But the word kosher no longer means more of the same, and the Food Network generation is taking away the kosher food stigma.
Yes, kosher cooking is going upscale.
The trend in kosher cooking is moving away from the traditional to visual elegance and new sensory pleasures. Among professionals capitalizing on that trend are Efrat Libfroind and Jamie Geller.
Libfroind, an Israeli chef and author of the “Kosher Elegance: The Art of Cooking With Style” cookbook, said that with so many cookbooks and recipes floating around for traditional kosher foods, people don’t need another brisket or kugel recipe.
What kosher cooks need, she said, are recipes that have been turned into kosher recipes.
Until recently, few people in Israel even knew what sushi was, Libfroind said. Now, kosher cooks can choose from a wealth of certified ingredients to enjoy cuisines from all over the world.
“We (kosher cooks) are being upgraded,” she said. “The frum community is even exposed to everything.”
But still, she said, “You always eat the chicken soup and gefilte fish on Friday night.”
Jamie Geller, cookbook author, blogger, co-founder of Joy of Kosher magazine, YouTube presence — you get the picture — is not all about cooking kosher, much like Libfroind. It’s about following the culinary trend.
Finding inspiration everywhere, Geller takes notes on her iPhone. When she sees a recipe that intrigues her, she gets to the heart of it: “Can I make it kosher, can I make it quicker?”
The trend, Geller said, is to prove that kosher recipes do not have to be old style — they can be culturally diverse. They can be modern.
Everyone still likes the brisket and chicken soup, she said. “I embrace it and build on it.”
Additionally, she has updated some of the “classic” kosher foods, making them more healthful and quicker to make.
Today, according to Geller, men who cook are “coming out of the woodwork.” Cooks and noncooks can indulge in watching cooking shows and reading recipes in a variety of media, turning cooking into entertainment and making it accessible. Kosher restaurants are following the trends, she said, and palates are becoming more sophisticated.
Twenty years ago, Geller said, cultural cuisines were not accessible to kosher cooks. Now that all sorts of ingredients come with proper kosher certification, cooks can cook Mexican, Indian, Asian foods or just about anything else.
Accessibility to ingredients is only part of the story.
The changes in the kosher food world are catching up to the changes going on in the nonkosher food world. Cookbook author Joan Nathan talks about the changes in her 2005 book, “The New American Cooking.”
In the book’s introduction, Nathan, well known for “Jewish” food cookbooks, examined the changes in American food in recent decades. What caused the biggest changes, she wrote, was the 1965 Immigration Act that eliminated the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, which governed immigration into the United States. Up until then, she said, those from European countries and the Soviet Union mostly filled the quota of immigrants.
Once the law changed, the influx of immigrants from around the world also brought new foods, spices and traditions, and in some cases, healthier cuisines.
Today’s cooks demand simple recipes that are quick to make. The catch is, they also need to be appealing.
“You eat with your eyes,” Libfroind said. People have the idea that in order to serve a beautiful dish you have to spend a long time making it.
“I upgrade the dish by the way I serve it,” she said. Her book is full of elegant looking recipes that are simply made but visually pleasing. A simple four-color tomato salad served in an elegant cocktail glass is an example.
The book does have more challenging recipes, and yes, turning them into a work of art will take more time. But the pages are full of tips, explanations, shortcuts and a step-by-step breakdown of the process.
Geller is on board with simplicity. “My [cooking] religion is easy,” she said. In sizing up recipes, she first asks herself, “What shortcuts do we take?”
Like Libfroind, Geller noted that people eat with their eyes first.
“Take a moment to put the food on a pretty platter,” she said. “It’s a whole different experience.”
Geller and Libfroind are also following another trend: publishing gorgeous photos with each recipe. No more imagining how a dish should look.
Without turning their backs on tradition, kosher will no longer only bring to mind countless briskets and kugels.
Kosher is going trendy.
(Angela Leibowicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)