Many thanks and special consideration to Monica Gonzalez and Dejha Carrington of Rockaway PR for graciously enabling me to attend both the trade and the evening events gratis. All opinions are my own and are uncensored.
The Kosher Food and Wine Experience is a chance for restaurateurs, caterers, food brands, vinters, and spirit producers to showcase what is up and coming in the world of kosher food. It is a chance to set the trends and raise the bar. In my three years attending the event, this year I will have to say that with a few absolutely stunning exceptions, this did not occur.
I believe it is because the kosher food world is undergoing a revolution, and while everyone is eager to be on the forefront, not everyone is perhaps truly prepared or able (or even willing) to be at the vanguard.
I would like to state with as strong a voice as I am able: the world of kosher food is changing, and there is no reason whatsoever for mediocrity in any form as the status quo, to accept anything less than the absolute best from those in the service of hospitality. The excuse ‘well, it’s kosher, so..’ is no longer acceptable. The consumer has a larger sphere of influence and a stronger voice than ever before, and it would behoove every member of the service industry to listen.
I do, however, want to focus on the exceptions. They were few, and they were excellent in every sense of the word. What is my definition of excellence? It is simple – the food that was presented tasted as it was supposed to, and there were no flaws in technique.
Gemstone Caterers/Got Cholent/Wandering Que was far and away the favorite of the event. The veal pancetta and lamb bacon (served with hemp seed sweet potato mash), the tofu with smoked carrots and beets, the 18hr oak and apple angus brisket, and the mesquite smoked chicken with avocado crema and lamb belly bacon lardon were indisputably the best eating of the event. Each dish was executed properly, and every single thing tasted incredible. Top marks to the pitmaster from Texas for innovation, technique and taste.
Veal pancetta and lamb belly bacon with hemp seed sweet potato mash
Mesquite Smoked Chicken and Avocado Crema with lamb belly bacon lardon
18 hour Oak and Apple Smoked Angus Beef Brisket
Smoked Tofu with smoked heirloom carrots and beets
On the completely opposite end of the culinary world, Silverleaf Caterers also garnered excellent marks in my book for their Euro-with-a slight-twist menu. Presented as if it were a set dinner (appetizer, salad, main, dessert) the entire menu, while more traditional, was executed perfectly – everything tasted as it was supposed to, the ingredients were the best and treated respectfully to enhance their flavor, and the presentation was simple. Their offerings (nightshade crostini, moschata duchesne salad, lamb polpetine, and choco-caramel-buttercrunch-sea salt covered maztoh) were ones I could not get enough of.
Nightshade Crostini – eggplant, toasted pine nuts, tomato, paprika, olive oil on artisanal crostini
Moschata Duchesne Salad – roasted butternut squash, tahini, fresh pomegranate, kale.
Lamb Polpetine – ground lamb, lemon, coriander, toasted slivered almonds
Unleavened Manna Dessert – matzoh, buttercrunch, chocolate, caramel, sea salt
ETC Steakhouse is a restaurant to watch. From innovation (their chocolate carmel/peanut nougat) to taste and technique, (pink peppercorn crusted ribeye with red amaranth salad, orange zest scallion and pomegranate molasses) I was quite impressed. The first farm-to-table kosher restaurant, this is a venue I would travel to.
Pink Peppercorn Crusted Ribeye – with red amaranth salad, orange zest scallion, pomegranate molasses
T Fusion Steakhouse also impressed. They offered a coffee rub and bbq smoked brisket with blue mashed potatoes and a baby carrot. They also served a chicken roulade with spinach, olives and sun dried tomato tapenade. While the sides with the brisket could have been seasoned better, the brisket was the true star – melt in your mouth tender and full of flavor. I was especially happy with the roulade. Juicy and quite savory, I was pleased – a roulade can be dry if not prepared and handled properly, and I was initially quite suspicious this would be the case. I can honestly say I was mistaken.
Coffee Rub -BBQ Smoked Brisket – with mashed blue potatoes and baby carrot
Chicken roulade – stuffed with spinach, olive, sun dried tomato tapenade
This year I did indulge a little in the wine and spirits department, and I am glad I did. The wine and spirits component of the event was larger than I ever remember it being, and the few I did sample (I am a complete lightweight!) were absolutely wonderful. Keep in mind, I took literal sips of each, but even from that small amount I could tell what I had was fantastic.
I tend to go for wines that are semi dry – too sweet and I find it cloying, too dry and I find it overwhelming. With a bit of help from Yosef Silver and Naomi Nachman, I was never steered wrong. I very much enjoyed the Bartenura Asti and Prosecco, and something lovely and red from Or Haganuz. I apologize for my ignorance, but I will confess wine is not my area of expertise. However, from this experience, I would like to change that. The best thing I drank all evening: Drappier Champagne. I’ve had champagne at family occasions before, but nothing compares to this. It is what people dream of – a glass of golden bubbles that hit the tongue in the perfect marriage of sweet and dry. I still taste that champagne.
Bartenura Prosecco and Asti – some of my favorites
Or Haganuz – very delicious reds and whites for every occasion
In conclusion, I would say that it was worth it to attend KFWE – and I would go again. I have heard quite a few people say that perhaps it is not worth the travel, or the expense. I am not sure if I agree. Then again, I am also intensely curious to see what will happen, where kosher food will go next. Since kosher (or kosher style, at any rate) appears to be the non-kosher foodie world’s newest trend, I am intrigued to see how this will translate onto the genuinely kosher food scene.
These next few years will change the landscape of kosher food dramatically, and both consumer as well as proprietor will need to be willing to step out of their comfort zone to face this new reality. Open, positive dialogue on both sides is key. The world of kosher dining has changed so very much over time, and it has survived -and thrived- with each challenge, each new innovation. I have every confidence that kosher food and wine can and will be on par with its non-kosher counterparts in due course.
I took so many pictures that I want to share, I decided to add a Facebook album of all the pictures that didn’t make this article on my FB blog page. It will be available in the next week or so. Click here for my FB page for this and other photo galleries, as well as a backseat to many of my other food adventures!