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Can a foodie keep Kosher?


JFLinLA
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I truly enjoyed this column from the LA Times Magazine section this past Sunday -- Life Without Pepperoni. While I don't keep kosher, I respect the personal choice of those who do. Regardless of the choices you make in your life, I hope you will enjoy this column too.

So long and thanks for all the fish.
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It's been a year now, and I still think of God every time I think of food. Only now I think of him fondly, like a guy I could have a beer with, and offer thanks for the miracle of mussels and other mollusks, which are so perfectly designed they come with their own shell that doubles as a little serving dish.

Wow.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Staying away from the strictly religious aspects of this thing, because I am sure it could be applied to Vegetarianism and other restricted diets of choice as well, I have a problem with parents imposing these kinds of dietary rules on their children, unless if they were born into it and it was integral to their culture, which would be a completely different circumstance.

Assuming these kids were pre-teen or older, you can't successfully force kids to adhere to you or your spouse's choice of diet, be they religious, political or even health motivated.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Pork is out, and you're supposed to buy your meat from a kosher butcher, who charges somewhere around the price of a Las Vegas bar mitzvah for a steak that has been prayed over by a rabbi.

This is not accurate, and feeds into a misconception that people have about kashruth: that it means the food was "blessed by a rabbi." The author should know better. Yes there is a prayer recited when an animal is slaughtered, but kashruth in food production is primarily about processes and ingredients, and should not be trivialized in this way.

Regarding the question asked in this thread, "Can a foodie keep Kosher?" I think the answer is that the deck is stacked against anyone who keeps strictly kosher. There are several reasons for this, the primary one being that pretty much all the best restaurants in the world (with the exception perhaps of some vegetarian restaurants in the Eastern world) are not kosher, and it's very difficult to develop a rich sense of foodie-ness without ever eating the work of serious professional chefs. It can be done, but not easily.

In addition, the limitations on ingredients and ingredient combinations are pretty significant. The elimination of all pork and shellfish is major, but also the quality of all red meat is affected pretty severely. Even among permissible items, availability, quality, and cost can be major issues. The general lack of demand for great food in the kosher community also ensures that most kosher consumers will only ever have access to a very limited subset of supermarket-quality ingredients. If you're wealthy and live in Manhattan, you can do a little better, but you have to be extremely dedicated to the cause of becoming a gourmet.

One subset of people who keep kosher who have some success at being gourmets is those who are late-in-life converts/returnees. In that scenario, the palate has received training in an ecumenical environment and that education can be brought to bear in the more restrictive kosher environment. All the best kosher meals I've had in orthodox Jewish homes -- best from a technical cooking and ingredients standpoint -- have been cooked by people who were not lifelong observers.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Jason, I completely agree with you that this is something difficult to impose on kids. But, the guy's tone through the entire article was that he didn't even take the restrictions seriously and didn't make a full effort to understand the rules behind kashrut. So, if his attitude was was "this is rediculous, but I'll do it anyway" of course the kids won't make an effort.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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I think it wasn't just "I'll do it anyway" as much as ''I'll do it for the woman I love." That should be his problem and not his kids and as much as I question the concept of agreeing to let one spouse bring up the kids in a religion the other has no faith in, it's far worse to take kids whose faith, or lack thereof, is already established, and tell them they must adhere to certain formalities, but not the essential core of the religion. To tie this rant to food, I have to say that I think food can be too central to one's basic needs and happiness for it to be the place to start one's religion. An honest belief in a religion, or even in the continuity of a culture can make following dietary restrictions reasonable and even easy. Following an abstract dietary regime is not going to bring one to the religion.

As easy as it is to laugh at the jokes about dietary laws, it's a cheap shot to get a laugh by offering up the old misconceptions to the general public, but I enjoyed his closer as cited by Jason.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Following an abstract dietary regime is not going to bring one to the religion.

I rented half a house from an orthodox guy for 2 years when I was in college, and I had to agree to keep kosher in the house as part of the deal. Although keeping kosher for a small percentage of my meals didn't make me orthodox, it undeniably caused me to consider my Judaism more carefully. I think that would be the case for a lot of people, if not for everyone. I also know quite a few non-observant parents who have put their kids into Jewish schools for the quality of the education, but have wound up coming away from the deal with increased observance in the home. This author is probably being overly glib for the purposes of writing a funny piece with a certain type of mass appeal, but I'd be surprised if his observance hadn't brought him closer to Judaism.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I read this thread with a combination of both great delight and culinary despair ...

