July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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A Tale of Two Kosher Food Shows

Once upon a time, there was a food show called Kosherfest. For years it drew businesses, vendors, buyers and other members of the trade from all over who wanted to experience the latest and greatest in the world of kosher, but eventually Kosherfest decided that the time had come to call it a day. There was, of course, general sadness at what was clearly the end of an era, but it didn’t take long for the next generation of the kosher food events to pop up, with two new shows stepping into the newly created void just weeks later.

Much in the same way that children often take after their parents, Kosherfest’s progeny both shared certain commonalities with their mutual predecessor, but it was immediately clear that each one had distinctly different personalities. Walking into JFood when it debuted in June 2023 at the New Jersey Expo Center in Edison, I remember smiling and thinking to myself, “Ah, Kosherfest is back, albeit in a new location.” When Kosherpalooza premiered at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus two weeks later, the experience was definitely different—the show was a festive celebration of food designed for the kosher consumer, although it drew plenty of people in the industry as well.

If I had to categorize Kosherfest’s offspring, I would have to call JFood the straight-laced and business-minded “kid,” while Kosherpalooza would be the more artsy and creative member of the family. And while the two shows flip-flopped this year, with Kosherpalooza drawing crowds on May 30, followed two-and-a-half weeks later by JFood, those same personality traits were once again evident when they returned to their respective show floors.

Given their shared dedication to kosher food, it really wasn’t a surprise that there was some amount of overlap between the two shows. Both provided an opportunity for veteran businesses and newcomers to share their products with businesses and consumers. Both had techina, potato kugel, nut-free rugelach, beef jerky, low-cal cookies, aufschnitt, leben, gluten-free goodies, salads, artisan seltzers, Amish kids and even baby chicks, with washing stations set up for showgoers to taste the gorgeous sourdough loaves that were present at multiple booths. Monsey’s Leil Shishi diner served up cholent at both shows from pans placed in a bathtub (which really did appear to be brand new and super clean), an accompanying Yiddish sign telling attendees how we should have gone into the cholent, but with no better choice, the cholent is going into us, that profound sentiment attributed to unnamed tzadikim.

Still, each of the two shows managed to find its own niche. Kosherpalooza was a real matzav and tons of fun, a place to see and be seen. It was impossible not to meet people you knew at Kosherpalooza as you squeezed your way through the crowded aisles, while standing in line to snag a freshly mixed cocktail or a seriously decadent coffee was a golden opportunity to make new friends. Foodies reveled in being able to meet their favorite Instagrammers in person, taking in cooking demos from culinary bloggers (as well as musical superstar Gad Elbaz), getting their cookbooks autographed and just general fangirling. There were races, a photobooth, contests, painting sessions, a gift shop, and for the brave, an opportunity to bust some epic moves at the 360-degree video dance booth, with the footage preserved for posterity.

While Kosherpalooza was very much about the vibe, its incredible edibles definitely took center stage. Both Popinsanity and Astroeats debuted kosher freeze-dried candy, and in addition to multiple ice cream booths, attendees enjoyed Yummy’s macaroni and cheese balls, Dad’s hard seltzer, Sweet Balls’ seaweed-based vegan caviar, and an abundance of wine and liquor. Kosherpalooza was a dream come true for artisan pizza lovers, with Betty Crockers struggling to keep up with the demand for Brooklyn Bakery’s frozen sourdough cheese pizza on the dairy side of the room, while The Pizza Guy’s pizza ovens churned out pie after pie of freshly prepared gourmet meat pizzas on the far end of the fleishig zone.

I’ve been to many kosher food shows, and Kosherpalooza 2024 was probably the first one I have ever seen where meat offerings seemed to outnumber the dairy ones—with chicken nuggets, different types of deli and jerky, a massive meat board from Flavor on Board, and bite-sized items topped with sauces and pulled beef all beckoning me to become fleishig. (Spoiler alert: I managed to resist their siren song, but just barely.) And while Kosherpalooza may have officially termed the edible part of its show as an opportunity to enjoy “bites and sips,” I can’t imagine that there was a single person who walked out of that room hungry.

