February 28, 2011

The Vindicated Visionaries

Levana Kirschenbaum looked around the recently held Kosher Food and Wine Experience and “kvelled” (Yiddish for had a great deal of satisfaction). When Kirschenbaum opened her upscale restaurant on the Upper West Side back in the ‘70’s, few appreciated the new direction that she was taking kosher. In fact, she reminisced that she had a hard time finding some of the ingredients she needed for her gourmet dishes. Kirschenbaum, the author of three kosher cookbooks and soon to be her fourth on “The Whole Foods Kitchen: Kosher Recipes for a Healthier Life,” was the first to offer diners kosher buffalo and kosher venison. Chef Jeffrey Nathan of Abigael’s is another of the small cadre of visionaries who foresaw the kosher revolution and through a TV series, cookbooks and his upscale restaurant was also one of those who marveled at just how far kosher food and wine has come. Master Chef Fritz Sonnenschmidt, 75, a former dean of the Culinary Institute of America and a non-Jew, also believed that kosher could graduate from its stereotype to a new level of cuisine. “You can make any fancy dish kosher provided that everything in the dish is kosher and today you can get almost anything in a kosher version,” says Chef Sonnenschmidt. He is now working on a book about matzoh balls. Gil Marks, the only Jewish cookbook author to win a James Beard Foundation Award and the author of the new Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, is also a “kveller” but he is still on a mission to take kosher foods to new heights.

And then there is David Herzog of Kedem/Royal Wine Co. who had to claw his way from an age of sacramental sweet kosher wines to a new era of kosher wines that are receiving awards worldwide. Who would have believed that kosher restaurants would serve first-rate wines from all over the world in addition to Sushi? Two bars when there were none. All of these visionaries were at one time accused of being overzealous in their vision of what the kosher market will look like. They are all now vindicated. Mazal Tov!