Having kept a kosher home for some thirty-five years at my husband's request, I have my share of highs and lows on this subject. Because I was a caterer once upon a time, and now a food writer and restaurant reviewer, this is currently proving a bit unmanageable .. one of my friends has opened a new, very innovative restaurant offering a 31 course tasting menu (have I mentioned his training at El Bulli in Spain??) ... so, I will, in my professional role, go by myself and enjoy the glorious joys of foodie heaven ... but know only too well that I can replicate none of these items in my own home ... :sad:

I liken it to having Martha Stewart cook a meal with only three ingredients ... or having Toulouse Lautrec create a painting with two colors ... :wacko:

the restrictions prove more maddening by the day ... and yet this was done with the best of intentions to set a tradition for our child during her formative years and in order that our home maintain a level of kashrut which would permit our religious friends to share in our meals ... my child grew up in this setting and now is a vegetarian who reads labels as assiduously as I did ... but for different reasons...

perhaps our friend and resident Guru of the Gravlax, ha Rav Ribeye, will add his noteworthy yet totally irreverent comments to this particular thread? :cool:

Edited by Gifted Gourmet (log)

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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but you miss out on yummy stuff like Bacon and Shrimp :)

Do not expect INTJs to actually care about how you view them. They already know that they are arrogant bastards with a morbid sense of humor. Telling them the obvious accomplishes nothing.

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but you miss out on yummy stuff like Bacon and Shrimp :)

I don't feel I'm missing it. You can't miss something you've never had in the first place.

Edited by bloviatrix (log)

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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but you miss out on yummy stuff like Bacon and Shrimp :)

Or, perhaps, instead of "missing out", one might opt for trying one of the almost-but-never-quite-as-good-as substitutes ....

When I make vicchyssoise, I have to substitute Rich's Coffee Rich for the cream .. and that has neither the taste nor the texture I crave ... actually, it is way too sweet in this savoury preparation. :hmmm:

And, of course, the kosher ersatz bacon and ersatz shrimp are only the palest simulations of the real thing, at least for those of us with a foot in both worlds ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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I noticed this in today's JTA World Report (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) and thought I'd post it here:

"Kosher chefs get school

There's a new school for kosher chefs in Israel. The Kosher Culinary Academy, which opened for classes Sunday, is based at the Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem.

The 10-month, full-time curriculum -- only open to men at this point -- is in English. The academy plans to open a professional course for women, as well as classes for beginners, later in the year. More information is available at www.kosherculinaryacademy.com"

Apparently there are quite a few people who think one can indeed be a foodie while keeping kosher. I don't know anything about it (being a foodie, that is :smile:). (BTW -- if this infringes on any copyright laws, etc., just delete it.)

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To tie this rant to food, I have to say that I think food can be too central to one's basic needs and happiness for it to be the place to start one's religion.

I'm not a religious individual, but I think this statement is a little bizarre.

It's the exactly the centrality of food to one's basic needs and happiness that makes food an important part of religious belief, and I believe that there are few major religions that don't include food at some significant level as part of its practice -- from Jewish/Muslim dietary laws to Catholic feast days (not to mention transubstantiation and consuming the Host) to Buddhist vegetarianism.

Even secular quasi-religious movements embrace dietary restrictions. Find me an anti-globalist who doesn't believe Big Mac's are evil.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I'd like to point out that making a commitment to any religious practice will, at times, be difficult, inconvenient, and a pain. I don't think the point is to make these things difficult but it is certainly not to make it easy. If religions that call on us to be better people were not challenging -- well, the world would be a better place.

So long and thanks for all the fish.
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I grew up in a kosher foodie family, but with the resurgence and vocal dominance of "modern orthodoxy" the practices we thought of as kosher would not pass muster by the strict definitions. We were conservative Jews and observed some traditions but not others. For example we would eat in restaurants we just wouldn't eat forbidden ingredients. Obviously it is easy to be a foodie under such circumstances. You're just a foodie who doesn't eat certain things. But when you lock yourself out of all restaurants other than kosher ones, and you radically limit your purchasing of and exposure to the larger world of food you are going to have major challenges. At that point your best bet is to move to Israel!

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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I wonder about the points of comparison here.

Would you say that a chef, or a foodie, or whatever, whose cooking is based on Western culinary traditions, cannot by definition be as good as a chef whose cooking is based on Eastern culinary traditions? (Or vice versa, depending on where you're from.) Or would you say that they're two different traditions and therefore should not be compared to one another?

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I grew up in a kosher foodie family, but with the resurgence and vocal dominance of "modern orthodoxy" the practices we thought of as kosher would not pass muster by the strict definitions. We were conservative Jews and observed some traditions but not others. For example we would eat in restaurants we just wouldn't eat forbidden ingredients. Obviously it is easy to be a foodie under such circumstances. You're just a foodie who doesn't eat certain things. But when you lock yourself out of all restaurants other than kosher ones, and you radically limit your purchasing of and exposure to the larger world of food you are going to have major challenges. At that point your best bet is to move to Israel!

