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Artichoke is the New Shrimp

The precedent

July 11, 1883, is one of most disastrous, non-violent days in recent Jewish memory: the date of the infamous Trefa Banquet.

During the graduation celebration for the first class to attend Hebrew Union College, dishes were served featuring shrimp, crab, and meat alongside ice cream! It is still unclear to this day if it was a caterer’s mistake, or done intentionally. Whatever happened, it was followed by the Head of the College, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, skipping apologies entirely, and eating the forbidden food under the eyes of hundreds of speechless guests. Since that momentous event, many who identity with Reform Judaism are inclined to eat shrimp and other non-kosher shellfish, differentiating them from Orthodox and Conservative communities.

In sum, this sole dinner helped launch the first true schism in modern Jewish history.

The current crisis

Why am I talking about this banquet more than a century later? Because another, although smaller, culinary and cultural schism may be on the horizon.

This time, the bone of contention is a dish very close to my heart (and mouth): the carciofo alla giudia, better known as the Roman artichoke (AKA: a deep fried artichoke). This succulent dish is the pride of the Rome’s Jewish community, and has been one of its most important symbols for centuries. This year, just a few days before the beginning of Passover, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate declared the artichoke to be non-kosher after receiving a package of Roman artichokes full of worms. The Israeli rabbinate stated that the artichoke is not safe to eat since worms can be hidden on the inside of the vegetable, rendering it non-kosher.

The reactions

As you can imagine, the reaction of the Italian Jewish community was at first of incredulity, followed thereafter by a rebellion that has caused a break within the community itself.

The Jews of Rome stayed faithful to their beloved dish and, led by their Chief Rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, continued to offer fried artichoke in the ghetto’s restaurants. To emphasize the point,Rabbi Di Segni wished everybody a “Happy Passover” in a video during which he peeled artichokes in front of a synagogue. The Jewish community of Milan, however, has instead decided to follow the decision of the Israeli rabbinate, and removed the dish from its Jewish restaurants.

The solution(s)

As my grandma says, “for each problem there is a solution.” When applied to the Jewish world, this saying becomes, “for each problem, there are several different solutions.”

Milan’s answer: The Jews of Milan are reinventing the dish and making it 100% kosher by cutting it up and cleaning the vegetable before frying it. The artichoke is now re-composed directly on the plate.

Rome’s answer: The Jews of Rome followed their own Chief Rabbi and continue to eat the artichoke according to their tradition. After all, as Mr. Pavoncello (owner of Nonna Betta, one of the Roman ghetto’s Jewish restaurants) said, “There is no pope [in Judaism]”. He explained that each community can make its own decision about which fruits and vegetables are proper to eat.

Naples’ answer: Rabbi Umberto Piperno, chief rabbi of the Jewish community of Naples, is trying to create and patent an ultrasound, flying-bug repellent which could tell with a 100% certainty if there are worms/bugs inside the artichokes without needing to open them.

My personal answer: Since my personal kashrut rules are limited to not eating pork or bringing shellfish home (mostly to avoid the complaints of my husband, who keeps kosher), the artichoke issue is not a problem. However, this debate continues to feel very personal to me because it involves the Italian Jewish community of which I am a part. I try to eat at least one Jewish artichoke every time I go to Rome. Last time, during a nasty NYC-snowstorm-induced layover, I had the signature dish in Rome’s airport as part of my wedding anniversary celebration!

After reading all about the controversy around this dish, I started to crave some good, deep fried artichokes myself. So, I decided to try the two DC restaurants that I knew were serving the delicacy: Etto and Lupo Verde.

Lupo Verde, which is designed to serve typical Roman food, was the uncontested winner! Their fried artichokes were so delicious that they made me almost feel like I was home.

If this article triggered your own fried artichoke craving, here are some recipes you can try out at home. Bete’avon!

Fried Artichoke from The New York Times

Jewish Style Fried Artichokes from My Jewish Learning

[Video] Artichokes Jewish-style, Italian recipe

 

 

About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The Ultimate DC Pizza Rankings (Vegan Style)

The following is a guest blog post by The Avocadbro, a vegan food blogger who shares his greatest animal-free eating adventures on Instagram

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I imagine being asked to rank my favorite vegan-friendly pizza restaurants feels the same as being a parent who is asked to rank their favorite kids. All my favorite dairy-free pizza places are amazing in their own way.

Why am I ranking vegan pizza places you may ask?

