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30 course tasting menu with 15 wines: Gluttony or Kedusha?

Every once in a while you hear complaints about materialism in the frum media, it usually has to do with lavish yeshiva fundraising banquets, expensive pesach hotels in Hawaii and those marble columns that your neighbor in Monsey decided to adorn their ugly house with. These complaints usually have to do with “how can someone do such a thing, when there are so many needy people out there?” (they tend to sound very liberal at this point by the way) With the yeshiva tuition crisis and so many families without the funds to feed their children, anyone who goes on vacation is a real momzer! So when I was invited by my friend, master chef Isaac Bernstein, to help out in the kitchen with prepping a 30 course dinner, I wondered whether or not I was sinning or on the verge of some great chassidic elevation of food.

Food is one of those things that pretty much everyone enjoys, but at a certain point it may seem a bit excessive. Does anyone really need to eat 30 courses to be fit enough for a good session of Torah l’shma. I was taught that food was only a means to make us fit for our servitude to the Lord. We eat breakfast so we can pay attention in morning seder and so on (women probably aren’t supposed to eat much because they don’t need that strength for learning since it’s not their mitzvah) and we eat dinner so we can sit in night seder and so on.

I succumbed to my yetzer harah, wife, and general need to eat 30 courses with wine pairings for free. Compounded by the fact that the Bay Area kosher food scene is sorely lacking. Sure, I had to risk life and limb with a 10 inch chefs knife and the oozing fat of Otoro (which I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to afford), but it was worth my while, despite the fact I may have gotten many sins from such a thing.

In all seriousness though, I do wonder if such an event is utter gluttony or the ultimate in using our God given minds to elevate something which God has provided us to a point that it makes perfect sense to make a bracha on the item. Purely face value leads one to believe in the gluttony aspect. I had 13 courses at Pardes in Brooklyn and barely made it out alive, 30 courses is pure insanity. For the record, I only made it to the 23 course and was too full, drunk and tired to go on.

We can point all the fingers we want, but the meal was donated to the shul in Oakland for auctioning. The wine, food and time was all donated for the sake of supporting a shul. I can’t quite remember the whole thing as it was over a week ago and this coming Saturday night is another one, but here is a partial list and pictures of what I ate.

The first ten courses were mostly fish, raw fish and all the types of fish you’d be hard pressed to find at any kosher sushi establishment. Blue fin, Toro and Otoro were amongst the heavy hitters, the albaclore – persimmon tartar was quite good as well. The smoked melon course was a bit over the top, he used a smoking gun to individually wood smoke bowls of melon shavings that were unwrapped at the table so that the folks eating could see the smoking melon.

Chef Bernstein is quite handy with his sous vide and there were many things flying around the kitchen in vacuum bags, including veal loin, veal breast, goose confit, duck confit, seared goose and duck, 72 hour wagyu short ribs. The breaded and fried veal breast was crazy good, maple foam, olive oil powder, veal bacon jam, cabernet cherries and an endless array of wines being poured by Jonathan Hajdu of assistant winemaker for Covenant. I can’t be certain as to how many wines I drank, mostly Californian and local, but I was quite gone by the time the meat courses finally rolled around.

Pictures from the event:

Faux Gras, Goose Brioche, Huckleberry Compote.

Veal Loin and Cap, Butternut Squash Puree, Broken Butternut, Honeyed Apples, Miso Butterscotch

Waygu Rib Eye with Pommes Puree, Chantrelles.
Crescent Cut 72 hr Short Rib, Soy Glaze, Turnip, Broccolini, Charred Green Onion, Soy Marshmallow

Tomato Tartar, Avocado Mousse

Nu, is it elevating the mitzvah of food or is it just bittul z’man?


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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous November 28, 2012, 11:38 AM

    This goes back to that post on your blog (sorry, I forget which) in which you made a comment about BT’s with no moral compass. There are certain people in every religion (and dare I say it, amongst those of no religion), who “talk the talk but don’t walk the walk”, in Jewish terms they are observant (keep kosher, hold to tznius, are shomer Shabbat, etc.) but then almost seem to go out of their way to ignore either the finer points of the law (stoning vehicles which drive through their neighbourhood on Shabbos, etc., which seems at least to violate the prohibitions on selecting, carrying, etc., never mind the interpersonal stuff). As a trivial example I’ve never understood how so many supposedly shomer Shabbat folks apparently do things like reading the newspapers on Shabbos. All that bad news (let’s face it, how many times have you, for example, seen headlines like “X MILLION GAZANS DO NOT LAUNCH ROCKETS INTO SDEROT?” is hardly shabbosdik. Not to set myself up as a law on Shabbos observance or anything (I’m a British Reform Jew, for starters, so probably on the left wing of American Conservative Judaism), but although I sometimes watch television on Shabbos, whether on TV or in print form, on Shabbos I avoid the news like the plague. I’m sure one could come up with many less trivial examples.

    • Heshy Fried November 28, 2012, 11:41 AM

      I avoid the news like a plague every day, all news brings me is worry, negativity and anger, it doesn’t help me in anyway. If it’s big enough news, my family will let me know. But you didn’t explain what you thought about this particular post so I’m lost.

      • Anonymous November 28, 2012, 1:41 PM

        Sorry, the original was getting a little TL;DR even for me so I stopped lol. The point is, what is the point of keeping kosher to the nth degree if your food is piled high like that?! Especially since (and ignoring the usual point about pig being bad for your health, although it could be pointed out that lots of kosher food isn’t particularly healthy) some have hypothesised that the ban on the pig has to do with the fact that pigs need a lot of water, so that therefore, anyone in the Middle East who ate it was being profligate (not so much a problem in modern Israel, on the coast, with water purifiers and sanitation, but potentially a problem in ancient Judaea and Samaria, the hill country.

