Sourdough on Shabbat? Inside the City’s Kosher Food Revolution

“Tuna tartare is the new gefilte fish.”

This proclamation came from Moshe Schonfeld, an owner of Ossie’s Fish, a kosher business found in grocery stores across Long Island and Brooklyn.

About five years ago, Mr. Schonfeld noticed that Ossie’s shoppers were growing much more adventurous. They were asking about new types of fish they had seen on social media.

“Look at branzino,” said Mr. Schonfeld, 32. “No one had heard about it until three or four years ago; now everyone eats it.” He seized on their newfound curiosity to offer crudo and ceviche options, and dishes like blueberry vodka-cured salmon. Most recently, during the pandemic, he introduced take-home tuna tartare kits, which were a surprise hit, selling out at most locations every week by Friday morning.

The experimental kosher food movement has been trending for the last decade, and a full-on küçük revolution is now taking place in the New York City area, mainly in the Five Towns, an informal grouping of villages on Long Island near Kennedy Airport, and parts of Queens and Brooklyn. It’s led by young, observant Jews who read Bon Appétit and see no reason not to update their diets. The movement has been encouraged by the pandemic, which has given home chefs and small businesses in the area the time and drive to introduce new kosher cooking products to religious Jews, many of whom are at home now more than ever.

“I see all the sales, and this is what kosher people now want,” said Mr. Schonfeld, whose grandfather founded Ossie’s 50 years ago. “My grandparents must be rolling over in their graves.”

These entrepreneurs, many of whom are making and selling items out of their homes, are building a following that includes people who don’t keep kosher. The community even has a Bon Appétit of its own, a glossy magazine with recipes called Fleishigs.

Shifra and Shlomo Klein, who founded Fleishigs more than three years ago, run the publication out of their home in Cedarhurst, which is part of the Five Towns. Since the onset of the pandemic last February, magazine subscriptions have increased by 50 percent, the Kleins said.

Shlomo Klein, right, a founder of Fleishigs magazine, recording the kosher chef Avner Guzman as he prepared a dish.Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

For food to be kosher it must be prepared in a particular way and not use any banned ingredients. But the Kleins, who are Chabad Jews, have always believed that kosher cuisine should embrace a diversity of cooking styles and ingredients, while still adhering to the rules.

“For fun, if I had time at 10 o’clock at night, I would drive to an Indian market in Hicksville or go to Barnes & Noble and read all the cooking magazines or watch a food show on Eater,” said Ms. Klein, 38.

Now, the Kleins are in the middle of a culinary transformation happening in their very neighborhood, with friends and friends of friends inventing new kosher concoctions and starting companies.

“You should see the stuff that shows up at our house,” Ms. Klein said. This month, companies hoping for reviews sent kosher chocolate CBD candies, jars of pesto and caramelized onion butter, platters of smoked fish and beef jerky, and harissa, a chile paste typically used in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. “We even have kosher bonito flakes lying around,” said Mr. Klein, 40.

The Kleins feature as many of these products, businesses and recipes as possible in the magazine. “The grocery started getting mad at us,” Mr. Klein said. “They told me, ‘You have to let us know what is going to be in the issue so we can have the ingredients in stock ahead of time. We can’t keep up with demand.’”

As Mr. Schonfeld put it, “If Shlomo Klein says you need to try the almond truffle branzino from Ossie’s, people try it.”

Mr. Klein and his wife, Shifra, who founded Fleishigs in Cedarhurst, N.Y., believe kosher food can follow the rules and still be creative and delicious. Below, a photo shoot for an issue that will feature s’mores hot chocolate cake.Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times
Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times
Credit…Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

The Kleins recently wrote about Mendy Herz, a manager at KolSave Market, a kosher grocery store in neighboring Lawrence, N.Y. But Mr. Herz also has a side gig: making kosher sausage, which he discovered while working in a restaurant in London. When he returned to Long Island, he could not find the product anywhere.

“Everyone has the fear of sausage and hot dogs, that it’s garbage mushed together, but I am using fresh, prime cuts, the muscles that you could sell for a roast,” said Mr. Herz, who said he made everything by hand. “I weigh every piece of meat, I weigh the fat, I weigh the spices to the gram.”

Mr. Herz got his start by delivering his sausages to people’s homes for Shabbat or Jewish holidays. Soon, neighbors started asking him to cater their barbecues and weddings. Now he sells his products in a few grocery stores, including his own. “People buy six, seven, eight packs at a time,” he said. “In the non-kosher world, sausages aren’t fancy, but in the kosher world, it’s a rare item.”

For Mozelle Goldstein, a pediatric nurse from Woodmere, just east of Kennedy Airport, baking is a way to relax. Ms. Goldstein, 36, also loves making Syrian specialties taught to her by her 97-year-old great-grandmother, who lives in Midwood, Brooklyn. “One of my favorites is string cheese,” she said. “It’s not the stick, though. You essentially buy a cheese curd, chop it down, melt it with spices, add some seeds and retwist it up into this cheese that you string to eat.”

At first, Ms. Goldstein shared her goods with friends and family members. They became so popular that she decided to sell them on Instagram. Now, during a busy week, she sells something like 15 pies, 16 challahs and 10 loaves of sourdough bread, she said. “I’m still just me, one person, so I have to cut off orders sometimes.”

Mr. Herz said that many trendy Orthodox Jews were replacing challah with other home-baked breads for traditional meals. “My siblings all eat sourdough on Shabbat,” he said. “It’s only gotten worse during the pandemic, when every home chef in the country made it. It hit us too; we aren’t living in a hole.”

Gitta Langer is selling kosher macarons through Instagram. “I call it a small-batch patisserie,” she said. “There are a lot of macaron companies out there, but Jewish people don’t have access to them because they aren’t kosher.”

Ms. Langer, 25, who lives in Far Rockaway, Queens, and is pursuing a master’s degree in food science, has served her macarons at a gallery opening and provided them as corporate gifts for a non-Jewish company. She was asked to do a New York Fashion Week event, although she couldn’t accept the gig because it fell over Rosh Hashana. “I hope people can now view kosher food as sophisticated, as a force,” she said.

Mr. Klein has noticed several indie kosher brands making their way into mainstream supermarkets. “We can’t mix milk and meat, so we use a lot of Impossible meats” now, he said, referring to the vegetarian meat company. Nondairy cheeses are also used a lot, which appeals to vegan customers, he added. “The same with gluten-free products that we would normally use on Passover, when we can’t eat flour,” he said. “They are now being sold year-round at Whole Foods and Wegmans.”

Ms. Langer is not surprised by the great kosher food experiment. “In Judaism we have so many holidays and traditions that circulate around food,” she said. “We really are and have always been the ultimate foodies.”

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