April 12, 2010

Feature: Food Maven Leads Tours of New World of KosherÉin Midwood, Brooklyn

Brooklyn…Shoppers on some of Midwood’s main commercial strips (i.e. Avenue J, Avenue M, Kings Highway) have a good chance of bumping into Arthur Schwartz, known as the The Food Maven and labeled as “a walking Google of food and restaurant knowledge” by none other than the New York Times Magazine. Chances are that there might also be some 12-20 people in tow, participating in one of Mr. Schwartz’s periodic shopping tours of some of the better known kosher stores in Midwood. His favorites include Pomegranate, Isaac’s Bakery, Gourmet on J and Mabat Restaurant. Schwartz’s tours typically begin with “one of the best bagels in town” with cream cheese and coffee at his Park Slope home and then proceeds to what Schwartz considers the “new world” of kosher.

A cursory glance at Schwartz’s resume confirms the coveted title of Food Maven. He is the author of seven cookbooks, including Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited, the food writer for Newsday for nine years, the Daily News for 20 and the host of a popular radio show on WOR radio. Schwartz also operates a cooking school in Italy. Most of his groups find the visit to Brooklyn in itself an eye-opener, explains Mr. Schwartz. Their concept of Brooklyn as a crime infested borough with many pockets of slums is immediately shattered “when we travel down Albemarle Road or pass some of the large houses in Brooklyn.” But what they are unprepared for is the quality of the kosher food (ah the herring samples in Pomegranate!) that they could not even fathom existed. Schwartz has an interesting take on the development of kosher. He believes that this new age of kosher has only taken hold in the last five years. “Look at the ingredients, the quality of the Balsamic Vinegar, and the prepared foods, not to speak of the cookware” and you see that a new generation of kosher consumer is here. He even refers to the popularity of Sushi as the “new gefilte fish.” Although he refers to himself as being semi-retired, he is a consultant to the Liberty Science Center in planning a permanent cooking exhibit (with satellite exhibits around the country) and busy with many other projects, but the tours are “simply fun.” He is planning a kosher shopping tour for donors of the UJA of Central Jersey and is anxious to talk up a storm about the new world of kosher for any group that is interested in retaining him. Shopping tours have become increasingly popular in many parts of the country. It is an effective program for Chabad in interesting Jews in kosher. But as Schwartz’s participants will tell you there is nothing like a tour with the Food Maven himself.