The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home
For all my true-blue Jewish credentials, I never considered myself religious, didn’t keep kosher, and lacked even the foggiest notion about the history of the Jewish delicatessen. All I knew is that I liked the food: pastrami on rye; chewy, malty bagels with a schmear of cream cheese and topped with lox or smoked whitefish; blintzes; and potato latkes with a dab of sour cream. With the 2007 opening of Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen—co-founded by Nick Zukin and partner Ken Gordon—I had a place to go in my Portland, Oregon, hometown to indulge my deli food fancy.
Kenny & Zuke’s fits neatly into a developing local paradigm. Budding bakers, brewers, chocolatiers, charcutiers, cheese makers, and other culinary artisans earn credibility and raves by looking back in time to rediscover traditional flavors, textures, and sensations and express their craft in small-batch, freshly made foods. They choose local ingredients whenever possible, elevating quality over convenience and mass mechanical production.
In his book, Save the Deli, David Sax traces the rise and fall of the Jewish delicatessen. He concludes that a new breed of Jewish deli—one that looks back to the deli’s roots but is sensitive to modern dining preferences—might salvage a great, but floundering, culinary culture. Kenny & Zuke’s was not included in Sax’s book as the archetype for what a modern Jewish deli could be, but after Sax stayed and ate there for several days in a row, he extolled the deli’s virtues in later articles and on his blog. He also talked up the handful of other such modern-style Jewish delis around North America.
The next logical step, I figured, was for someone to write a cookbook picking up where Sax left off, detailing the recipes of the modern Jewish delicatessen and placing them in their proper cultural and historical context.
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