On Sunday, you can go heavy on the calories, and light on the guilt, at the first Crossriver Kosherfest. The event, from noon to 2:30 p.m. at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, will feature classes on how to keep kosher, children’s games and tastings from more than 25 kosher vendors from both sides of the river and beyond.
“This is a big event for us,” said Jeremy Fine, associate rabbi of Temple of Aaron and the event’s creator. “The goal is to think more broadly about kashrut [the set of Jewish religious laws for eating] and how we can expand it and educate people throughout the Twin Cities.”
Curiosity about keeping kosher, among young Jews and their non-Jewish peers, is soaring. A 2013 Pew Study found that 27 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Jews keep kosher in their homes, compared with 16 percent of those ages 50 and older.
Fine teaches a one-night class on keeping kosher for young professionals, which typically fills as soon as he announces it. “They’re mostly Jewish, or they’re dating someone Jewish,” he said of the participants. “Food is hip, and Minnesota has a big food culture.”
At the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago last May, kosher food was named one of three dominant trends in 2014, along with locally grown produce and spicy flavors.
A big draw is that kosher food is considered superior in terms of health and safety. The use of cold water and salting in the slaughtering process is believed to minimize bacterial contamination.
But many people choose kashrut for loftier reasons. Keeping kosher, much like being a vegetarian or a vegan, elevates a typically mundane act and fuels it with compassion.
Kosher law requires, in part, that meat and dairy never be eaten together, a commandment from the Book of Exodus, which forbids “boiling a goat in its mother’s milk.” Also, restraint of the animal should be minimal, the knife sharp and free of nicks, and the cut quick.
But, because Judaism is fondly called the religion of “five people, six opinions,” not everybody agrees that kashrut is consistently the kindest. Some Jews, for example, say that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which specifies that animals be stunned before being killed, actually is more compassionate.
“There’s always going to be a debate in Judaism,” Fine said. “That’s how our laws are derived. No doubt there will be debate about this as well.”
What is certain, he said, “is that kashrut is a great way to check in with ourselves about where we are as people. It’s part of the structure of how we live our lives.”
Fine who, in fact, is vegetarian, grew up in Chicago in a Jewish family that always ate kosher meat. Choosing to be mindful of eating, however one does it, “makes you feel good,” he said.
A year ago, he attended an intensive kosher certification course in New York and returned to the Twin Cities eager to educate and expand kosher options here. One compelling reason to do so is that buying kosher food can cause sticker shock.
“In smaller communities like ours, kosher food does seem more pricey,” Fine said. “But with more people who do it, it will become more accessible and will likely bring the price down.”
Tzipi Weinberg is helping on that front. After the popular and long-running Fishman’s deli closed in St. Louis Park in 2011, Weinberg and three family members saw a vacuum. The Kosher Spot grocery store opened a year and a half ago on Minnetonka Boulevard. Their upscale Prime Deli and Restaurant, also kosher, opened two doors down in December.
“St. Louis Park made sense, because that’s where most of the Orthodox community lives,” said Weinberg, who will participate at Kosherfest.
Customers to the well-stocked grocery store can find cheeses and pastries, deli meats including lamb, veal, turkey and duck, New York pizzas, “and a lot of very nice, Chinese-influenced sauces.”
Chinese-influenced sauces? Sure, say modern kosher chefs.
Variations on a theme
Mitch Kowitz, a veteran cantor and former New York sous chef, prides himself on “untraditional” kosher recipes in his new cookbook, “Kosher Cuisine for a New Generation” (Scarletta, $17.95), including Spanish baked tilapia, vichyssoise, and Louisiana black bean soup.
Jacques Philippon, director of nutrition services for Sholom Catering in St. Paul, said people “wouldn’t even recognize as kosher” many of the offerings that come from his kitchens, including several types of sushi.
Kathleen O’Hehir-Johnson, owner of Just Truffles in St. Paul, will be handing out samples of her kosher delectables at Kosherfest. Her chocolates also will be finding their way into “bling bags” at this year’s Grammy Awards.
O’Hehir-Johnson, who jokes that “everything I know about Judaism I learned from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ” transitioned to kosher truffles after many requests from customers. While her chocolate and butter already were kosher, she shifted to a kosher cream.
“It was, really, a very easy transition,” she said.
Others on Kosherfest’s tasting menu include Vitali’s Bistro, Bogart’s Doughnut Co., Baldinger Bakery, Menchie’s, Rita’s Ice, Spirit of Asia and Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed, from Chicago.
Swing by their tables and impress them with the Hebrew greeting for “Good Appetite”:
“Be‘Tay ‘Avon!” (buh TAY a vone).
Follow Gail Rosenblum on Twitter: @grosenblum.