The last year brought plenty to keep JC Food happy, so here is a flavour of what we found great in culinary during 2013.
In the kosher food world, there has been much to celebrate. No longer the poor relative of cuisines, its reputation for being old-fashioned and boring is being diminished on a daily basis.
This was especially true in the realm of kosher restaurants as not one but two high profile kosher venues opened their doors this year.
In the City of London, the new tenants of the Bevis Marks synagogue — glamorous, fine dining room, 1701 welcomed its first guests in June. With Yotam Ottolenghi-trained chef Oren Goldfeld at the helm, diners were treated to an exciting menu of twists on traditional dishes such as Friday night dinner and Sephardi adafina.
Ottolenghi’s ubiquitous influence could also be seen over in North West London. Chefs Josh Katz and Eran Tibi had already garnered critical plaudits when based at Made In Camden. In late September, the pair, who have both also spent time working with Ottlenghi, opened the doors to their first kosher restaurant, Zest at the sexy, shiny new JW3 building. In only a few weeks, they have already received a thumbs up from critic Jay Rayner. Happy days for kosher diners.
And all sorts of interesting new products have made gourmet menus far easier to put together both in restaurants and at home. Flavours which have previously been off-menu, like pungent truffle have been brought to the kosher table, with the launch of the KLBD licensed range from Truffle Corner, which included oil, pates, honey and truffle-scented salt.
The horsemeat scandal had the unexpected effect of triggering a mini kosher meat boom. Sales grew while at the same time, a wider range of meat cuts started to emerge, giving observant carnivores more choice.
And kosher wine has also had a great year, with several world-class wines now available. Wine maker Jeff Morgan’s Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon, widely regarded as one of the world’s best kosher wines, had JC wine writer Richard Ehrlich in paroxysms.
The year also saw young kosher foodies doing their bit to bring kashrut into the 21st century, with supper clubs and pop ups like Amy Beilin and Lindsey Bennett’s Kosher Roast and Shana Boltin and Aron Cohen’s vegetarian MedVeg and TexVeg.
The trend for street food was also embraced by caterers. The Kosher Diner — a mobile van — was founded by Jonathan Sobell, son of caterer Carole.
The smart food truck serves falafel, fish and chips, chicken goujons and other fast food favourites anywhere it is needed. Genius.
Although not kosher, Simi Goldberg also offers Israel’s favourite street food, falafel, from her Falafel Feast trailer and took time out from party catering to appear at this year’s Gefiltefest.
The kosher food festival itself was another success with a wealth of food demonstrations, discussions and plenty of food on offer as well as an unexpected visit from a bemused David Milliband — dragged in by a Gefiltefest volunteer from walking his dog in neighbouring Golders Hill park.
While Jewish or kosher cookery books have been thin on the ground this year, a few worthy of mention did land on the JC Food desk. The long awaited Smitten Kitchen book from New York blogger Deb Perelman was worth the wait.
Each recipe is written in the chatty style she uses in her blog, making it a book that would be as at home on your bedside table as on the kitchen worktop.
Perelman is not kosher and nor is her book but there is a smattering of haimishe food like her mother-in-law’s High Holy Day brisket as well as a fig, olive oil and sea salt challah bread and a “tiny but intense” — flourless — chocolate cake, perfect for Passover.
Another non-kosher book with huge amounts of Sabra-style personality was Einat Admony’s Balaboosta. It is also a great read — detailing Admony’s life journey from her childhood, via teen angst to her military service and on to being the chef-proprietor of a clutch of Manhattan eateries via culinary school with a few romances along the way.
My copy is festooned in “must cook” post-it notes — detailing recipes as varied as the traditional challah, Israeli bourekas, Arabic Malabi with orange brandy sauce and even a home-made Kit Kat.
Admony was not the only Israeli chef winning plaudits this year. Golden boy and new father Ottolenghi continued to win awards and fans. His name now describes an entire cooking movement which includes chefs like Josh Katz (Zest) and husband and wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer (Honey & Co) who are themselves now picking up gongs for their food. JC Food can’t wait for the next book from Ottolenghi and business partner Sami Tamimi.
Jewish and kosher food just keeps on getting better and better. Bring on 2014!