Well, Shavuot is this week! Shavuot is the Jewish holiday that celebrates when God gave the Israelites the Torah. For some reason, Jews commemorate this event by eating copious amounts of cheese, and I’d like to provide some dairy-free alternatives for those of us who choose to abstain – or are unable to partake – in the cheese-eating festivities. There are many reasons behind the tradition to consume dairy on Shavuot, but some scholars say it has something to do with Israel being the “land of milk and honey”.

Quick tangent on this…

You might be surprised to find out that the “honey” in this holy phrase isn’t about honey from bees. It’s about honey from dates. As someone who avoids animal products, that’s kind of cool, not bothering bees and all.

But the “milk” part of that phrase is even more surprising. At least two-thirds of the world, including two-thirds of Jews, can’t digest cow’s milk properly. If two thirds of the people who live in a land of milk can’t consume milk, it must get pretty stinky there, right?

Apparently not. In Israel, all 55 Domino’s Pizza locations offer vegan cheese. It’s become one of the most vegan friendly countries in the world.

So, maybe it’s time to rebrand Israel as the “land of almond milk and date honey.”

While Domino’s in the United States still hasn’t caught up, there are no shortage of pizza places in DC that offer vegan cheese.

We’ve got a few pretty delicious vegan-pizza spots worth giving a Shavuot Shout-Out.

I’m quite familiar with DC’s vegan pizza offerings. Pizza is currently in first place as my favorite food. When I first moved to DC about a decade ago, there was one place that I knew of that had vegan cheese: Pizzeria Paradiso. They had the DC market cornered and deserve some special recognition for being trendsetters.

Since then, a vegan cheese company called Daiya emerged and began supplying restaurants around the country with their products. I love Daiya. But if you’ve ever eaten it before and weren’t thrilled, you should know that about six months ago they upped their game in a major way. They came out with a new variety called “Cutting Board” style cheese. Anecdotally, people love it. And slowly, but surely, pizza places have switched over to this new style.

One last thing before I get into the rankings: There’s this myth that vegan cheese is made of weird ingredients. Let me quickly put that myth to rest. It’s not.

Daiya, for example, is mainly a blend of coconut oil and tapioca starch. That’s no weirder than dairy cheese, which could more accurately be called coagulated estrogen excretion from cattle. Sounds more like a Passover plague than an edible food.

Now onto the rankings…

The Elite Three

These places don’t just have vegan cheese (and yummy crust, and a wide selection of veggie toppings). They also have delicious, high-protein vegan meat.

1) Mellow Mushroom: Okay, I’m starting with a chain. But how many pizza places don’t have multiple locations now-a-days? The pizza industry is that strong (yay America!).

Mellow Mushroom’s pizza crust is freaking delicious. Its pizza is considered to be “Southern style.” They recently switched from Daiya cheese to Follow Your Heart cheese, which is very good.  Oh, and they also have vegan calzones. What more could ask for to nourish your late night Torah study seshes?

Pro-tip: Order yourself some vegan pizza with marinated tempeh and sun-dried tomatoes. It tastes incredible.

2) Pi Pizzeria: This place, located in Chinatown, has St. Louis-style deep dish. I love deep dish pizza because it’s more cubic volume of pizza than other styles. They also have Match Meat sausage, which is a really delicious vegan meat.

Word of warning: You have to call six hours ahead of time if you plan to order the vegan deep dish. They lose points for such an oddly strict schedule.

Pro-tip: make it a habit to call them every single morning on your commute to work. That way, you always have a vegan deep dish pizza available to you that evening. (I’m 90% joking – maybe don’t do that if you’re semi-interested in getting summer body ready.)

3) &pizza: Pizza connoisseurs scoff at &pizza because it’s not “real” pizza and gets made in a fancy toaster oven rather than a true pizza oven. But you know what? They’re kinda right. You know what else? Who cares! If you’re in a rush (and if the line isn’t too long), you can get a delicious personal pizza for about $10 and 5 minutes of your time.

Plus, it’s a native DC company and they have Beyond Meat sausage crumbles, which I highly recommend.

Pro-tip: There’s an &pizza location in Terminal C of Reagan National, and most airlines consider your &pizza a “personal item”. Plus, your airplane seat neighbors will be jealous.

Middle Tier

4) Menomale: Full disclaimer: I’ve never eaten here. But they offer both vegan cheese and vegan chicken. That’s pretty awesome. How have I not been here yet? Anyone want to go with me?

