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Gefiltefest celebrates the best in Jewish food and culture. Rosy Moorhead finds out what's cookin'.
If your idea of a great Sunday is a whole day devoted to food then Gefiltefest is just the ticket for you. Taking place at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, this is a day-long festival of cookery demonstrations, lectures, debates and workshops celebrating every aspect of Jewish food and its traditions.
From the humble aubergine to the Friday night feast, food plays an enormous part in Jewish identity and celebration. “Food is central to our identity,” says founder and organiser Michael Leventhal, from East Finchley. “There’s an old joke that every Jewish festival can be reduced to ‘They tried to kill us, we prevailed... let’s eat!’ “It’s aimed at everyone – I’m a lousy cook but hopefully by the end of it I’ll know several different ways of cooking an aubergine!”
The festival, whose name derives from the Eastern European dish of gefilte fish, began two years ago and has grown in stature and popularity, but it began by accident.
“I’d won a competition to have a professional cooking lesson in my home,” Michael explains. “I asked her if she’d do it instead as a demo for ten friends and it all kind of mushroomed from there. One friend wanted to talk about Jewish cookbooks, another about food in Jewish literature.”
Since then it’s doubled in size and extended to include a series of events throughout the year, including the Rabbi Relay Ride, an exhibition of Jewish food and a food art competition, all of which serve to raise awareness of and funds for food-related charities.
“It’s open to anyone and everyone,” says Michael, 38, who grew up in Elstree. “One of the main reasons I wanted the festival to happen is that food is a brilliant focus for bringing people together, not just Jewish people. Eating is common ground and there’s a lot of shared history. It’s interesting to share halal meat with kosher meat and the ideology behind that.”
Highlights of the day will include an interview with charity patron and chef Claudia Roden, a shakshuka (poached eggs in sauce) cooking competition, a demonstration of Iraqi Jewish cuisine and a discussion of the movies of Woody Allen, and there will be food stalls, a raffle and a children’s programme, including making disgusting dishes and portraits out of food.
“I’ll be the one running around like a headless kosher chicken on the day!” laughs Michael.
Gefiltefest is at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, Ivy House, North End Road, Golders Green on Sunday, May 20 from 9.30am to 7pm. Details: 020 8457 5000, www.ljcc.org.uk. For details of the kids’ programme and to book family tickets, call 020 7431 9866 or visit www.jcclondon.org.uk