On the face of it, this was a dream assignment. Second day on the job, and your supervisor asks if you’d like to cover an exclusive, $300-a-head, 17-course (no, that’s not a typo) meal prepared by a top kosher chef. It was a no-brainer.
So exclusive was the event, that I was convinced I wouldn’t make the fashion grade, dressed as I was in a crumpled shirt and scuffed brown loafers. I expected to find myself in some ultra-luxurious setting, surrounded by immaculately dressed people talking about houses I could never afford, brands I’d never heard of, and similar events that I would never be invited to, until I would eventually just find myself a quiet corner in which to sit awkwardly and hope to go unnoticed.
In reality, the location (which was called Space), was not a luxury palace, but rather a nondescript, unmarked building in an industrial area in Borough Park; the feeling was more “illicit speakeasy” than “exclusive supper club.” Inside, the finishing touches were being put on the dinner table, while low lighting and ambient covers of contemporary pop songs provided a relaxing setting.
As people started arriving, event organizer Heshy Jay of Scoop & Co. mingled among the 30 or so mostly male guests, introducing them to each other and ensuring that nobody felt left out. At the same time, waiters moved around with plates of canapés, a tantalizing snapshot of what was to come. Of all the canapés, my eye was immediately drawn to a small clay plant pot containing baby carrots buried in olive oil-infused soil, and slices of perfectly moist, salty beef “prosciutto” held in wooden clothesline clips.
The baby carrots canapé, fresh from the soil. Chef Chaya.
The concept of supper clubs has been around for a while, but events such as this have taken much longer to reach the kosher community. “The kosher world has always been behind,” said COO of Joy of Kosher magazine and fellow attendee, Shlomo Klein, “and in many ways it still is, but it has come on in leaps and bounds, spurred on by events such as tonight’s.”
According to Isaac Bernstein, executive chef at Pomegranate and the man behind tonight’s marathon culinary journey, there has been a growth in demand for what he terms “quality food.” “This,” he qualified, “doesn’t necessarily mean organic, natural, artisanal food, but these terms have come to be seen as synonymous with quality and so that is what we provide.”
As the main event began, Bernstein talked the diners through the ingredients, the method of preparation and the effect of it all on the flavor and texture of each dish. Certain dishes, such as the beef tartar and the burnt corn husk consommé, were prepared “live” in front of the diners.
The beef tartar, prepared in front of the guests. Chef Chaya.
Perhaps the biggest break from traditional Ashkenazi dishes here was the dazzling array of colors on display. Klein pointed out that “if you think about traditional Jewish cooking, it’s always beige and brown: kugel, cholent, latkes, gefilte fish.” One Orthodox guest, a newcomer like myself to these events, concurred, describing himself as a big foodie, but who “just isn’t so much into kosher food” because it’s too bland, too boring.
There was no such issue here, with dishes including a dark red tuna crudo, served with a slice of bright orange melon and pale green whipped cucumber, and roasted duck served with cured rose petals and cherries soaked in port.
There is no doubt that events such as this are at the very high end of the scale, and cater to a limited audience that has both the love of food, and the necessary budget to indulge it. Chef Bernstein insists, however, that the food here does not have to be the sole reserve of the ultra-wealthy. He cited a crispy lamb belly dish from the evening as an example: “For $10-$15 a person, you can recreate that at home.”
So how did I get on? By dish 11, some two and a half hours of near-constant eating later, I was almost full. By the time the sixth and final meat dish, a simple but delicious short ribs, came around, I had to admit defeat after a single bite. I did, however, manage to summon up the courage to tackle three desserts (the sacrifices I make for you, dear readers), including a kaffir lime mousse; it was the undisputed highlight of an evening full of culinary highlights.
Kaffir lime mousse, the highlight of the evening. Chef Chaya.
As I staggered home, after four epic hours, I spared a thought for my poor mother, herself a wonderful cook, for whom the bar of quality kosher cooking had nonetheless just been significantly raised.
Sahar Zivan is an editorial intern.