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December 12, 2016 10:57 am

Making Traditional Jewish Food Great Again With the ‘Gefilte Manifesto’

avatar by Robert Gluck / JNS.org

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The cover of "The Gefilte Manifesto." Photo: Flatiron Books.

The cover of “The Gefilte Manifesto.” Photo: Flatiron Books.

JNS.org — Two emerging young chefs are on a mission to reclaim and revolutionize Ashkenazi cuisine for the millennial generation.

Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz both fell in love with Eastern European Jewish cooking early on in life, and they have used that passion to start a revolution — starting with a makeover of gefilte fish. In 2011, they founded The Gefilteria with partner Jackie Lilinshtein, their response to the packaged glass jars of ground fish patties on supermarket shelves. The business sells a signature gefilte fish dish and hosts pop-up dining events. That venture has grown into a mission to revamp all the Ashekanzi classics, resulting in The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods, a cookbook that puts modern and lighter twists on traditional fare– and even includes a chapter on “choosing your own leftover adventure.”

“Gefilte is not just about your bubbe,” Alpern and Yoskowtiz write. “It is not about kitsch or a foodie revolution. Gefilte is about reclaiming our time-honored foods and caring how they taste and how they’re sourced. It is about serving a dish with pride, not simply out of deference to hollow convention. It is about taking food traditions seriously and reclaiming the glory of Ashkenazi food — what it has been and what it can be.”

The duo met soon after they graduated college when they were both working in the food industry — she as a recipe taster, he as a fellow at a Jewish organic farm — and found that they were both “super on fire about Jewish foods,” Alpern told JNS.org.

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As an undergraduate student at McGill University, Alpern had baked and sold challah out of her home because there was no kosher bakery in her neighborhood. Yoskowitz, raised in New Jersey, would go on field trips as a child with his father to New York’s Jewish food institutions, and even studied the kosher industry for his senior thesis at Brown University.

Alpern and Yoskowitz, who were featured in Forbes’s 2014 “30 Under 30” list for food and wine, are drawing praise from prominent chefs for their efforts to save the foods of their heritage.

Jewish food writer and cookbook author Leah Koenig praised The Gefilte Manifesto in her latest book, Modern Jewish Cooking, for digging “deep into our Ashkenazi ancestors’ recipe boxes.”

“It pulls out time-tested favorites and lost gems, and finds ways to make them taste at once fresh and innovative, and utterly authentic,” Koenig told JNS.org.

“We Jewish mothers can be collectively entranced, inspired and proud,” Mollie Katzen, bestselling author-illustrator of vegetarian cooking classics, told JNS.org. “It’s no small feat to retain the character of an old, emotionally held culinary culture while imparting fresh life to the standards. Jeffrey and Liz nailed it, not only with outstanding recipes but also with history and stories and context, impeccably written.”

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  • Reb_Yaakov

    The time would be better spent trying to revive Judaism. I do appreciate, though, the humor in the final paragraph in which the term “vegetarian cooking classics” is oxymoronically used in an article about consuming the flesh of a fish.

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