5) Duccini’s. This was the first pizza place in DC to get Daiya cheese back in 2010-ish. I remember, because I was there to celebrate that unforgettable occasion (I feel old). Today, they are still rocking the vegan pizza game. Plus, they’re open until 2am on weekends. I’m usually asleep by 10pm after a long night of Netflix, but if you’re cool and party at AdMo clubs, you might enjoy some late night, dairy-free deliciousness.

Pro-tip: They can also make vegan jumbo slices if you call ahead and get the right person on the phone.

6) Pizzeria Paradiso: As far as I know, this was the only place that offered vegan cheese back when I first moved to DC in 2008. Huge points for being part of history. Otherwise, it’s a solid Neapolitan-style pizza place.

7) Pete’s New Haven Pizza: A random city in a random state has its own style of pizza. And after deciding DC was in need of some New Haven, Connecticut culinary pedigree, Pete brought his pizza to DC. They were pretty early in offering vegan cheese. Big points for that.

8) Comet Ping Pong: There’s a dark Internet conspiracy that Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton have ordered vegan cheese pizza from here. Okay, I made that up, but seriously, both of them are vegan and might have ordered pizza from here before.

9) Timber: Wood-fired pizza in Petworth. To be honest, I’ve never eaten here (again, any takers to be my new pizza-eating buddy?). Based on other people’s reviews, this place sounds really good. And I know they offer vegan cheese. I wanted to go on Monday night to prepare for this blog post. But it’s closed on Mondays, resulting in a significant point loss. Some people need pizza at the end of a long Monday (especially before a major derecho). I know I did.

As Pitbull famously wrote, “[Vegan pizza is] going down [my throat]. I’m yelling Timber.”

10) DC Pizza: I’ve never been here either, but they do offer vegan cheese. I think it’s similar to &Pizza, but no vegan sausage option.

Lower Tier

Well, pretty much every other pizza place in DC doesn’t have vegan cheese, which results in a crushing point loss for them. Basically all of the other great pizza places in DC still make pretty good cheese-less pizza (call me crazy, but I prefer cheese on my pizza). As more and more people ditch dairy cheese, these places need to pick up the slack and acknowledge the changing tides.

In Italy, the birthplace of pizza, meat sales are declining. In response, the leading mortadella company in Italy came out with vegan versions of their products. A few years ago, that would’ve been unheard of. As of 2018, the company’s president said:  “It is an incontrovertible fact that the number of consumers choosing vegetarian and vegan [products] is growing.”

And New York City, the most well-known pizza city in the country, is now widely considered to be the most vegan-friendly city, with a large number of lactose struggling Jews and amazing vegan pizza places.

So, my message to Wiseguys, 2 Amys, Ghibellina, il Canale, Etto, Vace, All Purpose, Matchbox, 7th Hill, We The Pizza–heck, let’s throw in Manny & Olga’s, Pizza Boli’s, Ledo’s, Papa John’s, Domino’s and Pizza Hut–it’s already the year 5778! (in the Hebrew calendar). Let’s get with the times and start offering vegan cheese.

If you have any questions, you can find me in Adams Morgan blocking traffic on 18th Street as I debate whether to get Mellow Mushroom or Duccini’s.

 

About the Author: Andrew Friedman is an attorney in Washington, DC. He writes about food, nutrition, and veganism on his blog, The Avocadbro, and shares his favorite vegan eating adventures on Instagram. He loves animals, but doesn’t love eating them.

Your Guide to DC’s Hottest New Restaurant – Wawa

You heard it here first. The hottest, most in-demand, high quality restaurant has recently opened its shining metal doors to DC’s public.

It’s fast, yet doesn’t feel rushed.

It’s casual, yet sophisticated.

It’s delicious, and boasts $1 coffee.

You’re probably thinking, what glorious eatery could encompass everything you could ever want in a food establishment? Founding Farmers? Nope. Cava? Guess again. McDonalds? No. But, they do make a mean hashbrown.

The answer, my coffee-drinking, sandwich-eating, snack-loving friends, is simple, and just four letters long (the same number of letters in the word love). Wawa.

For all of you snarkily scoffing at your computer, thinking how ridiculous it is that I have the audacity to compare Wawa to DC institutions like Le Diplomate and The Hamilton, you clearly haven’t been to the newest, biggest Wawa in the country (you read that right). Or, maybe they were just out of Hot Cheetos that day.

Well, lucky for you,I’m here to help you make the most of your visit and understand the best way to navigate Wawa’s magic. This is your exclusive must-see, must-have, must-eat guide to DC’s newest, hottest restaurant – Wawa.

