By Malky Lowinger
I went surfing recently. Kitchensurfing, that is.
It was a totally new experience for me, as well as for most of the twenty others who were joining me at this unique dinner party. The event, which was held in a swanky penthouse apartment overlooking Eastern Parkway, was a strictly kosher version of the popular start-up service that has become all the rage with foodies and plain old folk as well. Now that a kosher option is being introduced, chances are that it will take off just as quickly in the Jewish market.
What is Kitchensurfing?
It’s an internet service that pairs up private chefs with anyone interested in hiring them for a dinner, a party, or perhaps a unique ethnic experience. To book a chef, one need just browse the website, choose the type of dinner that is preferred, read the menus and the reviews, compare the prices, and finally contact the chef (or chefs) of your choice.
The Kosher Kitchensurfing experience, headed up by Chef Yuda Schlass of Hassid+Hipster fame and by Lubavitcher Aaron Popack, can be customized to your specifications, and the chefs do all the work including shopping, cooking, serving, and cleaning up.
The company was launched in May of 2012 by Chris Muscarella, Mars Kluge, and Borahm Cho as a means of making the hiring of a private chef “a uniquely personal experience.” It was started in New York but today there are branches in many other locations including Chicago, LA, Boston and Berlin. Since its inception, it has connected thousands of chefs with over 100,000 consumers.
Of course, it was only a matter of time until Kitchensurfing went kosher. And to promote its kosher debut, a cozy little dinner party was arranged at the aforementioned Crown Heights apartment. I arrive at the dinner to find an eclectic mix of people mingling comfortably while nibbling on hors d’oeuvres.
For this event, Kitchensurfing teamed up with renowned food writer and celebrity chef Jamie Geller, who is here tonight along with her assistant, Tamar.
I introduce myself to Tamar and Jamie. Jamie is warm, friendly, and perky and while she’s delighted to be here tonight, she also can’t wait to get back to her home in Beit Shemesh, Israel. I make my way over to the kitchen so I can meet Chef David.
David and his team are busy stirring, dicing, sautéing, and arranging but he takes a moment to tell me his story. Born in the Lake Como region of northern Italy, he has been cooking since he’s 15, and has worked in an upscale Manhattan restaurant. Today he is 25 years old and already a master chef. Intrigued by the concept of Kitchensurfing, he is preparing a chic and trendy dinner for us tonight that would presumably delight the fussiest foodies among us.
I check out the hors d’oeuvres. There are pickled eggs made with onions and balsamic marmalade, risotto cakes made with fried green peas, and lamb meatball skewers. They look lovely but I am saving myself for dinner. And while David seems like a nice enough fellow, I’m wondering who is in charge of the kashrus here tonight.
I find out soon enough, when I am introduced to Rabbi Kalman Weinfeld of OK Kosher. He assures me that he’s been here since the morning supervising the preparation of the food as well as checking the vegetables. He also tells me that kosher Kitchensurfers can specify which meats and chickens they prefer for their event and can even choose the markets that their chefs should shop in. This is, after all, a personalized experience.
I meet Aaron Popack who is handling the Kosher Kitchensurfing event tonight and he explains that this growing startup has discovered the kosher consumer as an intriguing and potentially powerful niche market. He is betting that the Kitchensurfing concept will really take off with members of the community who are hosting a sheva brochos at home, a private fundraising event, a backyard barbecue, or even an anniversary dinner for two. The possibilities are endless.
It’s fun to meet the people who are preparing your dinner, as well as those who are ensuring its kashrus and I’m beginning to see how Kitchensurfing can be more interesting and intriguing than simply making a restaurant reservation. No matter how much you enjoy your meal at your favorite eatery, chances are you will never have the opportunity to meet your chef, interact with him (or her) and learn about how he prepared the food you are eating.
Eventually, we make our way to the elegantly set dining room table. I am seated between Hilda from the Lower East Side and Shifra who lives in Crown Heights. Hilda is here because she and her husband enjoy dining out and are always willing to try something new. Shifra is the editor of the Joy of Kosher magazine, and a lively conversation develops about the latest trends in kosher eating.
Our lovely waitress serves the first course, which is a Fresh Corn Soup garnished with farro. We are really enjoying the soup, which is silky smooth and sweet. David emerges from the kitchen to tell us that the secret to the soup’s silkiness is the Yukon potatoes that are cleverly blended inside. He also confides that he roasts the corn a full forty five minutes before cooking the soup so as to bring out its sweetness.
In the course of conversation, he tells us that he recently got married and is today living on the East Side of Manhattan, not far from where Hilda lives. This is the kind of informal interaction that makes Kitchensurfing so appealing. Even if you’ve visited your favorite restaurant a dozen times, chances are you’ll never really get to know much about the person who prepared your dinner.
Our next course is cured Branzini which I learn is a type of sea bass. It’s served with cucumber and beets. The fish is lightly sautéed and served cold, and David suggests that it would make a nice first course for Shabbat dinner. When I ask him who does the Shabbat cooking in his own home, David smiles shyly and confirms that he does.
And so the evening continues. Fahrenheit Turnip prepared with carrots and truffle oil, Beef Steak Cruda with cumin, Yukon potatoes, Vidalia onions, and capers. (I later discover that “cruda” means raw.) And Roasted Prime Rib Chantarelle with mushrooms, beef juice, and salad. Dessert is a grapefruit and orange aspic, a chilled jelly with fruit which Aaron says is David’s personal creation. Each course is plated creatively and meticulously.
For those with a sense of culinary adventure, or anyone with a penchant for innovative gastronomic experiences, Kitchesurfing is certainly a treat for the senses. This could be the next big thing in upscale kosher dining.
For more info, visit Kitchensurfing.com.