(New York Jewish Week) — At the first-ever “Kosherpalooza” — a kosher food festival geared toward consumers — savvy attendees knew best to strategize: First, sample everything on the “dairy” side of the convention center (lattes, ice cream, cheeses, pasta, fresh goat and sheep’s milk), and then cross over to the “meat” side, where steak tartare, charcuterie, deli meats, chicken soups and crispy steak tacos awaited.
Those who employed this strategy didn’t have to wait between the dairy and meat courses, as dictated by Jewish law, therefore maximizing enjoyment and efficiency at the all-day event, which was held Wednesday at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Kosherpalooza was first announced in March, just weeks before the kosher trade show, Kosherfest, announced that it was ending its 33-year run. Kosherfest organizers said they shuttered the trade show due to changes in the industry — as kosher food goes mainstream, supermarket buyers became increasingly likely to buy kosher products at general trade shows — as well as a shift in attendance: While the ranks of professionals had dwindled at Kosherfest, there was increasing interest from individuals and social media influencers.
Kosherpalooza, by contrast, held in the same location as Kosherfest, welcomed these individuals — 3,800 of them throughout the day, both “influential” and not. Attendees, who paid $150 per ticket, were treated to a day of kosher cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and food samples from 125 vendors.
“We wanted this site to be about people having a positive kosher experience, to come and have fun, walk around taste foods, enjoy great entertainment around food and enjoy — and we did just that,” said Shlomo Klein, chief operating officer of Fleishigs Magazine, which co-organized the event. “The vibe was electric all day and everyone just had a great time: consumers, vendors and everyone in between.”
Among the attendees were a mother and daughter duo, who declined to give their names, who said they learned about Kosherpalooza from an Instagram ad. “I thought it would be fun!” said the daughter, who appeared to be in her 20s. “I thought it would be a little over the top — and it is a little over the top.”
“She loves food,” her mother explained, while taking a phone call.
On Wednesday morning, some patrons began their day with gluten-free kosher pastries from Twisty, while others snacked on fruit samples from a vibrant display at Fruit by Pesha, where both pink and yellow watermelon were available. Tasters reported that the dried pink pineapple “definitely tastes different.”
Amid the crowds of kosher food enthusiasts, a bevy of Jewish social media influencers circulated, including podcaster Nachi Gordon, TikToker Miriam Ezagui and TikToker Sarah Haskell. Meanwhile, kosher food bloggers Melinda Strauss and Chanie Apfelbaum judged cooking competitions.
Apfelbaum, who had previously attended Kosherfest and had noticed its decline in recent years, said this event was much more influencer-friendly. “It’s nice to run into people,” she told JTA while running her stall, where she was selling her cookbooks. “You can’t go more than a few steps without seeing people you know.”
The increasing value of social media in the kosher food world was a steady theme throughout the day. At a panel on the state of the kosher restaurant industry with Dani Klein from the blog YeahThatsKosher, Elan Kornblum from the magazine Great Kosher Restaurants and its accompanying Facebook group, Chef Mike Gershkovich of Mike’s Bistro and Steven Traub from Wall Street Grill, Klein attributed the rise of social media among observant Jews to the beautification of kosher food.
“The visual dining experience got prettier,” he said. “That’s what these social media platforms allow us to do.”
That was especially on the meat side of the space, where more formal catering-style food was on offer. There were colorful pareve entremets in the shape of pink hearts that were almost too beautiful to eat, Instagram-ready miniature steak tartares served in crispy tapioca shells and expertly assembled kosher charcuterie boards.
Back on the dairy side, one unassuming exhibit that caught guests by surprise was Meant to Be Natural Food, which offered a variety of cheeses, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, as well as fresh goat and sheep’s milk. These treats were served by the dairy farmers themselves — an Amish family known as the Millers. Sadly, they were too busy to talk to a reporter.
The event also had several stalls with specialty products, like gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free foods, as well as vitamins, supplements and health foods. One particular ingredient was found in several food products: CBD, or cannabidiol, which is an active ingredient in cannabis but doesn’t get users high.
“There’s a national want for the product, in general,” said hemp grower Yisroel Shenkman, whose plants are used to make Loosiez products, which sells a variety of cannabis-related edibles that are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. “We’re a cannabis company that just happened to have gotten kosher.”
Chaviva Nockenofsky of PcPops, a Lakewood-based peanut butter chew company, also makes specialty CBD peanut butter cups, in addition to regular peanut butter and chocolate products. She said she had never been to Kosherfest, but she was asked by the organizers to come to Kosherpalooza.
It was a day filled with delicious food, but one quibble was that there was simply not enough water available to keep snackers hydrated. This sentiment was perfectly encapsulated by one woman, who, upon finding a table with beverages, exclaimed: “I’ve never been so happy to see seltzer in my life.”