1. The beverages. Wawa literally has the best water. And it’s FREE. Make sure you get the 44 oz size, because hydration, and also – it is the most delicious tasting water ever. You may think I’m exaggerating, but ask Jackie (my boss), and she’ll vouch for me. Jackie – feel free to comment below. If the best water in the world isn’t enough for you (sorry, Fiji), Wawa also has $1 coffee every day. Every. Single. Day.

2. The food. Not only is Wawa living in 2055 with their touch screen ordering system, but they also have every type of food you can think of (besides, like sushi – it is still a convenience store people). Seriously, any type of food you could find yourself wanting, I guarantee Wawa has it or something like it. They even have salads and vegetables, for all you wacky health nuts.  My personal favorites are the mac and cheese, meatballs, mashed potatoes, pretzels, pre-made sandwiches, make-your-own sandwiches, smoothies, and if I’m feeling really crazy, the hot dogs – basically anything besides the salads.

3. The staff. Not only is their food phenomenal, in addition to the water, but the staff also couldn’t be nicer. The first time I went there, the staff literally said “Wa-Welcome!” I mean…. I rest my case.

If all of this hasn’t convinced you that Wawa is not only DC’s newest hot-spot, but also the best place on the planet, I’ve compiled a series of testimonials from fellow Wawa enthusiasts that will hopefully convince you of Wawa’s magic.

“Oh my gosh…where do I even start? I don’t think words can fully express everything that Wawa is and has to offer. Hold on, I need a moment.”  – Julie, 25, Clarksville MD

“I love Wawa because they make great sandwiches, Mac and cheese, and coffee while offering a ton of selection for food and drink at convenient locations for an affordable price.” – Andrew, 24, Bucks County PA

“I love Wawa because their food is always amazing quality and no other place has as large of a selection!” – Halle, 23, Cherry Hill NJ

“I love Wawa because it’s convenient, high quality, and affordable and meets my needs for everything from a quick coffee run to a full meal. It’s much higher quality in terms of service and product then comparable convenience stores and, let’s be real, the branding is on point.” – Ben, 24, Moorestown NJ

I like to think that if Leslie Knope grew up in Southern New Jersey or Pennsylvania she’d be Wawa’s biggest fan. Wawa….Wa-ffles…it fits right in. If that doesn’t convince you…I really don’t know what will.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your co-workers, take your dog for a walk, gather your closest friends, and check out the best new restaurant in the District. You’re Wa-Welcome.

Oh, and also, there’s FREE coffee at Wawa tomorrow – Thursday, April 12. Yes, free. Meaning you can slurp up all the caffeine you could dream of, while saving your change for a bag full of Hot Cheetos.

 

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, this blog post was NOT sponsored by Wawa. Although, Wawa – if you’re reading this – I am on Instagram, and would gladly be your go-to social media hype woman (I mean, if you’re looking).

 

About the Author: Rachel Nieves

As GatherDC’s New-to-DC Community Coordinator, Rachel helps connect those new or new(ish) to Jewish DC. After graduating from the University of Maryland in 2016, she has been on the hunt for ways to better engage with the DC Jewish community. She loves meeting new people, and connecting them with each other to build thriving friendships. When she’s not in the GatherDC office or grabbing coffee with community members, you can find her dancing (more like flailing) to the nearest live cover band, admiring dogs that aren’t hers in Meridian Hill Park, watching reality television, and laughing with her friends. Reach out to Rachel to grab a $1 Wawa coffee.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Spotted in Jewish DC: Hill Country BBQ’s Passover Brisket

When you think Passover food, Texan BBQ is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But, local DC BBQ joint, Hill Country BBQ, has somehow magically combined these two forces to create a mouthwatering, traditional Texan BBQ brisket ready-to-order for Passover.

Get the lowdown on this seder-worthy dish from Hill Country BBQ’s Chef de Cuisine, Dan Farber, and Director of Operations, Chris Schaller.

Allie: I hear you have some delicious brisket on sale for Passover. What makes this brisket special?

Chris: Our founder, Marc Glosserman, grew up in the BBQ capital of Texas, where central Texas BBQ is a true celebration of the quality of meat. Our brisket reflects this, and is made with a heavy rub of cayenne, salt, and pepper, and then we soak it over Texas post oak wood from 13-15 hours. By the time it comes out, its very tender, melts in your mouth.

Allie: How can I get this brisket at my Passover seder?

