What’s new at this year’s Ashkenaz Festival

From left to right: Michael Kaminer, Judy Perly, Michael Wex, Bonnie Stern
Michael Twitty, Zane Caplansky, Elizabeth Alpern, Leor Zimerman

This Labour Day Weekend marks the 11th biennial Ashkenaz Festival, celebrating global Jewish art and culture. While Ashkenaz features more than 80 acts across multiple disciplines, including music, film, theatre and photography, this year, it welcomes a diverse lineup of notable chefs, restaurateurs and food writers in the first ever Fressers Summit.

The program highlights the role of food in contemporary Jewish cultural revival, with talks, demos, workshops and tastings by some of Canada’s most colourful Jewish food personalities, as well as some special guests from south of the border. Notable personalities participating include Zane Caplansky, Bonnie Stern, Leor Zimerman, Judy Perly, Michael Wex, Liz Alpern, Dina Rock, and Michael Twitty. To whet your palate, we’ve asked some of them to answer a few questions for us pertaining to what they have in store for the Ashkenaz Festival audience.

As one of the Jewish food personalities participating in this program, what are you most excited to bring to Ashkenaz? How do you think food contributes to the Jewish cultural revival?

BONNIE STERNEating my way through Israel: Food and culture are intimately linked. I am excited to bring the idea that Jewish Ashkenazi food is becoming popular in Israel and that Israeli food is becoming popular in Europe and North America.

JUDY PERLY, Free Times Cafe: My food and especially my Bella! Did Ya Eat Sunday Dairy & Fish Brunch, where brunch is not bacon and eggs –it’s bagels, cream cheese, cheese blintzes, potato latkes, sour cream, herring, smoked salmon, fresh veggies, scrambled eggs and onions, challah french toast, and more. We’re re-creating a lost experience – the home experience of eating authentic Jewish Foods. Food has been the anchoring factor in the Jewish Cultural revival and we’re proud to be one of the first places that started the Jewish Klezmer revival.

MICHAEL TWITTY, Kosher Soul: Food is an entry into the inner workings of Jewish identity. Food in Jewish civilization is part of our past, our present and our future, it’s a form of text that manifests itself not only in recipes, but in song, memories and predictions.

ELIZABETH ALPERN, Brooklyn’s The Gefilteria: I’m excited to bring a new look at Ashkenazi Cuisine to Ashkenaz. I hope to inspire attendees to rethink foods they may have dismissed.

Why is Jewish food suddenly such a hot topic?

BONNIE STERN: For the first time, there are more high-end Jewish chefs and they have started looking to their roots for inspiration and combining their French (usually) training with the flavours of their ancestors. Also, people are travelling to Israel and seeing what the chefs are doing with their Sephardi food and combining that style of Jewish cooking with Ashkenazi food. The results are exciting!

JUDY PERLY: Jewish Food is a hot topic because it is a home based roots food that lost a lot of its traditional restaurant outlets when the Urban Jewish population moved to the suburbs and lost their traditional types of venues – delis and dairy take-out. Roots food in general is a hot topic. Jewish people have moved away from kosher and eat all kinds of foods out. A lot of young Jewish people have studied cooking in school and are realizing that their food has not been represented in the restaurant scene, so they realize there is a hidden opportunity for success. They are putting this traditionally home based food into their new restaurants. Now that there is some success happening others see it and feel confident that they can have success in this area.

MICHAEL TWITTY: It’s a part of the do it yourself movement. As traditional institutions like the deli and dairy restaurant decli