A Taste of Judaism

by Jessica Hanewinckel March 29, 2012


By Jessica Hanewinckel

During the last few months, the kitchen at Temple Adat Shalom in Poway has seen a whirlwind of chopping, kneading, frying, baking, rolling, mixing and stuffing. One day, sugar and cinnamon might be wafting from the kitchen, another day boiling chicken, and another day fried potatoes and onions. Around this area of the county, that means one thing: the San Diego Jewish Food Festival can’t be too far off. This year, the third annual festival will entice and satisfy hungry patrons Sunday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the Adat Shalom grounds, with nearly every Jewish food imaginable.

“We all put our heart and soul into making this a very successful event, one that the whole community will go to, enjoy and come away from saying they’re so happy they went,” says Diane Hellman, food preparation co-chair. “We just want to make this so exciting and so much fun.”

This year’s theme, “Nosh Around the World,” invites ticket-holders to sample tasting-sized portions of a variety of foods that represent the Jewish people’s long history in the world and around the globe, from Russia to Italy, Israel to Germany and New York City to Poland.

“The idea is that you should really have a taste of everything that’s there,” says festival co-chair Janet Pollack, “and you can take home what you don’t finish.”

What started as a tiny, grassroots fundraising event for Adat Shalom has grown dramatically over the past two years and become more comprehensive, upscale and organized with every go-around.

“Each aspect has evolved as we’ve gone through the first second and third year,” says festival marketing director Richard Stern. “The first year it was pretty much by the seat of our pants. We had tables, we had some pop-ups, we had hand-drawn signs. … We want to continue to raise the bar every year so it looks more and more professional.”

This year, the committee (still all volunteer congregants, now with subcommittees to oversee every possible aspect of the festival) says they’re anticipating about 3,000 people, and to accommodate the growing crowd, they’re expanding the event from just the social hall and courtyard into one of two parking lots as well.

“It has grown the last couple of years, and this year we expect it to be even more amazing,” Pollock says. “We’ve got 50 vendors [and community organizations and agencies] coming, so there are a lot of shopping opportunities, a lot of eating opportunities, a lot of playing opportunities and fabulous entertainment on two stages.”

Big changes the committee is excited about include the creation of ties with several community partners through sponsorships and vendor opportunities, as well as the addition of new forms of entertainment — musical performances and celebrity chef cooking demonstrations.

“In the first [two years], the majority of the food was prepared by our volunteer chefs in our kitchens,” Stern says. “We realized there are some foods that people really like coming from a deli … like corned beef and pastrami. So we’ve involved D.Z. Akin’s and Milton’s and City Delicatessen.”

Those three delis will contribute foods people typically prefer to order from a deli. Adat Shalom volunteers will still make other foods that are best when prepared from time-tested family recipes, like latkes and mandelbrot, in the synagogue’s kitchen. (And the committee kitchen-tests each recipe to ensure quality and deliciousness.) Baron’s Market is donating all the fresh produce used in the preparation of these recipes and all of the food for the cooking demonstrations. Other sponsors donating food and other goods, and who will have a presence among vendor booths, include New York Bagels and Café, Unicorn Jewelry, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Party Pals and New York Beat DJs and Entertainment. Says Pollack, each sponsor will contribute a prize for a raffle, and each guest will also receive a free entry into a separate opportunity drawing. Kids can enjoy an interactive gardening project courtesy of the San Diego Jewish Academy or a bounce house or photo booth from Party Pals, among other activities.

Arguably even more exciting are the premier chefs from some of San Diego’s best restaurants who will offer their own take on Jewish foods.

Confirmed are Ron Oliver, chef de cuisine of The Marine Room; Flor Franco, executive chef at Urban Chicken; Matt Gordon, executive chef and owner of Urban Solace; Amanda Baumgarten, “Top Chef” season seven contestant and executive chef at Herringbone; and Sara Polczynski, chef instructor for Baking and Pastry and former pastry chef of the Cohn Restaurant Group.

“Adding the celebrity chef component will provide new contemporary versions and twists on the old standards,” Stern explains. “It marries the old fashioned, traditional Jewish cooking with today’s modern fare.”

To make the festival as much about the broader Jewish culture, as opposed to just the food, it will also include sanctuary tours throughout the day, led by Adat Shalom Rabbi David Castiglione. Says Pollack, the event is as much for non-Jews as it is for Jews, so talking about the religious aspect of Judaism is important to create awareness and understanding.

“It’s a fundraiser for us, but at the same time it’s also a community outreach,” she says. “It’s a way to have our neighbors understand and come and meet and greet. There are always a lot of questions about Judaism. People are curious. They know who we are, they know we’re Jews, but they don’t really know what that means, and this is a way that we open our doors to the entire community and let them get one big bite of Jewish culture all in one fabulous day.”

And to bring a little Jewish culture into attendees’ lives once the festival is over, the committee has compiled a cookbook of all the recipes used in the festival. Many of the recipes, like Hellman’s mandelbrot and Pollack’s latkes, are personal family recipes that have been well loved and time-tested by the toughest critics of all — actual Jewish families who know good Jewish food when they taste it. Cookbooks can be pre-ordered online and picked up at the festival. They are $14.95 (spiral-bound books) or $9.95 (CD).

With growing popularity in the region, and with more additions to the festival each year, the committee is beginning to think about future years.

“The idea is hopefully to grow to a point where we start not only outsourcing the food, but we start getting to a bigger venue, and then we could coordinate the effort,” Pollack says. “It could be a city-wide thing, and the other synagogues, if they wanted to participate, could. We’re trying to make this a Jewish cultural event, and just because we started it doesn’t mean it always has to be right here.”

Of course, wherever the festival is held, and whatever form it takes, it will never lose its emphasis on food as a way to trace the evolution of the Jewish people across time and space.

“Judaism is a religion and a culture, and the religion and culture intermingle,” Stern says. “We’re trying to portray as much of both sides as we possibly can by focusing on the cultural side. Look at any culture in the world. What’s the common denominator? The food. And that kind of brings us back to the food as the core, and that food has been around and evolving for 5,000 years.”


•  All food purchases must be made using official JFF Nosh Cards. Food booths will not accept cash. These can be pre-purchased or bought at the door. Admission is $3 but is free with each $10 worth of pre-purchased Nosh Cards. Kids 12 and under are admitted free with an accompanying adult. Nosh Cards are available in $10, $20, $54 or $180 (includes admission for eight and unlimited noshing for one person) denominations.

Parking, excluding handicapped, will be off-site, with a free shuttle available.

Temple Adat Shalom is located at 15905 Pomerado Road in Poway.

For more information, call (858) 451-1200 or visit www.sdjewishfoodfest.com.


A Small Taste of the Many Foods at the San Diego Jewish Food Festival


Bagels, lox, herring, kugel, blintzes, Mediterranean salads, chicken (multiple varieties), knishes, stuffed cabbage, majadrah, tzimmes, matzo ball soup, corned beef on rye, pastrami, chopped liver, brisket sliders, falafel, couscous, tabouli, latkes, rugaleah, strudel, mandelbrot, hamantaschen, New York cheesecake and more.


One thought on “A Taste of Judaism

  1. My family and I cannot wait to attend again this year. The food is yummy…and you get to meet a LOT of nice people.

    Whether you’re “regulars” like we are…or if you’ve never attended…you definitely don’t want to miss the Jewish Food Festival!

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