Chris: You can order it online here, pick it up at Hill Country BBQ, or we can do drop-off catering whenever possible – depending on the amount.

Allie: What’s your favorite Passover food?

Dan: Hmmm that’s a hard one because isn’t all Passover food really amazing? 🙂 I would probably say a delicious brisket of course, and a good, flavorful matzo ball soup with the perfect consistency matzo balls (somewhere between floater and sinker). I don’t mind gefilte fish and I can tolerate matzo when it’s served with some butter or as matzo pizza. Of course, in the morning you can’t pass up matzo brei!

Allie: Do you have any other foods at Hill Country you suggest for Passover?

Chris: We serve a healthy amount of lamb, and some great sides like cucumber salad. These can all be ordered for delivery to a Passover seder.

Allie: Is there a discount GatherDC readers can get on the brisket?

Dan: We are happy to extend a 10% discount for GatherDC-ers, just mention this article when ordering.

 

Check out our 2018 Passover Guide for more DC restaurants with seder foods, Passover recipes, and much more.

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: The brisket at Hill Country BBQ is not kosher.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Spotted in Jewish DC – The EmporiYUM: Meet. Eat. Shop.

This week in #SpottedInJewishDC we checked out The EmporiYUM, a pop-up marketplace with over 100 vendors selling their best food products ranging from snacks, drinks, and even boozy ice cream! We went around with an empty stomach and an open mind, getting a taste of all the offerings and scoping out the local Jewish foodies sharing their products at the event.

With Hanukkah around the corner, we did your homework for you (you’re welcome) and have some great gift ideas for your fellow foodies. Dig in to meet some of these DC food scene changemakers, one full belly at a time!

Even if you didn’t make it to The EmporiYUM this year, don’t fret, just follow my pro-Hanukkah gifting tips to support your local Jewish foodie favorites and get some good eats along the way. You’ll be in foodie heaven, while giving the gift of eating locally made products that support the buzzing startup community here in DC.

 

NOSH BARWith “just the good stuff” inside, Nosh Bars are full of ingredients you can identify without pulling out your phone and turning to Google: nuts, fruit, oats, seeds, and spices. That’s it!

Keeping it simple is just what Nosh Bar’s owner, Michele, intended when she created them in her own home kitchen. Tired of being confused in the grocery store with all the various “health bar” products out there, she turned to the basics of eating simple foods full of clean ingredients. Her bars come in a variety of flavors, with the best-selling figstachio and something for the more adventurous with the goji berry bar (if you haven’t tried these berries yet, grab one – they are full of antioxidants and perfect for the winter sniffles). This was Michele’s first year at The EmporiYUM and she had lines throughout the whole event!

PRO-GIFT GIVING TIP: You can get some Nosh Bar products for your favorites online, and at local stores like TasteLab Marketplace, Steadfast Supply, and Reformation Fitness.

 

PRESCRIPTION CHICKENThe EmporiYUM was held outside on a chilly November day, so warm soup was just what we needed to keep up the energy. Luckily, the soup-slinging duo Prescription Chicken was on-site serving up shots of their chicken soup alongside mini challah braids.

This soup delivery service sends chicken soup out to cure whatever ails you, like the classic winter sniffles, to the hangover package that includes a turmeric spiced soup with a side of vitamins, tea and saltines. Started after co-founder Valerie Zweig had a rough battle with laryngitis where all she wanted was some good matzo ball soup, an idea was born and she recruited her cousin, Taryn Pellicone, to launch the business.  With the notion that soup infers comfort, their soup can be for those who are sick or just having a bad day.

PRO-GIFT GIVING TIP: Deliver a package of Grandma’s Famous Chicken Noodle Soup to those needing some extra love.

 

BUFFALO & BERGEN: Located steps from The EmporiYUM’s pop-up marketplace, Buffalo & Bergen brings the joys of New York soda shops to Washington, DC, giving a new spin on old classics.  With soda flavors ranging from Coca-Cola to Lemon Lavender to Carrot Marigold, Gina Chersevani’s mixology expertise adds an extra splash to these longtime favorites (you can also add a little booze if you choose)!

In addition to the expansive drink menu, Buffalo & Bergen serves up classic Jewish bites like knishes and bagels! Sourcing their water straight from New York, these bagels will have even the biggest critic coming back for more.

PRO-GIFT GIVING TIP: Treat your friends to brunch or cocktails at Buffalo & Bergen…or simply bring some bagels to your next Hanukkah shindig when everyone’s had enough latkes (is that a thing?!).

