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The Whole Foods Kosher kitchen

The Kosher Food and Wine Experience: A Remarkable Journey

Posted on 27th of February, 2011 by Lévana

Kosher-Food-and-Wine-Levana-Cooks

Recently I had been trying to firm up a kosher supervision for retail use of Dashi powder. In my catering days I used to order it from Daniel Berlin at Sushi Metsuyan, so when it came time to write my upcoming cookbook, where I wanted to include recipes using dashi, I thought, who better, let’s see if Daniel would be amenable to packaging the incredibly useful and delicious fish powder for retail use. I can’t tell you how many calls I made to him, to the Mashgiach in charge and to everyone on their staff, but in the end I got what I  and I believe, many of us kosher diners and cooks want: yet another delicious and all-natural new product brought to easy reach of the kosher consumer. As a result I received something which for years I used to perceive as a berating lecture,  but which I have long since identified as an unmitigated compliment, indeed a tribute: It has to do with being dogged about putting Kosher gourmet products on the map. (Remember Levana Restaurant was first to serve bison and venison?) Daniel’s exact message was  “Levana, Thanks for being persistent  …The world is a better place BH!” Boy, did I hound him! Or did I? Looking back, no more or less than I have hounded all specialty foods manufacturers and distributors all these years. No, they don’t roll their eyes when they see me now, au contraire: Since I and my family were the trailblazers in the former wasteland of upscale Kosher dining, everyone is now happy and grateful for people like me who never stopped clamoring to the Kosher Supervision powers that be: “If we can use it, look into it, whatever it takes! We WANT it!” The rest of course is history: I ask you: What don’t we find in our kosher restaurants and stores nowadays? The greatest wines, cheeses, sushi, truffle, wild mushrooms, olives, you name it!

At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I would say the new generation of diners doesn’t remember the early days of upscale kosher food and wine any more than they remember -  or for that matter ever knew – the manual typewriter, the rotary dial telephone, or the handwritten letter. Likewise: Shapiro, the wine you can cut with a knife….  Does this blast-from-the-past ad ring a bell? Thick and cloying were  the de rigueur wine assets back then, just like bouffant hairdos were just the thing in the Brady Bunch days. What can I say? There are some fads that go totally unlamented after they disappear….When I opened my eponymous restaurant with my two brothers-in-law more than thirty years ago, all Kirschenbaums were perfectly aware they were facing a hard sell: introduce fine kosher dining to the Kosher public, who until then was content either eating at home or grabbing a bite in the rare joints that served institutional old world fare. The general prediction was that the presumptuous idea would fall flat on its face.

Undaunted by being treated as rebels (after all, this is what we were!), we surrounded ourselves with the best chefs, developed the most delicious dishes and waited patiently until the idea of gourmet kosher caught on. The rest again is history: kosher food and wine has experienced a veritable explosion and has its place among the most prestigious competitions. Many luxury kosher restaurants have opened and thrived since Lévana’s grueling pioneering days, proving it was well worth putting in all the hard work and enduring all skeptical comments!

Every year we offered a wine pairing dinner at our restaurant, in collaboration with the staff at Kedem wines: The wines were always a formidable match to our fabulous dishes: So is it any wonder I am waxing nostalgic about our early days and the early days of Kedem Wines, and if I, along with countless others, am in awe of the meteoric rise of our beautiful Kosher food and wine industry? This week’s wine pairing event, masterfully co-ordinated by Jay Buchsbaum, Gary Landsman and their staff at Kedem Wine, who worked indefatigably on making the evening unforgettable, was a real triumph. From Levana Restaurant to Pier 60! What next? The Javitz Center? As everyone is aware, the registrations closed way ahead of time as it was packed to the rafters: What nachas!

Wines: I chuckled when I read Gary Landsman’s story in the last issue of Kosher Inspired Magazine: by his own account, he is a relatively new comer to the world of wine, and came by his distinguished career almost inadvertently, then grew by leaps and bounds. Still I am not surprised: This is precisely how many success stories start. A couple years ago some extravagantly generous Seder guests brought us two cases (repeat: two cases!) of the most sumptuous assorted wines; the selection included Hagafen Pinot Noir, Gamla Cabernet, Goosebay Chardonnay and Gamla Riesling: What a treat! All these wines and many more were on display at this week’s event. Attention, chocolate lovers, check out Schmerling’s new chocolate liqueur!

Food: What a blessing we only have one stomach and need to use some restraint! To name just a few fantastic bites:

  • Abigael: slow-braised short ribs
  • Basil: Frangelico chocolate mousse
  • Jack’s: great gourmet sausages (Jack, think of showcasing them in a paella, bean soup, frittata, etc. I can help you!!!)
  • Le Marais: smoked duck breast (Chef Mark Hennessy used to be the chef at Levana:-)
  • Noidue: Fabulous coffee
  • Pomegranate: Cumin-scented sausages
  • Prime KO: Crispy rice with spicy tuna
  • Solo: Mushroom veloute (I beg you, have a heart and cut the salt by half!)
  • The reserve: Sushi (Fantastic!)
  • Pardes: Lamb meatballs with turnip and olive

So much fun having our own spot with other cookbook authors: Jeff Nathan, Susie Fishbein, Jamie Geller, Joan Nathan (you were missed)! See you again soon: Let’s all keep cooking up a storm!

PS: Only one little – and very brief – downer took place that evening: Someone mentioned to me, with great glee, heloves my son Sol‘s restaurant in Teaneck, Nobo. Sol is my brother in law, and is two years younger than me. Our matriarch Rivka got married at three, and I think she’s pretty impossible to beat! Come on gentlemen: When in doubt err on the side of chivalry and try a guess that won’t make your poor listener feel like a fossil: and no, no I don’t look like I could possibly be Sol’s mom! But that’s a good one!

Filed under: Jamie Geller, Jeff Nathan, Joan Nathan, Kedem Wines, Kosher Ingredients, Kosher Recipes, Kosher Wines, Levana Restaurant, NoBo Restaurant, Nobo Teaneck, Noidue Restaurant, Pardes Restaurant, Pier 60, Stories, Susie Fishbein

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6 Questions

  1. Sergey, on Said:

    Levana,

    It was a pleasure stop by your station at the Wine & Food show and buy one of your books as a present for our friends!

    Every meeting with you is like a breeze of a fresh air at the dawn – so much positive energy it could change the entire week and more!

    Sergey

    Reply
  2. Lévana, on Said:

    Joe it was great going to the show with you! Yes, finally something fun and not fattening: READING! I think you have been around long enough to remember, as I and quite a few others do, kosher food and wine’s humble beginningS

    Coming to the demo tonight? sure hope so! love,

    Reply
  3. Joseph Blank, on Said:

    Levana:
    The delightful enjoyment of your Blog is lingering much longer than the wonderful tastes of the Wine & Food Show. And I can read it over and over without gaining anything but another smile.
    Kol Tuv,
    Joe

    Reply