Over the past two years, I’ve crisscrossed the country giving cooking demonstrations for my books Kosher By Design and, now, the newly released Kosher By Design Entertains. The audiences are always wonderfully inquisitive. One of the most common questions I’m asked is: “Do I have to keep kosher to use your books?” I always smile and reply, “Of course not-but if you’re looking to create a more Jewish experience in your home, it certainly helps.”
Growing up in an observant home, I was used to running a kosher kitchen. But I’ve noted an amazing trend in my travels: Multitudes of non-traditional Jews are migrating to traditional practices. And with food occupying such a vital role in Jewish life and celebrations, setting up a kosher home becomes an intensely hands-on, down-to-earth component of this grassroots return movement.
Kosher is big business today, constituting a $4 billion-a-year industry. Since 1992, sales of kosher products have steadily increased at a yearly rate of 13% to 15%. In New York, there are even kosher supermarkets that rival the size and variety of general markets.
The quality of kosher products has improved remarkably. Kosher wines, for example, are no longer comparable to cough syrup. In fact, kosher wines are top award winners today. You can find a wide choice of varietals from vineyards as far away as Chile and Australia. Israeli wines are superb. You’ll also come across fine balsamic vinegars and even truffle oils on the kosher market.
Supermarkets are paying attention to kosher shoppers. The kosher aisle in many stores is no longer a couple of shelves, but a full aisle with a large variety of goods. Trendy, health-oriented stores, such as Trader Joe’s, publish updates on their available kosher stocks.
There are many fine books on the market that can guide you through the process of establishing a kosher kitchen. However, I recommend that a beginner consult a rabbi or a mentor who observes kosher to make sure: you have the right equipment (e.g., separate cookware and dishes for milk and meat); you know how to recognize kosher symbols on food packaging (some are national, some are local, some are organizational, some are individual); you know how to recognize non-kosher food additives; you appreciate and understand the spiritual foundation for the path you are taking.
A few months ago, I read the fascinating story of Brooke Collier, a successful food writer who was zooming up the corporate ladder at a major gourmet magazine. Her chic, fast-paced career afforded her the opportunity to review the finest foods in the most upscale restaurants. Then “something just clicked” and she began to explore the meaning of her Jewishness. Her learning inspired significant lifestyle adjustments, including keeping kosher. Her seriousness was clinched when she left the cushy job that required her to eat non-kosher foods such as shellfish and pork.
The very week I read her story, I attended the Kosher World conference in Manhattan. I stopped into a booth to look at some Asian products and noticed a nametag on a fellow browser-Brooke Collier! “Oh my, I read about you,” I blurted out. Looking at my nametag, she exclaimed: “And your book helped me realize kosher isn’t just briskets and kugels.” As we discussed her journey, she remarked: “There’s elegance, along with a sense of elevation, living this way.” Today, Brooke lives in Israel as a new immigrant and continues to write about her passion for foods.
For any Jew entertaining the idea of “going kosher,” there has never been an easier, more opportune time. As so many of my readers know, when it comes to quality, taste, and choices, kosher cuisine is now world class.