 

SWAPPLES: Frozen waffles are a staple in any millennial’s freezer, offering a quick breakfast option for our busy lives. Swapples provide a healthy alternative to the often sugar-loaded frozen waffle; entirely plant-based, these allergen-free waffles are made with yuca root, a starchy, nutritious tuber vegetable.

When owner Rebecca Peress was told by a doctor to cut out all sugar from her diet, she quickly felt limited by the options in her grocery store. She started making Swapples for herself, and once her co-workers kept requesting them, an idea for a business was born.

Swapples currently come in four flavors: Blueberry, Cinnamon, Tomato Pizza, and Everything (this one’s especially for bagel lovers). You can find them in grocery stores like Whole Foods, MOM’s Organic Market, and Glen’s Garden Market.

PRO-GIFT GIVING TIP: Grab a bag and try out this healthy, vegan alternative to your favorite waffle! Maybe even swap a Swapple for this year’s latkes – who knows, you may find a new holiday tradition.

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Judith  Rontal  is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! Judith hails from wintry Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she grew up in a family that always managed to eat dinner together, even if that was at 10 pm. She’s continued that connection between food, family and culture in her blog, Aluminum Foiled Kitchen, and in her daily life in DC where she works in PR, focusing on media relations. When not in the kitchen working on a new recipe to serve at her next dinner party, you can find Judith sweating it out at yoga or running the Rock Creek Park trails. Follow her food adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Spotted in Jewish DC: Baked by Yael

Baked by Yael was founded in 2010 by recovering attorney Yael Krigman. After operating Baked by Yael as an online business for several years, Yael finally opened DC’s very first Cake-poppery® in 2015. Today, Baked by Yael has claimed the illustrious distinction of having cake pops that Washingtonian Magazine called “Best of Washington.” Side note – her bagels are truly a hidden gem of DC, and you must try them.

Now, bite into this exclusive interview with Yael as she digs into the trials and tribulations of running her very own cake pop shop in our nation’s capital.

Allie:  I heard you used to be a lawyer. So…how did you wind up opening Baked by Yael?

Yael: When I worked at a big law firm, I used to bake for fun and I’d bring in my baked goods to share with coworkers each week. People would crowd in my office to try the latest “Monday Treat.”  They would tell me I was a fine attorney… but that if it didn’t work out, I should start a bakery. I figured there was no reason to wait, so I started Baked by Yael. A part-time side gig eventually turned into a full-time passion.

Allie: When did you first start baking? Who taught you?

Yael: I remember making cookies with my family when I was little, but I started baking regularly when I was in law school. It’s amazing the skills you can develop when you’re trying to avoid studying for the bar exam!

My baking as an adult began with bagels. It was so hard to find a good bagel in DC. I finally gave up and decided to make my own. From there, I branched out to black & white cookies and rugelach, and then of course to cake pops!

Allie: How did you find the courage to take a risk and start your own business?

Yael: It wasn’t easy. I had a stable, well-paying job in the legal field. After a while, I started to realize that I had one job I worked because of the money and another job I worked because of the joy it gave me.

It was an email from the then-popular Daily Candy that really gave me the push I needed to leave my day job.  They sent an email to all of their subscribers with the subject “The best bagel we’ve ever eaten.” That really put Baked by Yael on the map. The rest, as they say, is history!

Allie: Any new treats coming out this season that you’re particularly excited about?

Yael: We had our honey cake pops for Rosh Hashanah, and we’ll be rolling out some more seasonal flavors in the coming weeks. We’re also thinking of doing a spin on “Christmas in July” with hamantaschen in November.  Stay tuned 🙂

Allie: What advice do you have for someone dreaming of opening up their own business?

Yael: Keep your eye on the prize and be prepared to develop thick skin! The journey of a small business owner is quite the emotional rollercoaster.  You need a solid plan, a great product, and a strong support network of family, friends, and customers.

Allie: What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Yael: I try to find time throughout the year for short trips or visits to the symphony. The highlight of my week is mentoring a middle school student. This is my fifth year with her. It brings me such joy to watch her grow and to know that I’m playing a small role in the life of an extraordinary young girl.

Allie: How are are you involved in DC’s local Jewish community?

Yael: I’m a member of Adas Israel, which is only a few blocks from Baked by Yael, and I’ve helped support the Edlavitch DCJCC by catering several fundraising events. I’m proud to provide one of the only options for fresh kosher food in DC.

