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Underground Eats

April 4, 2012
Can This Pop-Up Make Kosher Food Sexy?

By Michele Wolfson
[ from: http://bloggery.undergroundeats.com/can-this-pop-up-make-kosher-food-sexy/ ]

The Foundry

Chef Dan Lenchner and his son, Yair, are putting the sexy back into kosher food. Well, that would imply that kosher food was at one point sexy, and who would argue that it ever was? And so Dan, owner of Manna Catering, has opened the first kosher pop-up restaurant in The Foundry, a stunning venue in Long Island City, to show that kosher food is as innovative and delicious as any other cuisine.

A brief culinary history on the father-son duo: Dan has been catering for 30 years. Yair is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and is currently a line cook at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's The Mark. This month's theme at the pop-up is Spring Italian, and Yair is spending a month in Italy researching the menu.

I chatted with Dan about why he came up with the idea of a kosher pop-up, and how he plans to make kosher food sexy.

How did you come up with this idea to host kosher pop-up dinners?
Well, obviously pop-ups are a trend in the general culinary scene and I wasn't aware of anyone doing it in a kosher way. It seemed appealing that we were one of very few, if any, doing it that way. The other reason is that it's very appealing to be able to control the menu. You can hold the reigns more over a menu with a pop-up restaurant in a way that you can't in catering because you have to collaborate with a client. It's appealing that the crowd is small and as a chef, you can get more creative.

How do you make kosher food sexy?
It's a simple answer in some ways. One way to see this is that there is no reason why kosher food shouldn't be sexy because the kosher commandment isn't to eat boring food. The rules are you can't have pork, you can't eat shellfish, you can't mix meat and dairy...but those restrictions aren't as limiting as they seem.

Americans adore Chinese food but from a Westerner's point of view, there are some serious differences and limitations. For instance, there is no knife or fork, no salt and pepper shakers on the table, no dairy, no coffee at the end of the meal, and the food doesn't really come out in courses. For all of that, Americans still can't eat enough Chinese food. It's not just Chinese food that is that way. Vietnamese, Thai... No one thinks it's too weird to eat that stuff, so why not eat kosher? The list of restrictions in a kosher diet is short.

We also get our ideas and inspiration for our menu from traveling. That definitely adds some sex appeal to our dishes.

Do you think there is a renaissance with kosher food with the opening of trendy spots like Kutsher's?
Well, actually, Kutsher's is kosher-style, not kosher...there is a difference. Also, by asking if there is a renaissance with kosher food, you are implying that it was once trendy in the beginning and trust me it never was.

There is a steady improvement in the quality of kosher food, but I think it's slow and to get your hands on the trendy food, you need to know what goes on in the real kosher world.

The kosher audience is on a sliding scale. On one end, there are extremely strict kosher diners and they are more concerned with the degree of observance than they are with the sexiness of the food, and they make it difficult for kosher chefs to push too far. For example, we've been getting emails for people who want to make reservations for the pop-up dinners, but some emails are extremely terse because they want to know whom exactly our rabbi is. There is a push-pull in the kosher world, a fine line between making the food sexy and also appeasing those who are very strict followers to the rules. Every chef has to navigate those waters.

Who comes to your pop-up dinners?
It's overwhelmingly Jewish, but not exclusively. I'd say perhaps 90% are Jewish. It's a nice mix, though. My son is 25 and a bunch of his foodie buddies and college buddies have been coming. The other part is a number of diners whose weddings that we've done in the past and those people are generally in their 20?s and 30?s. I also have older diners, people who are in their 50?s and 60?s. A bride-to-be brought her grandparents. It's a very mixed crowd.

The next kosher pop-up, Spring Italian, takes place on April 26th at The Foundry, Long Island City. The cost is $100 per person exclusive of tax and tip, with red and white wines included. For reservations, e-mail manna @ mannacatering.com.

Manna Catering, Inc.
42-25 A Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, NY 11101
Tel. 212-966-3449 Fax: 347-472-4445

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