Let’s Talk Gefilte & Making it from Scratch

Let’s Talk Gefilte & Making it from Scratch

Question: How do you recognize a gefilte fish swimming in the ocean?
Answer: It’s the only one with a carrot on its head.

The subject of gefilte fish, in all of its old and new permutations, brought a standing room only crowd of over 200 enthusiasts to the Center for Jewish History in NYC last week.

An enthusiastic group of curious old timers (“what’s to talk about  so much?”) and young hipsters (“SO cool”) gathered in the comfortable theatre to hear New York’s quintessential gefilte makers talk about their recipes, why gefilte fish has lasting appeal, what their patrons have to say about it, and best of all, to offer samples to the hungry crowd after the panel discussion.

Mitchell Davis, executive VP of the James Beard Foundation, moderated a panel with Elizabeth Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz of the Gefiltera; Zach Kutsher of Kutsher’s Tribeca; Jack Lebowohl of 2nd Ave Deli; and Israeli chef Omer Miller of Dining Hall and HaShulhan in Tel Aviv.

Gefilte fish was described by Davis as a signifier of Jewish culture. Dominant flavors identify geography  of origin (sweet  from Poland, peppery from Hungary) and are often reflective of those culinary traditions.

Naama Shefi,  a culinary curator working on a newly created video archive of Jewish food for the Center for Jewish History introduced the panel. She asked why an overflow crowd was gathered to talk and taste gefilte. “After all, gefilte is NOT fois gras”, she reminded us, with her gentle smile.

It is the fascination for memory and longing. I believe food is a medium of love and THAT outweighs taste brilliance”, she suggested.

Second Ave Deli man Jack, with second generation, Jeremy

Jack Lebowohl, owner of the 2nd Ave Deli, feels that people come into his deli seeking reminders of their grandparents’ aromas and love. “A customer once said, after inhaling deeply, that the deli smells like Judaism,”  he recalled with a smile.

Zach Kutsher emphasized that his restaurant’s gefilte fish is “the most polarizing dish on my menu. It doesn’t meet diners’ pre-conceptions.

photo courtesy of Kutsher’s Tribeca

But that reinvention of the traditional is precisely what he intended with his elegant, upscale interpretation. By sourcing wild halibut and local micro greens, and dressing the challah bound mixture with a lemon vinaigrette and drizzling the composition with parsley oil,  “it is more like a French preparation.” (For more on my dining experience at Kutsher’s, click here for my review.)

Chef Omer Miller. Photo credit Dor Malca

Israeli Chef Omer Miller said that the gefilte craze has not hit the Tel Aviv scene yet.  Still unconvinced of its deliciousness, he recalled being prodded by his grandmother to eat it because, well, he SHOULD. “Yea, but it’s grey!” he retorted, not quite sure.

Gefilteria founders, Elizabeth Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz

Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz, founders and creators of the Gefilteria in Brooklyn, referred to our times as being in a “food moment”. Alpern pointed to the resurgence of all kinds of traditional foods being cooked and presented at food markets like Smorgasburg and the Essex Street Market. This food renaissance  reflects a re-thinking of traditional foods and includes re-branding and re-marketing in order to attract a new generation to items traditionally found on their grandparents’ tables.

In the end, it’s all about taste and presentation. It was no surprise that the  hungry crowd surged the lobby after the talk, to check out the generous samples being offered by these gefilte makers. The buzz was palpable as friends compared notes and strangers chatted about what was new and what they thought.

Kvass cocktails,  boldly magenta with beet juice,  and mixed with soda water and gin were served as the cocktail of the evening. It was cleverly conceived of and created by the Gefilteria team.


Dessert was  whimsical gefilte-shaped nut cookie, served with beet dyed shredded coconut and provided by Tralala Juice Bar and Bakery.

Cards for comments and voting for BEST gefilte were distributed. The winner was the Gefilteria. They will have their recipe documented in Shefi’s newly created video archive of Jewish food.

Their gefilte bruschetta won me over, too, with its deliciously moist neatly presented rectangle of gefilte topped with shredded carrot and beet horseradish.

Nothing grey about this re-invention!

Thank you to the 2nd Ave Deli for providing this recipe for traditional gefilte fish.


    • Thanks for sharing! Go to the site (link provided) and let the Center for Jewish History know that you want to be on their e-list. They have lots of amazing programming and Naama Shefi will be doing a Chanukah program, too. I suspect the subject may be…. (drumroll) BRISKET!

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