A new diet fad has struck: Many are trying to find ways back to the foods of their childhoods and even their ancestry.
Spearheading this movement are Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowtiz, the co-founders of the Gefilteria, a food project that aims to rebrand and reinvigorate Old World Ashkenazi cooking.
With decades of food-related experience and generations of inspiration between them, Alpern and Yoskowitz have helped create a Jewish food renaissance that is growing around the world. In addition to penning the popular handbook, “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods,” the dynamic duo also contributed to an online directory of local Jewish cuisine called “The Official Guide to Jewish Eats” that recently added a Boston guide.
Yoskowitz’s local roots go deep. His extended family comes from Lynn, Swampscott, and Brookline, and he recently began serving as a faculty member for the Genesis program at Brandeis. As a local insider, Yoskowitz knows all the best spots: Gefilteria’s 2019 itinerary includes a weekend in the Boston area, which features a Shabbat dinner at Temple Israel of Boston, a pickling presentation at a cocktail party havdalah at Temple Shir Tkvah in Wayland, March 30, a breakfast lecture at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, and a Passover-focused cooking class at chef Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Studios in Boston.
Yoskowitz explains that his grandparents are Holocaust survivors and that their stories of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before WWII have shaped his gastronomic gusto.
“They were tales of survival, Yiddish culture, Jewish deli and love for flavors of the shtetl,” he said.
Yoskowitz began cooking in high school and moved to a Jewish organic farm after graduating from college. There he developed an appreciation for seasonal eating and learned to grow his own food. After an apprenticeship as a pickler, Yoskowitz began writing about food, and importing sustainable specialty foods from the Negev. At the same time, he began collaborating with chefs and restaurants, and taught others to make pickles and preserves.
In the years leading up to the founding of the Gefilteria, Yoskowitz became alarmed by the lack of old-fashioned delis, which had been disappearing for decades and were even more endangered as the generation raised on them grew older and older. Yoskowitz and Alpern realized that in order for Ashkenazi cuisine to survive, they needed to reignite interest in it among the younger generations.
“My own peers had little interest in Jewish foodways from Eastern Europe,” he said. “We needed to begin making Jewish food relevant again.” Not willing to let their ancestral tradition go the way of the Borscht Belt, Yoskowitz and Alpern saw themselves as charged with a mission to “reimagin[e] Eastern European Jewish cuisine [and] adapt classic dishes to the values and tastes of a new generation.”
Yoskowitz developed a recipe for gefilte fish that quickly began gaining fans.
The menu quickly expanded and pop-up restaurants and other special events soon followed. By the time the cookbook came out, Yoskowtiz and Alpern felt that they had a movement on their fish-covered hands.
While much of their menu comes from the Old Country, Yoskowitz and Alpern do all they can to make the flavors contemporary and appealing to their own peers as well.
“We take the wisdom and the beauty of Jewish culinary traditions as we run programs and workshops…that tell stories of Jewish food culture. Our goal is to empower and inspire folks to get in the kitchen,” said Yoskowitz.
As their movement and popularity grow, Yoskowitz and Alpern continue to reach out to new and old fans with their shippable products and ever-expanding schedule, which has included classes and presentations all over the world.
“We’re not just in the business of Jewish food,” Yoskowitz posits. “We’re in the business of Jewish food experiences!”