Noshing As Serious Business

Chickpea filled steamed bun

By Laura Conrad Mandel

Babaganoush tacos with pomegranate slaw and crispy lentils by Boston’s beloved vegan Wholeheart Provisions… a chickpea filled Chinese steamed bun by award winning food truck gone brick and mortar Mei Mei… and “shakalatke” by international Jewish culinary experts Inna’s Kitchen… What do these dishes have in common? They were all top audience picks at the 8th annual Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen (BBK), an event that brings a fresh taste of the Jewish culinary tradition to Boston audiences.

Every year, we look at the numbers and debate the value of an event that takes many hours and great expense to produce. And every year, we make the decision that the event must happen. Why? Because while some may joke about the importance of food in Jewish culture, food has a deep sensory impact that cannot be replicated. Jewish food attracts people to Jewish culture who we rarely, if ever, see in other Jewish contexts. Here are the top five reasons why this event matters:

  1. Food makes Jewish culture accessible to everyone in an authentic way.
  2. Food connects people. Studies show when we eat the same food, we connect and innately trust each other – creating an opening for dialogue. And when this food is created by some of the most beloved chefs in town, the appeal gets people in the door for this conversation.
  3. The event was started by, and for, the younger adult demographic. But it became so beloved by the entire community that we now have the younger leadership plan the evening for the entire community. Food being the universal convener, it bridges the gap that is often created by age – and in fact, is enhanced by having different generations in the room to share stories.
  4. Nosh a little, learn a little. This year, we had a Sephardic theme because it’s less prevalent than Ashkenazi cuisine. This was a major learning experience for chefs and audience, many of whom never knew the difference in cultural backgrounds.
  5. Chefs love it, and not just because we’re one of the only events in town that pays an honorarium. They love it because we create a family of chefs, Jewish or not, who enjoy being together and sharing new ideas. It’s an opportunity to creatively explore cultural culinary roots.

Bottom line? It doesn’t have to be kosher or heavy handed to provide a meaningful Jewish experience. Being in a room of 400+ people enjoying modern twists on shakshuka, falafel, matzah balls… It’s informal education at its finest, engaging in a multisensory way. For those who say “it reminds me of by Bubbie,” that’s one success. And for those who say, “I just tried my first matzah ball and it was amazing! What’s the story behind them?” is a whole other success.

Here’s what the Jewish Journal had to say about this years’ event.

Think this would work well for your audience? Happy to share the challenges and advice before you endeavor into this, just email me (lauram@jartsboston.org).

Laura Mandel, Executive Director of Boston’s Jewish Arts Collaborative, is a public art appreciator, obsessive maker, and social entrepreneur who developed a love of Jewish culture across years of Jewish day school and trips to Israel. After graduating Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Art and English, Laura began working for Hillel and hasn’t left the nonprofit world since.