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. TheĀ  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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