October 22, 2012
Deli Renaissance: LA is ready
For my family (and likely for yours, too) Jewish food is a thing of lore, love, and, at times, struggle. When I realized that a recent trip to New York coincided with Tablet Magazine’s “Future of Jewish Food” event, I bought tickets and started counting down the days. If anyone was going to get excited about people getting excited about pastrami, it was going to be me.
Co-hosted with ABC Carpet & Home and Brooklyn based Mile End Delicatessen, the evening boasted not one, but two panels on a range of topics, including the death of the bialy, Jewish eating in 3,000 CE, and – of course –the Deli Renaissance now greeting foodies from coast to coast. The program finished quite ceremoniously with a sampling of smoked meat on rye brought fresh by each of the four nouveau deli proprietors who traveled to Manhattan for the occasion, namely: the aforementioned Mile End (http://www.mileenddeli.com/), Portland’s Kenny and Zuke’s, Berkeley’s Saul’s, and San Francisco’s Wise Sons – the newest member of the Deli Renaissance gang.
The event was packed – mostly by hip Jews and people who could be their parents. The discussion was serious, almost academic. As an Angeleno, I fantasized this to be a commonplace New York night.
As one would imagine with such a panel of Jews and epicureans, no consensus could be reached. Yet, it was well argued that the future of Jewish food will translate to meals that are thoughtfully sourced, impeccably prepared, and while perhaps not Kosher, likely Kosher style. No longer instructed solely by black and white images of big, meat-laden tables surrounded by Yiddish speakers, WE – this panel attested – crave a current (instagramed?) picture, replete with farm-to-table eating, sustainably sourced meat, and a clued-in clientele that pulls from Jewish and non-Jewish eaters alike. In other words, Jewish food – according to these modern Deli masters – is very much alive. I agreed.
And then, a cold realization. I was a lone Angeleno. This panel had a Brooklyner (obviously), two Bay Area natives (OK, sure), and a Portlander (really?), but nobody representing Los Angeles – our diverse, Jewishly strong, culinarily rich Los Angeles. We can shove our conspiracy theories aside because, frankly, there is no LA voice that would have fit. We have, no doubt, our share of great delicatessens, but nobody is spinning this new brand of thoughtful, innovative, farm-to-deli cooking that is taking off in other cities. Sure, a handful of food trucks are slinging pastrami on rye, and one guy is doing it smoking his own meats, but no brick and mortar establishments are serving what these panelists are cooking up.
So why does this matter to LA, and Jewish Angelenos, specifically?
For starters, you may not even realize that you are craving it, but I promise that you are hankering for the types of alt/nay dishes being served up: Kasha Varnishkes with locally sourced chanterelles, Tsimis avoiding an overdone blandness with roasted carrots taking charge, and house-made, hand-carved smoked meats and fish that call forth a deep nostalgia you didn’t even know you had. Trust me LA, you want this. With a side of pickles.
More importantly though, this Deli Renaissance represents something bigger than our bellies. Eating in a way that intertwines modern values and worn recipes speaks to a culture’s adaptability and vibrancy. The Deli Renaissance folds in tastes and flavors with a conversation about 21st Century eating that is right on pitch with how many Los Angeles restaurants are humming. On any given night in LA, I can get thoughtfully sourced Pho, cutting edge farm-to-table enchiladas, or sustainably sauced handmade pasta. This truth makes these restaurants – and their respective chefs and communities – relevant. This relevancy provides entry into all of the important conversations – political, sociological, logistical, etc. – that are happening in today’s Los Angeles. Jews should earn a seat at this table.
The New York Times recently ran a piece on how exciting it is to eat in Kosher Los Angeles today, highlighting our city’s Kosher Thai, Mexican, Persian, and Israeli fare. The Times was right on. LA Kosher food is stepping up, and stepping out, in all of the right ways.
That said, there is enough room for Jewish food in Los Angeles to step back, too. And it should. Deli Renaissance: LA is ready for you. Investors welcome.
Emily Kane is a Los Angeles based food lawyer and lay eater who hails from a long line of Jewish cooks.