads, a great sushi bar and velvety vegan soups.”
And what about those pareve desserts?
Back at his kitchen in Southfield, Kohn said David Carris, his pastry chef of 15 years, is constantly working on the ultimate dairy-free dessert.
“Our pastry chef has a way of working with desserts, starting with the finest quality ingredients that you would never expect were dairyfree or even egg-free. How good are they? I tell clients they must try the pareve creme brulee. If you don’t have a dairy creme brulee sitting there right next to it, you could swear you are eating the real thing. It’s that good.”
I don’t really get bogged down about checking my blog stats.
I really could care less about how many eyeballs come to visit my blog or which country they reside.
Blog stats keep me from going to bed at night and get me up and going every morning.
Lately, the tag words that lead people to my blog the most are “kosher” and “kosher meat”
In fact, in the last 30 days, searches like “kosher,” “kosher beef,” and “kosher meat cuts” led 227 people to my blog.
It’s all very flattering, folks, but I’m no expert here.
Although I follow kosher dietary laws to some extent – I have a kosher home and stick to a vegetarian diet at non-kosher restaurants – I’m no guru on kosher certification or laws of kashrut. Leave that to the experts like Kosher Maven, Los Angeles Kosher Restaurants and here is a whole list of kosher bloggers I found on Pragmaticattic.
But still, the Kosher hits keep coming.
Additionally, thanks to WordPress’ mapping feature that lets you check out where in the world the hits are coming from, many of my hits are coming from countries where I bet hardly anyone keeps kosher.
The United Arab Emirates
So, what do I think about this? Maybe – just maybe, people are reaching across the blogosphere to reach across the Muslim/Jewish divide. Maybe, as we approach 9/11, blogging can dispel the myth we build up about each other. Maybe, there are people in Muslim-dominant countries who really want to find out who and what Jews really are. Maybe we can find common ground, at least in a gastronomic way.
What interesting trends have you unearthed in your blogging statistics?
And, unless you live in an area with a good-sized Jewish population, kosher meat and kosher butchers are hard to come by.
But with this “pink slime” trending in the news, it’s reassuring to know that absolutely NO pink slime is permitted in kosher meat, according to KosherEye, a blog for foodies who also keep Kosher.
According to the blog:
Statement from OU Kosher: Kosher ground beef is made out of the kosher pieces of meat, trimmed by hand. No mechanically separated beef or pink slime is used in any OU-certified production.
The other night, I picked up a pound of kosher ground round and a pound of kosher ground lean turkey and treated my family to a slow-cooked meatloaf that I have to say was absolutely delish.
So, if you don’t want pink slime in your beef, or mechanically separated parts in your lunch or dinner, if you want chickens that are fed a grain-only diet and that are not fed any dead chicken parts, if you want a sustainable meat supply that by law must treat and slaughter its animals in the most humane way possible, you don’t have to be Jewish to buy kosher meat.
With that, I hope that there will be kosher burger joints popping up all over the nation. Then again, my cholesterol levels would be sky high if that were the case.