Last week, Jewish food lovers from across the globe came together for Nosh Berlin—a weeklong festival of films, cooking demonstrations, talks, and pop-up dinners focused around Jewish cuisine. If Berlin doesn’t register as an obvious place to hold a bacchanal of blintzes, it should. Over the last decade—thanks in large part to the tens of thousands of Israelis (and to a smaller extent Jewish Americans) who have settled in Berlin—the city is blossoming into a hub of creative Jewish cuisine.
Nosh Berlin is the brainchild of Laurel Kratochvila, an American expat who, in 2013, launched Berlin’s beloved bagel shop, Fine Bagels, with flavors that skew traditional (poppy, sesame, egg) and innovative (za’atar, plum, Czech rye). “Once the idea for Nosh Berlin was in my head, I did what I always do with projects I’m interested in,” she said. “I told enough people about it that I couldn’t back out and got moving.” She also brought Liv Fleischacker on board, a local Berlin resident and food writer with her finger on the pulse of the city’s flourishing Jewish food scene.
Nosh’s programming had a magical quality about it that could only happen in a city with the turbulent history, glittering grit, and artistic sensibilities of Berlin. Held in storied synagogues and refurbished market halls across the city, the sessions were rooted in tradition, while squarely looking to the future. Meanwhile, for a festival with no precedent and essentially no budget, Kratochvila and Fleischacker managed to entice an all-star team of Jewish food icons from abroad to show up and lend their talent. Israeli chef and television personality Gil Hovav co-hosted a Yemenite Shabbat supper with food writer Adeena Sussman. American blog mavens Molly Yeh (of My Name is Yeh) and Amy Kritzer (What Jew Wanna Eat) signed on to talk cookbooks and expanding the boundaries of Jewish cuisine. And Jeffery Yoskowitz of Gefilteria co-hosted The Gefilte Ball—one part conversation, one part late-night cocktail and klezmer dance party.
Most importantly, Kratochvila said, Nosh Berlin’s schedule was centered around local talent. Filmmaker Alexa Karolinski screened Oma and Bella, which chronicles the Jewish cooking that regularly transpires in the modest Berlin kitchen of Karolinski’s grandmother and her best friend, both of whom are Holocaust survivors. Itay Novik, an Israeli-born, Berlin-based food stylist, served modern Ashkenazi cuisine—vegetable consommé with potato dumplings, eggplant “chopped liver” with horseradish cream—for a Shabbat supper club at Rykestrasse Synagogue, one of the city’s most majestic sanctuaries. Another Shabbat supper club, held at an organic Italian restaurant, featured the ancient dishes of the Roman Jews.
“As we started reaching out to people, we realized how many local projects there were within the city itself we could draw from,” Kratochvila said. “It is indicative of where Berlin’s food scene is right now.”
Nosh Berlin was designed to appeal to a broad audience and succeeded in attracting a wide cross-section of city residents. Kratochvila hopes that, with a little luck and a bit of funding, it will become a regular event–an annual opportunity to take stock of and celebrate the city’s Jewish culinary past and its evolving Jewish food community. “Nosh Berlin is helping to fill up a negative space here,” Kratochvila said. After all, “Jewish food isn’t something new to Berlin. It thrived here before, and should be here now.”