While the tradition of Jews connecting with food is a long-standing one, the once-simple act of going out for a meal – be it to a restaurant or to gather with friends – has been shelved for the foreseeable future. Enter serial Jewish entrepreneur Lisa Colton.
The Great Big Jewish Food Festival runs from May 19-28, with the registration having kicked off in the early hours of May 6.
“I love Jewish food, I know a lot of people who work in food – Jewish and otherwise – and I knew a lot of them were really hurting,” said Colton, who is the co-executive producer of the event. “I started thinking: Organizations are trying to find new kinds of content to be sharing and engaging people online, and people who are food professionals are looking for new opportunities to share what they do. I had this idea for an online Jewish Food Festival.”
The event is completely free, although the festival is encouraging donations that will be distributed to a few different campaigns to help restaurants and those experiencing food insecurity. And unlike a traditional, in-person festival, there are a few events throughout each day, all of which will take place over Zoom, Instagram Live and Facebook Live.
“It’s born of this moment,” Colton said. “It’s not an organization trying to make a pivot. It’s not owned by anyone. It’s by and for people who love Jewish food.”
The first emails started flying about this idea on March 30, and less than six weeks later, a fully-formed event has been put together. Presenters include Michael Solomonov, the 2019 James Beard Award winner for outstanding restaurant, Michael Twitty, who won the 2018 James Beard Award for Book of the Year, and legendary Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan.
Colton said that there are a few dozen people part of the team putting the event on, including co-executive producer Jeffrey Yoskowitz and producer Liz Alpern, the founders of The Gefilteria; producer and food writer Devra Ferst, Sarah-Kay Lacks a Jewish educator with the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan; and Aliza Kline, the founder of OneTable, whose “white label” version of her groundbreaking startup is being used for event registration.
Festival programs include cooking workshops and demonstrations; conversations among thought leaders and industry professionals; discussions around recent research on the role of food in Jewish identity and community; social events such as happy hours and Shabbat dinner gatherings; activities for kids, and more. Examples include:
- The State of the Deli Hosted by David Sax with Deli Maven Ziggy Gruber and delis across the US
- In Conversation: Food x Identity with Michael Twitty and Julia Turshen
- The Great Big Shabbat Cook-Along Hosted by Gail Simmons with celebrity chefs Michael Solomonov of Zahav, Einat Admony of Balaboosta, and hit cookbook author Adeena Sussman
- Preserving Your Family’s Culinary Heritage with the Jewish Food Society
- Virtual Cookbook Tour: Inside the Extraordinary Library of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
- In Conversation: Jewish Cooking in America Past and Present with Joan Nathan and Ruth Reichl
“The past decade has seen a rise of new Jewish culinary initiatives, restaurants and chefs –– a veritable Jewish food renaissance –– and this Festival is a chance to celebrate and support these revitalization efforts,” said Yoskowitz. “In recent years, how we think about Jewish food has been evolving from merely tradition and nostalgia to a way to understand our history and construct our future.”
Said Colton: “It’s an opportunity for people to chip in and do what they do best, from their name to their talent, to their sense of humor, to an academic thing they’ve pursued. The program team is incredible; they have just put together the most phenomenal program. It’s not only the great people but amazing modalities with how they are engaging one another.”