I'm a Sephardic Jew, so I never really considered eating gefilte fish. When I think of Jewish foods I immediately crave couscous, bourekas, and stuffed peppers. I'll admit, I've never been enticed by Ashkenazi foods, but when I heard about The Gefilteria, I was immediately intrigued.

Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz, the founders of Gefilteria, are on a mission to reimagine Eastern European Jewish food. They're doing this in part by producing limited amounts of artisanal gefilte fish. They have also recently published a new cookbook called The Gefilte Manifesto, which is full of amazing recipes that give upgrades to the classics. They're currently on a book tour, and I got a chance to speak to them when they visited Hillel at the University of Michigan. 

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Annie Slabotsky

What is The Gefilteria?

"It's a culinary venture focused on reimagining Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine," Liz noted. Jeff described Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine as "the food of the Yiddish speaking Jews." But, in order to put a face to the name, you have to ask the important questions. So, of course, I had to know what their favorite Jewish foods were growing up.

Annie Slabotsky

Liz understandably needed some time for serious thought and deliberation, but eventually picked the most comforting choice, any kind of Jewish soup. Jeff got specific and chose his grandma's apple strudel. He described it as "slightly nontraditional with thick dough on the outside and apples, citrus, cinnamon and plum, or strawberry jam." Sounds delicious, and the recipe is in their new book.

Their favorites and their disagreements 

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Christin Urso

When asked to tell me their favorite foods in the new cookbook, Jeff replied, "I want to push back on the phrase favorite. Part of what we're trying to do is make connections between a lot of different foods and expand them beyond the holidays." He also mentioned that he loves the old fashioned method for making a traditional Jewish pickle.

Liz chose the recipe for marble rye challah, which is made by weaving two different types of doughs together, but still remains true to traditional challah shape. Beyond weaving challah dough together, Liz and Jeff are weaving together both of their ideas of Ashkenazi Jewish food.

They emphasized that they believe that there are multiple understandings of Jewish food, and their is no one right way —even they disagree sometimes. There seems to be some discrepancy regarding the issue of chocolate challah. Like, is chocolate challah really challah, or is it simply babka? Food for thought. 

What was your inspiration?

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Annie Slabotsky

Jeff gave me the short story. "In 2009 a book came out called Save the Deli. It spoke about the potential loss of this tradition of Jewish food. [The Deli] was the last kind of institution that carried forth this tradition outside the home. We saw this as a call to action, we had to do something to make sure that this tradition doesn't get lost," he explained. 

This point became even more important to Jeff when his grandma stopped making fresh gefilte fish. After feeling the effects of its loss, he suddenly realized that he could make the gefilte fish himself and be the person in his family to carry on this tradition. Liz and Jeff began scheming together and started making gefilte fish in a way that brought a new young spirit to it.

Why is cooking so important?

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Annie Slabotsky

In an age where real cooking is on the decline I wanted to know what Liz and Jeff thought was so special about cooking. Liz stated, "I believe very strongly that your quality of life improves when you cook. You feel better, you’re healthier, happier, and it's communal because people come around to you. A meal in a restaurant and a meal in the home are very different. A meal in the home is a very meaningful experience that if you never have, you're missing out." 

For Jeff it was a different story. He mentioned, "For me it's, well, I'll be honest, when it comes to the Jewish holidays I don’t want to go to shul. I feel that I'm going to connect better to my cultural heritage by making food. It's about smelling the scents and those little details. It reinforces the connections I have with where I come from."

Their advice to college students interested in the food industry

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Annie Slabotsky

Finally, as someone interested in food as a career, I love to get advice from people in the business. Liz said the best way to do it is to get a low level job in the food industry. She explained this logic stating, "Because it is so often romanticized, it's important to get out there and try it yourself. You don't have to have a culinary degree, just get a job and if you like it, you can grow from there. It's great because you get paid to learn."

Jeff also mentioned that for them it wasn't always about the food industry. "It was about cultural activism, and we had this entrepreneurial spirit," He noted. "So, we created a business as a way to spread a larger message about our culture."

Overall, it was inspiring to hear from people who were working toward something they believe in and preserving their culture in new and delightful ways. Liz wanted to "encourage people to create new taste memories, and feel the warmth, nostalgia, community, and family that comes with it."

With this in mind and with the holidays coming so soon, it would be a perfect time for everyone to try and throw their own dinner parties, and hey, why not bring out your grandma's recipes —because who doesn't want to feel that warmth and community?