        • Jeffrey Daniel Rollin-Jones November 28, 2012, 1:52 PM

          Also (a) this is me when I’m not playing anonymous coward; (b) why won’t your blog let me edit my posts; and (c) I really shouldn’t post comments from my smartphone’s tiny screen…

  • Tova November 28, 2012, 12:06 PM

    Was that “faux” gras (fake) or foie gras (real)?

    In any case, the frum world is materialistic because that materialism is a cloak of piety. Expensive sheitels, kitchen makeovers, and custom-made clothing are all ways that allow people to indulge while claiming that their indulgences exist for “holy” reasons. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying nice things…When other people tell me, though, that their materialism is OK because it’s religious while other materialism is bad because it’s “meaningless”, I can do nothing but roll my eyes.

    • A. Nuran November 30, 2012, 1:12 PM

      The real thing is widely believed to have been a Jewish dish originally. Just FYI.

      • Tova December 3, 2012, 9:05 PM

        What, chopped liver? My grandmother makes the best liver. I eat it with sour pickles; I guess if I had a meat grinder I’d make my own.

  • Anonymous November 28, 2012, 1:28 PM
  • shmagegy November 28, 2012, 11:22 PM

    cmon peepull!
    kosher yidels aint immune of this world.s goodness!
    so we fress. so we indulge! but at least it.s for a good cause.
    at least most ppl dont get drunk. it helps to coalesce the community hopefully.
    frummies are human too. we need our outlets. tovah give frummies abreak!!!!

  • just saying November 29, 2012, 12:06 AM

    The Oakland Jewish Community Rocks!

  • AC November 29, 2012, 12:12 AM

    I guess gluttony is OK as long as a tzedakah benefits from it.

  • Izzy November 30, 2012, 9:42 AM

    Wish Chabad had these food fests in LA! Though I can’t complain, our Rebbitzen’s Cholent is exquisite and is always accompanied by some nice single malts!

    What kind of CA Kosher wines did they serve? Some Herzog ones? The Herzog Winery in Oxnard serves great Kosher food…(Bison, etc.) with some of their fine grapes!

    I can laugh about gourmet meals in Shuls because I remember my Dad, who was President of our Shul in Binghamton NY, eating a gourmet macrobiotic Shabbos Kiddush meal prepared at the shul by Rabbi Michael Abehsera (he has authored several books on macrobiotic cooking). Now our typical upstate New York Shabbos Kiddush consisted of herring, slices of salami, and lots more herring with bottles of Seagram 7 and JB Blended Scotch (which they called Jewish booze). The shul was full of college students, most of them hippies, who were fervent admirers and followers of the Rabbi. When my father saw all the macrobiotic delicacies…..basically various courses of grains, beans, and other veggies. His only comment was “…Chazerai…bird food.” Accordingly, the esteemed macrobiotic Rabbi never served to kiddush in our shul again.

    To me, a good fress is what life is all about…and to share it with someone you love, a mitzvah!

    • The Mrs. November 30, 2012, 11:04 AM

      No Herzog whatsoever. Start with Covenant, see the link above.

      • Izzy November 30, 2012, 1:48 PM

        Thanks for Covenant link. Wow…nice but pricey grapes! Looks like the Herzogs have worked with them which is pretty generous. What a meal!

  • A. Nuran November 30, 2012, 1:14 PM

    That’s an amazing meal. Not something you’d want to do very often, but once in a great while a little indulgence isn’t bad for the soul as long as you keep it in perspective

  • Holmes December 1, 2012, 11:21 PM

    “Blue fin, Toro and Otoro were amongst the heavy hitters. . .”

    If you’re writing about food, then just FYI, blue fin is a type of tuna (e.g. as opposed to yellow fin) while toro and otoro are grades, sort of like choice compared to prime beef.

    To the best of my knowledge, these are the grades of sushi tuna, from low to high:


    In addition to Blue Fin, by the way, there is also baby Blue Fin. Some people consider both to be in danger of extinction. I leave the halachic implications of that to you.

    • grammar master December 2, 2012, 12:48 AM

      I think that’s why he avoided the oxford comma.

  • Allen Roth December 2, 2012, 7:44 AM

    I once attended a Single-Malt tasting class, with my ex-companion. We each found twelve shot glasses and a spit-cup in front of us, to sample the 12 Single Malts, over an hour and a half, expectorating after each one. Even with the use of the spit-cup, you did become slightly buzzed by the end of the course. When we got up to leave, I noticed that the guy sitting in front of me, of medium height, and who spoke with a somewhat Southern accent, got up, and I noticed his 12 empty shot glasses, next to an equally empty spitcup.

  • Alter Cocker December 2, 2012, 2:44 PM

    “We can point all the fingers we want, but the meal was donated to the shul in Oakland for auctioning. The wine, food and time was all donated for the sake of supporting a shul.”

    Can you explain this? I guess they charged admission and then donated that money?

    What do you mean the meal was donated? That they auctioned off an entry?

  • Witness December 5, 2012, 7:24 AM

    Sounds like there’s a shul out there that needs to hold a public reading of the Ramban on “Kedoshim Tihyu.” An event in which a frum community goes out of its way to put physical indulgence on a pedestal beyond any normal standards is a chillul hashem.

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