They made gefilte fish sexy. Now, they’re expanding operations. The hip, 20-something year-old founders of the Gefilteria, a boutique purveyor of gefilte and old world Jewish foods, announced this week that they have a cookbook in the works.
Set to hit shelves in spring of 2016, the cookbook, “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods,” will reinvent classic Ashkenazi recipes, including pickles, kraut, blintzes, strudel, schmaltz, kvass and, or course gefilte fish. But the traditional menu isn’t just intended to make your Jewish grandmother cry of happiness.
“This cookbook is about the younger generation of Jews reclaiming the foods of our tradition,” said Liz Alpern, 29-year-old co-founder of Gefilteria. “We’re bringing the foods of our heritage up to date with current values, concerns, and tastes.”
The cookbook will also have a narrative element, weaving stories and food-histories between the recipes. Grounding each dish in its “correct cultural and historical context” is a priority, Alpern said. Though the history of Ashkenazi staple-foods might intrigue, pitching old-Ashkenazi recipes to the younger generation isn’t easy.
“We’re up against a generation of Jews who saw frozen latkes stuffed into boxes and thought that was kosher cooking,” said Alpern. “We’re fighting all the stereotypes, from canned gefilte to stale matzah balls.” Still, the promise of a “Jewish-food renaissance” has struck a chord.
The cookbook follows on the heels of Gefilteria’s success. Aside from selling-out last Passover, the young-foodie run enterprise recently joined up with Peck’s, a specialty food shop in Brooklyn, owned by great-grandson of the owner of the legendary kosher dairy restaurant Ratner’s.
The Gefilteria’s Jeffrey Yoskowitz, Elizabeth Alpern and Jackie Lilenshtein are fermenting the half-and full-sour cucumber pickles now sold in the Peck’s refrigerator case. The cookbook hopes to bring these old-world techniques to a broader audience.
“Fermentation, old-world pickling techniques, making sourdough starters — we’re into the DIY (do it yourself) part of things,” said Alpern.
Though several other artisanal Jewish cookbooks have been published in recent years (including “The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat,” “Balaboosta” and “The Artisan Jewish Deli”), Gefilteria’s cookbook is the first to emphasize traditional cooking methods and techniques, rather than just traditional dishes.
The cookbook is also intended to situate Ashkenazi cuisine within the larger ethnic-food scene. It’s intended to target a broad audience interested in ethnic-cuisine. “Ethnic-inspired cuisine is having a renaissance among young foodies,” said Alpern, who noted the recent popularity of Mexican, Japanese, and Indian cookbooks.
“We wanted to communicate that Ashkenazi Jewish food is not just general, Jewish food. It’s a unique menu inspired by a unique ethnicity.” Alpern was careful to explain that Gefilteria is not rejecting tradition.
“This movement is not a rejection: it’s a renewal,” she said. Though she is one of today’s faces of the Jewish-food renaissance, Alpern did not like traditional Ashkenazi food growing up. “I hated it,” she said, recalling the jarred gefilte fish of her youth. “I had a hearty appetite and loved food, but I wouldn’t go near that stuff.” The Gefilte Manifesto is one way to ensure that the next generation doesn’t share the experience. “If we love this tradition, we want to love its food,” she said. “Let’s create better options.”