The 8th Annual Kosher Food & Wine Experience opened to a sold out crowd of thousands last week at Pier 60 in Chelsea Piers. Both kosher and nonkosher patrons gathered to experience the latest in kosher food and wine from an array of caterers, restauranteurs and vintners.
Charcuterie was full on display this year, as vendors served a mix of house-made salamis, sausages and bacon - kosher bacon.
Ari White, chef and owner of Gemstone Catering and Wandering Q (a traveling roadside smokehouse) dubbed it, "The Year of Kosher Bacon". White considers bacon a style of preparation in which animal belly is cured and smoked, making the concept of bacon a kosher option. His booth boasted lambchetta, vealchetta, Romanian style turkey bacon, duck breast bacon, and the hit of the night - tofu bacon! As an ode to his vegetarian wife, White created a smoked tofu bacon which he marinated for 2 days and served alongside a smoked beet and pickled carrot. The crowds could not get enough of his bacon dishes including Herzog wine barrel and hickory smoked veal belly pancetta over hempseed sweet potato puree, mesquite smoked chicken and avocado crema on purple tostada with lamb belly bacon lardons. And of course, his award winning 18-hour oak and apple smoked Angus beef brisket, which literally melts in your mouth.
Got Cholent? Inc., a sub-division of Gemstone Catering served up the popular Jewish stew in an array of flavors including Texas smokehouse, Bubby's Polish, Moroccan lamb, Buhkarian, French cassolet with duck confit and yapsuk with beef cheek. Herring, another Jewish classic, was served up alongside the stew bar with homemade, domestic and imported herrings and caviar.
Another standout was the Prime Hospitality Group who served up chicken waffle nuggets with maple syrup aioli, BBQ pulled short ribs on a cauliflower bun, crackling quinoa cakes with salami joes, and house made spicy and raisin salamis. When I asked David Kolotkin, the Chef at Prime Grill, if he felt limited by kosher restrictions in the kitchen, he said, "On the contrary, the kosher kitchen keeps me on my toes and forces me to be more creative."
House-made sausages were in abundance at the famed Brooklyn supermarket, Pomegranate, with such flavors as Ethiopian lamb, Italian veal, andouille, and roasted garlic beef sausage. Brooklyn-based meat supplier, Grow & Behold showcased their selection of kielbasa, sweet Italian, bratwurst, merguez and spicy chorizo, all made from pasture-raised beef.
Fish was a welcome change from the meat in the room, with Chagall's French Bistro serving up applewood smoked salmon millefeuille with basil focaccia, Bowfin caviar and celery root coulis. While at Basil Pizza & Wine Bar, a crudo of Artic Char with kirby pickle, salmon roe caviar, avocado mousse and jalapeno was served. In talking with Basil's chef, Jose Soto, about the new kosher bacon boom, he mentioned his preparation of cured salmon to create lardons. Since meat and dairy cannot be eaten together in a kosher restaurant, Soto thinks outside the box to create dishes that appeal to meat eaters in his dairy restaurant.
Some of the other restaurants present included Etc. Steakhouse of Teaneck, Sushi Tokyo, Glatt a la Carte and Wolf & Lamb of Brooklyn, as well as Le Marais and Pitopia of Manhattan. When asked about the rise in upscale kosher dining establishments, Elan Kornblum, owner of Great Kosher Restaurants Magazine, put it best, "It's not the restaurants that have been changing, it's the consumer palate. Diners are demanding more and the restaurants have no choice but to keep up."
Besides for over 25 food and dessert vendors, the KFWE event featured over 40 vintners from around the world. Tulip, Tabor, Castel and Flam were just a handful of the Israeli boutiques represented. Each of these wineries takes a unique approach to their wines, be it Tulip's devotion to the local community or Tabor's incredible attention to the soil used in their vineyards. For kosher wine lovers, KFWE is the industry's premier event, replicated in London, Miami and Los Angeles. The evening offers an opportunity to taste the difference that kosher winemakers are now bringing to market. In tasting the various selections, it becomes clear that kosher wine is no longer the overly sweet cliche that it used to be. Kosher winemakers are now traveling the world to learn how to leverage locale, grapes and skills to create gold medal wines that are often awarded 90+ ratings. In fact, Flam wines were recently served at the White House during the official State visit of Israel's President Peres.
The evening of fine wine and exquisite food finished aboard the Hornblower Hybrid luxury yacht with a selection of sweets, dessert wines, specialty liqueurs and a mixology bar. Finchi's was the the standout at this portion of the event, with a wide selection of decadent brownies and chocolate mousse, also available in sugar and gluten free. Walders collection of creamy liqueurs were equally delicious and the perfect end to a very tasty evening, indeed.