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Yael: Oh man, that’s like asking a mother to choose between her children. If I had to pick one, I would probably say the black & white cookie. I used to only like the chocolate side, then I switched to preferring vanilla, and now I love both sides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baked by Yael is located at 3000 Connecticut Avenue (directly across from the National Zoo) or online at bestcakepopever.com. Baked by Yael offers curbside pickup at their bakery, as well as local delivery and nationwide shipping. You can also find Baked by Yael on weekends at the Cleveland Park and Palisades farmers’ markets in DC and the Old Town and Del Ray farmers’ markets in Alexandria. Baked by Yael’s products are nut-free and kosher, and have lots of gluten-free and vegan options as well. Kids and kids at heart can hold cake pop parties in Baked by Yael’s kitchen, offering all the fun of rolling, dipping, and decorating without the usual mess.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Stephen responds to Rabbi Freundel. Koshergate Part III

In the June 22nd edition of “From the Rabbi’s Desk,” Kesher Israel’s Rabbi Freundel – also a rabbi for the Vaad – responds to a May 23 blog post from Kesher congregant David Barak.  I’ve broken it down into a few parts, and I’ve taken the liberty of responding.

Rabbi Freundel (RF):  1. Competition. Competition can be a plus in a business setting where someone is selling a product. It can improve prices and service. But the Vaad in its Kashrut supervision role is not a business, its a regulatory agency and none of the synagogue Rabbis receive any money from their volunteer involvement in the Vaad so there is no financial incentive here for us. Competition between regulatory agencies is not desirable in fact it seems absurd to me. The only way to compete would be to lower standards and if one sees ingesting non-Kosher food as equivalent to eating poison (which is the way the tradition looks at it) lowered standards is not desirable. Would you really want the FAA to have competition? On the service side- when there is a claimed foul-up, the Rabbis all hear about it and have to explain it (e.g. the 6th and Rye situation). That is far more effective than competition in keeping things working correctly.

(SR):

I find it a bit surprising that Rabbi Freundel argues for a monopoly – I had thought the Vaad would deny monopolistic preferences. But now its true colors are shown, so the question becomes: is a monopoly preferable in this instance?  Answer: no, it’s not.

a)      “The only way to compete would be to lower standards.”  False.  You could provide a better service – if the Vaad didn’t respond to my phone call for a week, service could obviously be improved.  Or you could provide services for a better price – unless you’re saying that the Vaad’s price already equals marginal cost and is as competitive as possible (I seriously doubt that).  Competition could improve performance in both areas.  Kosher certifiers will provide service with a smile (not necessarily at a lower standard) if they know they might lose the customer.

b)      Completely beholden.  If there is only one kosher certifying organization in town, kosher restaurants are completely beholden to the whims of the certifying agency for a livelihood.  And if you think that rabbis are never capricious or never play politics, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you – they are as human as the next man.

Fortunately for the consumer, there is no way of legally imposing a kosher monopoly in DC.  There is no Jewish community legislative and executive branch.  People will pick their certifying organizations according to their preferences.  If Circle K isn’t strict enough for them, then they will only eat at the Vaad (or something to this effect – I actually don’t know the comparative “strictness” of these two).

(RF): 2. The New York Situation. If you examine the situation in NY, competition is an ongoing problem. There are dozens of restaurants under supervisions that many observant people won’t use. There is absolutely no uniformity of standards and problems abound. Many people who take kashrut seriously won’t eat in the homes of others who think they are strictly kosher and establishments often bounce from supervising agency to supervising agency which creates great confusion and continuing lack of clarity as to where (given the standards any individual might follow) any individual can eat on any given day. David is right that only the size of the community allows this situation to be tolerated.

(SR):

I’m not 100% sure what is being argued here (and yes, I did read David’s original post).  There are certainly economies of scale in New York City.  As for the uniformity comment…  This is something that will naturally happen if consumers care enough about uniformity.  Again, enforcing a de jure uniformity rule is a moot point because there’s no Jewish agency that can enforce this (but, also again, it can be done through market demand).  But in broader terms, this begs the question of what role does the state play?   Say you have a bunch of different types of electric outlets across states.  Should the federal government mandate that all states have the same electric outlets?  If you ask me, this will happen naturally if necessary – I know that I would pay a little bit extra to stay at a hotel that would allow me to plug my iPhone in, and that would eventually cause surrounding hotels to convert their plugs.  But that’s an aside.

