Challah baking, home-brewed kiddush wine and a controversial fish were part of an eclectic menu at the third Gefiltefest Jewish food festival, held on Sunday at Ivy House, Hampstead.
Run by Michael Leventhal in collaboration with the London Jewish Cultural Centre and the JCC, it attracted 500 people for a programme of tastings, demonstrations, restaurant awards and debates — including a heated discussion on whether Jewish food “really exists”.
Jewish Museum chief executive Abigal Morris chaired the debate, at which Michael Pollak of the London School of Jewish Studies argued that gefilte fish and other popular delicacies had been created to ensure diners did not pick bones out of their fish on Friday night, which would break Shabbat.
“Kugel and cholent come from the necessity of cooking something for 24 hours to eat on Shabbat. Smoked salmon and herring come from the necessity of Jewish merchants needing to carry something kosher with them on long journeys.”
But cookery writer Judy Jackson contended that many of the recipes thought to be traditionally Jewish were “made up” by modern chefs and writers. “I invented many in my book. I put in my mother-in-law’s Scottish recipe for stuffed chicken, using porridge oats. That’s not Jewish cooking, but it’s traditional in our family.”
Upstairs, children and adults pummelled homemade challah dough into misshapen plaits, supervised by Ariella Levy. They were encouraged to make two breads, one to take home, the other to donate to charity. Other demonstrations included Tali Levine’s Israeli salads and Italian chef Silvia Nacamulli’s aubergine caponata. Alexi Charkham showed how to “he-brew your own” kiddush wine. The JCC organised the children’s activities, which included petting live chickens and a kids’ café.
Among the lecturers was Rabbi Harvey Belovski, whose fishy tale was the long controversy over whether certain types of turbot have “scales” and can be considered kosher. The story of Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie refusing to eat turbot at an Anglo-Jewish Association dinner was headline news in the JC in the 1950s. “I was going to buy a turbot for us to examine,” he said. “But they are very expensive and as we will see, you won’t be able to eat it at the end.”
A post-lunch highlight was an interview with Gefiltefest founding patron Claudia Roden by food blogger Anthony Silverman.
Rabbi Eiran Davies and Limmud programming chair Dan Jacobs unveiled plans for a kosher vegetarian café, the Ruchot community café, which they hope will eventually sell organic produce from a sustainable farm they intend to open. “Jewish vegetarians are under-served by the current quality of milk restaurants,” said Mr Jacobs, a self-described “militant vegetarian”. The idea was for people to volunteer once a month to “cook whatever they want”.
Mr Leventhal — who quit his job in publishing to run Gefiltefest full-time — explained that it raised money for food poverty charities including Gift, the Bet Shean Food Bank and Leket. Food was “central to Judaism and it’s inspiring to see so many people sharing and celebrating together”.
The kosher restaurant award was won for the second year running by Kaifeng in Hendon, which serves Chinese fare.