If there was ever a food in need of a sexy makeover it would be gefilte fish. The frumpy divorcée of Jewish cuisine, gefilte fish gets no love and practically no one wants it in their mouth. And can you blame them? It’s a slime-encrusted fish nugget! Don’t get me wrong, I love pungent, briny Jewish food as much as the next Hebrew school graduate, but I just can’t get past the goo factor. But it's time to stop sipping the Maneschewitz haterade. For gefilte, things are about to change.
A trio of passionate young foodies in New York recently started their own business known as The Gefilteria, with the goal of transforming the dish from fish's red-headed stepsister to its hot, slutty cousin.
In case there are any non-Jews randomly reading this article (good for you!), a little background on gefilte: It is made up of ground whitefish and is usually eaten on high holidays such as Passover or Yom Kippur. We tend to smother it in horseradish to burn off any of the original flavor so all you really taste is a ball of fire.
When I first heard about Gefilteria I was overwhelmed. I went through a whole slew of grief emotions: anger, confusion, denial and finally acceptance. How can the least popular food I’ve ever eaten be the foundation for a business plan? Are they stuffing it with weed? Are these pot fish balls? I don’t understand. I had to investigate. I contacted one of the co-founders, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, who was kind enough to enlighten me.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but Jeffrey Yoskowitz would make an amazing cult leader. He’s handsome, slender, bearded and persuasive as hell. After listening to him talk about gefilte fish for a couple of hours, I was convinced that it’s not just a food, but a revolution. When I asked him why he chose to make gefilte fish he responded, “Gefilte fish is still laughed at, it’s called ‘the sausage of the sea.’ All my Sephardic friends joke about how gross it is. But I grew up loving it. My grandmother made it fresh all the time and I thought, why not reclaim it?”
Savvy enough to jump on the artisanal bandwagon that is sweeping the New York food scene, Jeff and his partners decided to bring old-world Jewish food into the 21st century. Their eats are sustainable, local, organic and also pretty to look at. When I asked Jeff how he came up with the idea to make gefilte fish he said it came out of casual conversations. He would ask friends, “Wouldn’t it be incredible if there was sustainable gefilte fish? There is sustainable kosher meat, there’s sustainable vegetables, the community is becoming aware of this, but gefilte fish is still in a jar.” And so the green gefilte movement was born.
Starting in March, Jeffrey Yoskowitz and his partners Liz Alpern and Jackie Lilinshtein began selling their goods at a pop-up store in Brooklyn. The fish was an instant fan favorite. The place was so packed they ran out of gefilte. It wasn't long before both The New York Times and New York Magazine stopped by to give a review. When Passover rolled around and orders were through the roof, they knew they were in business.
After talking at length with Jeffrey I realized I needed to do less chatting and more eating. So on an extra-humid New York summer day, I sweated my way down to The Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side. I made my way to the Gefilteria booth and ordered the old-world sampler plate, which includes garlic peppercorn sauerkraut, borscht, and a gefilte fish crostini with sweet beet horseradish. Finally, a chance to taste fresh gefilte for the first time in my life!
I closed my eyes, took a bite and immediately started throwing up. I kid, I kid. Obviously, the food was elegant and gourmet exactly as I expected. It had a nice two-tone color of white and pink (for the salmon) and a clean, delicate taste. I’m not a food writer, so I won't use fancy words like toothsome and piquant. All I can say it is tasted yummy and I would totally eat it again.
As for the other people ordering from Gefilteria, they were practically having a religious experience. A woman named Hillary McGrath took one bite of the gefilte crostini and seemingly went into a trance. I’ve never seen fish affect someone like that.
“This was the first time in fifty years that I had that same exact sensory feeling as I had eating my grandparents gefilte. It really brought me back to my childhood," she said by way of explanation.
Then a group of hunky Australian Jews (swoon!) came by to taste the food. Blue-eyed Aussie Jew, if you are reading this: I am disease-free and great at ping pong.
I chatted it up with David Gyorki, one of the hot boys from Down Under, who explained that he and his crew had been at Gefilteria's opening in March and were so impressed they came back for more.
“As soon as I tasted it, I was hooked. Gefilte fish for life.”
After a fun day of eating and flirting with international Jews, I decided to ask Jeff one final question. Completely projecting my own issues, I asked, “Do you ever have moments of existential crisis about what you’re doing with your life?”
He answered, “I have crises all the time. I mean, all these people I went to college with are now at Yale Law School or they are successful journalists and here I am making gefilte fish. But someone’s got to make it.”
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