(RF): 3. On PR. Certainly the Vaad could be better. But you will remember that on the most recent issue (6th and Rye) I did a full presentation and Q&A at Carlebach and at Seudah Shlishit. I have done these things before. I also wrote a full article describing the Vaad that was published in the WJW some years ago and the Vaad is talking about doing something similar again. On the other hand there are those who dislike the Vaad to the point where they spread unsubstantiated claims that are patently false or gross distortions of the truth

For example:

a.”The vaad wont give supervision to a places where the genders might mix.”  Has the author visited Ben Yehuda’s or even Eli’s on a Saturday or Sunday night, if you do you can see that the claim is patently false.

b. “The Rabbis make lots of money.” As indicated and as different than most Vaad’s we make nothing, it’s all volunteer.

c. The latest- “It costs $60,000/year for vaad supervision.” The only thing this can possibly refer to is the mashgiah’s salary which in most cases is not that high. Nonetheless the mashgiah in a full service meat restaurant often works 60 or more hours a week. That mashgiah is also entitled to vacation and if we can arrange for it, health care. (Remember these are often people supporting a family). As such they are actually being paid something between $15-18 dollars an hour-hardly an exorbitant amount for someone with specialized training who fills the primary supervisory role. Also, and this is very important, mashgichim are usually allowed to take on roles in the restaurant such as food preparation. Therefore they replace a worker who at the very least might be making $40-50,000. As such the financial burden is just not that great. The only other fees are administrative fees to allow the Vaad to maintain an office, a secretary, and a supervisory structure of an administrator and supervising mashgichim. These are no higher than the normal fees that the other supervising agencies charge.

(SR):

I salute your PR efforts.  But 1) not everyone goes to Kesher Israel.  2) Nobody under the age of 35, who is not a Jewish professional, reads the Washington Jewish Week.

As for the last sentence in the first paragraph – that’s ad hominem.   Trying to deligitimize arguments because you say the person dislikes you.  As Scott Weinberg would say, “Where’s the evidence?”  I, for one, didn’t know a thing about the Vaad or the rabbis there until I tried doing business with them.

Complaint A:  I’ve heard it only once, but I never believed it.

Complaint B:  If the Vaad made a ton of money, then I would imagine every rabbi in DC would want to work for it, or else open another certifying organization.  That’s one the beauties of a competitive market – something you of course don’t support  – it keeps wages in check.

Complaint C:  I’ve never heard somebody say he had to pay $60,000 to the Vaad for certification.  But since I think this complaint refers to me, I think I’ll address it.  Rabbi Saunders (of the Vaad) estimated to me that a mashgiach’s yearly salary would total $60,000.  And Rabbi Saunders said the mashgiach could probably attend to non-kosher duties about 33 percent of the time.  This salary – $15 to $18 per your calculation – is almost double what a normal sandwich shop employee earns.  And these employees do not usually get healthcare either – something you now impose (despite the fact that it has nothing to do with kashrut).  Plus normal employees can work full time, not one-third of the time.  Yes, I realize that this is part of doing kosher business, but you have to also appreciate that $60,000 is cost prohibitive for many small shops that don’t do larger price sales like Eli’s restaurant does.  Additionally, when we asked for quotes from individual mashgiachs not affiliated with the Vaad, we received a much lower quote.

I’ve said throughout my response that the Vaad has no way of imposing a monopoly through law (despite its desires) because it can’t enact legislation that would shut down non-Vaad-certified restaurants.  But I’ve also said in the past that the DC kosher food world suffers from a lack of competition.  How to reconcile these two?  The Vaad has done a great job of dominating market share and keeping out competition simply by reputation.  Local rabbis tell all prospective kosher restaurateurs that they should use the Vaad as their certifying organization (as many Rabbis told me), and many kosher eaters don’t trust any non-Vaad certifiers.  Of course, the Vaad is well-within its rights to exert its influence and power this way.  But individual authors and commenters are also within their rights to try to show the community that subservience – rabbinical and congregational – to the Vaad might result in higher prices and fewer kosher restaurants.  If enough people begin to feel this way, then other options will arise.  That’s why I celebrate Sixth & Rye.

Stephen Richer is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.  The views expressed in this article belong solely to Stephen.

Other GTJ posts on this subject:

Kosher Kontroversy: In Defense of the Va’ad – Bethany Murphy

Koshergate Kotinues – Link to HuffPo / Forward piece.

How Kosher is DCs Kosher Food Truck? – Link to WaPo article.

Q: why doesn’t DC have more kosher food restaurants? A: The Vaad – Stephen Richer