You have expressed, and in a much better way, my precise sentiments regarding this issue.

The point you make so ably about "locking yourself out of all restaurants" echoes my take on this as well ... in my personal situation, I have seen family members who have placed such restrictions upon themselves (and, from time to time, others as well) close the "window of experiences" both culinarily and in other ways as well.

Of course, it is well within one's options to do this but, with the implied understanding that not all of us foodies can navigate so ably within those religious boundaries.

Were that this concept of observing kashrut was only about making "us all better people", I would be the first to endorse it .. sadly, that is not exactly the case.

Decent people of all faiths are innately decent .... matters not so much what they put into their mouths as what emerges from those same mouths ... but that is so very old, I hesitate to even bring it up ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Decent people of all faiths are innately decent .... matters not so much what they put into their mouths as what emerges from those same mouths ... but that is so very old, I hesitate to even bring it up ...

Well put. It should be brought up more often.

Thank you.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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This is an interesting article and discussion. I keep a Kosher house for my wife, but I do not keep kosher.

Can you be a foodie and keep kosher? Absolutely! However, it is primary through hard work and rigorous study and experimentation. I pride myself on making my favorite non-kosher delights (in a kosher version) in our own kitchen. Sure some things are off limits, but you'd be surprised what a little research and ingenuity can accomplish.

I have experienced both sides, Kosher and non. Kosher beef was particularly difficult to get acceptable to my pallate. Now I make Kosher steaks at home that rival Non-Kosher beef. In fact I even make my kosher burgers using the Beef blend mentioned in one of the Burger threads here on eGullet.

In fact I'll go as far as to say eGullet has had a major impact on my ability to raise the level of my Kosher cooking at home to that of some of my favorite non-kosher restaurants.

I could gon for alot longer about this, but I'll leave it there for now.

Msk

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Personally, I think I became a foodie solely because I do keep kosher. I realize that there are limitations on what I can eat, and as a result I will try new foods and search out the best stuff out there that is available to me.

Like MSK, I'm constantly adapting recipes to fit the Kosher kitchen. And one of the reasons I've searched out other cuisines is that some are more accomodating to my dietary restrictions.

But do I feel I'm missing certain foods? No. I'm curious to taste them so I have a point of reference. But I've never been in a shop, looked at a lobster, and started feeling pangs of regret.

I will eat out in non-Kosher restaurants in a similar fashion to what Ellen did growing up. This has given me an appreciation for a high level a cooking and what can be done with superb ingredients.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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But I've never been in a shop, looked at a lobster, and started feeling pangs of regret.

Luckily, they don't look very appetizing at the store :smile:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I agree that if you grow up keeping kosher, you don't miss what you don't know you're missing. That's true of any type of "deprivation." If you've never had sushi, or oysters, or spicy food -- you don't know what you're missing there either.

I also grew up in a Jewish but non-kosher home. I married & now keep a kosher kitchen at home, because my husband grew up in a kosher home. Ah, the things we do for love...

And every time I step outside my home I cheat. I'm so bad. I eat trayfe burgers with the Burger Club, I secretly eat bacon and shrimp and pretty much anything else I want. And then I go home and I have two sets of dishes, plus a third set for Passover. And I use paper plates most of the time anyway.

But I've found there are lots of ways to get a fix of just about anything. Veggie bacon to have with your pancakes, and soy cheese to melt on top of your 100% kosher beef burgers. Yes, Virginia-chik, there is kosher chorizo available at the Supersol uptown.

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I'm constantly adapting recipes to fit the Kosher kitchen.  And one of the reasons I've searched out other cuisines is that some are more accomodating to my dietary restrictions.

Just a very brief comment on making various adaptations kosher for one's use at home, I have spent a great deal of time doing just that .. with much success but also with some devastating failures ...

Just one simple case in point? Rachel Perlowe's glorious, multilayered, multihued festive Jello mold .. if I had to rely on using kosher gelatin, I can predict, with some degree of assurance, that it would be disastrous ... I ought to know whereof I speak, it happened to me more than once! :rolleyes:

and don't even get me started on what I do for Passover! yet another two sets of dishes and silverware!! :wacko:

and that is merely the tip of the iceberg .. I realize that I have prepared some very elegant meals and did not object to the relative difficulties, but today I can remove myself and stand back and see that it has been more difficult than necessary ... and, perhaps if I had lived in the NYC environs, it might not have been so ... my God, I buried the "lead"!! :wink:

Edited by Gifted Gourmet (log)

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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