Yes, there was plenty of business going on at Kosherpalooza, but at its heart, it was a fun experience with an upbeat vibe that was all about the consumer. People were genuinely happy to be at the Meadowlands, including a few couples I met there on date, and I have no doubt that there were many showgoers who marched into their local kosher grocery store (carrying their souvenir Kosherpalooza water bottles, of course) and asked the manager to please start stocking an item or two that they tasted at the show. It was a chance for the average person to step into the foodie world that they see on social media, and to spend a day chatting and noshing with other like-minded individuals, while enjoying the biggest kosher party in town.

In contrast to Kosherfest, JFood was more of a traditional show, broken up into two segments, with morning hours run as a business-to-business event, and the late afternoon and evening dedicated to the general public. The New Jersey Expo Center is massive, giving JFood 100,000 square feet to work with, and part of the room was curtained off into booths for pre-arranged meetings between kosher vendors and representatives of ShopRite, Albertsons and Stop & Shop. At the far end of the room there was a full food court, where much like the quintessential Jewish mother, JFood made sure that everyone was stuffed to the gills, with plenty of sandwiches, blintzes, coffees, teas, snacks, rugelach and ice cold drinks available to showgoers. Whether you wanted to sit down and eat like a mentsh, or you just needed a relatively quiet place to make a phone call away from the hullabaloo, you had a place to do it, with a dedicated Mincha area set up just steps away.

There was plenty of positive energy at JFood, although the show was really more about the actual products as opposed to the larger experience, and a few random thoughts flitted through my head as I wandered the room. The first was that there were quite a few companies (I think three) offering pickles, a real treat when you are trying (unsuccessfully) to diet while writing up a kosher food show. The second was that other than the robotic soft serve machine that was experiencing technical difficulties while I was at JFood, there was no ice cream to be had, nor was there even a drop of liquor. But to be honest, there were so many other interesting items to see and taste that I really didn’t miss either of them all that much.

What were my faves at JFood? Pizza on the 9’s smaller-sized pizza was outstanding, and if you’ve ever tried to feed the kids lunch by finagling as many slices as you can into a Betty Crocker, you’ll appreciate the wisdom of this product. EZ Dessert’s indulgent par-baked desserts were out of this world, baking up to the perfect soft texture, and their contrast twists, apple cinnamon souffles and chocolate souffles (let’s not think about that aforementioned diet) were all ridiculously good and were just the right size—not too big and not too small.

Another fabulous item that needs to make its way into our stores is Clearly Elegant’s disposable tablecloths, a far cry from the underwhelming thin plastics that come to mind when you think about tossable tablecloths. These 108-inchers actually look like regular tablecloths, and in addition to being waterproof and supremely wipeable, they are durable enough that you can wash them three times, should you decide you’re not ready to throw them out after your first use.

Much like Kosherpalooza, JFood featured a solid number of vendors who weren’t in the food business at all. Kosher Tape Plus, which prints food and kashrut-related tape for the industry, also had easily removable chometz tape for Pesach that they promise will leave no sticky post-Yom Tov residue behind. Madlikin’s aerated gel oil candles in one-, two-, three-, seven-, eight- and nine-day varieties were both stunning and practical, their firm texture keeping them from spilling even when tipped over. And M Judaica’s in-store yarmulke displays is an idea whose time has come, because if you’ve ever had a son, you know that kippas have a way of magically disappearing, and being able to buy them when you pick up your milk and eggs, instead of having to run to the Judaica store, is a complete and total game changer.

And there you have it—a tale of two shows, carrying the Kosherfest banner forward to the next generation. Even as each one had its own flavor and brought something different to the table, both were wonderful opportunities for members of the trade and consumers to network and nosh as they explored the latest kosher trends and tastes.

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for print and web media outlets and private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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