A Taste of Kosher L.A.

Think kosher food, and you think blintzes, kishke, brisket, tsimmes, matzo balls, corned beef on rye.

You don’t immediately think of fajitas, smoked-salmon quiche, turkey burgers with onion rings, rosemary-grilled breast of chicken with braised leeks and forest mushrooms, or flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce.

But that’s what’s on the menu Sept. 14 at the third annual “Taste of Kosher L.A.,” at the University of Judaism. At what has become the premier kosher tasting party on the West Coast, dozens of caterers, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and food suppliers gather to ply their wares (everthing from Israeli to Chinese) for $1 to $4 a sample plate. You can wash down the victuals with a kosher cabernet sauvignon from St. Supery, a Ha Gafen chardonnay from Sonoma and other wines from Italy, France, Israel and Napa Valley.

The message is simple, says event co-founder Jon Monkarsh: Kosher food tastes good. And it’s actually become downright gourmet here in Los Angeles, where more than 50 kosher restaurants have proliferated.

The enthusiasm is as thick as a deli sandwich when you talk to “Taste” co-founders Rodney Freeman, a real estate consultant; Monkarsh, a 33-year-old real estate developer; and his old USC Sigma Alpha Mu brother, Mitchell Bloom, a property owner and manager. &’009;

The idea came out of the Moriah Society, a UJ fund-raising group for people in real estate and associated businesses, which the three men helped found in 1990. By 1994, the group was planning a kosher wine-tasting fund-raiser. But the idea went a step further after Bloom and Monkarsh met with a public relations executive who happened to be an old frat friend.

Why not plan a major kosher food festival, their friend suggested, that could draw all sorts of corporate sponsors?

The idea caught on, and, before long, the three co-founders and other Moriah members were putting their real estate careers on hold to pound the corporate pavement. After several dead ends, they finally secured sponsors such as Empire Kosher Poultry for the first “Taste of Kosher L.A.” They navigated the health department and secured the support of the community’s various mashgichim (kashrut supervisors). Their efforts were rewarded when 3,500 people turned out to the first “Taste” and 4,500 to the second one, last year.

This year, 6,000 people are expected to attend, as the UJ turns into “a huge kosher kitchen,” Monkarsh says. The three co-founders will be on hand with gloves and S.O.S. pads several days before the event, as volunteers help to kasher the 20 stoves and 20 refrigerators, under rabbinical supervision, with blow torches. Then the grills will be sealed up with plastic until the chefs arrive on Sunday.

This year’s tasting party lasts from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is sponsored by Empire Kosher, Dannon Natural Spring Water, Hughes Family Markets and City National Bank.

Wander the booths, and you can feast upon falafel, beef goulash, chicken paprika and barbecue chicken sandwiches on foccaccia bread with smoked onion from the Four Seasons Hotel. After you’ve munched until you drop, you can collapse on the lawn and hear bands such as Limpopo play jazz and klezmer tunes. Or you can attend mini-seminars with UJ professors in the nearby classrooms.

The kids will be entertained with clowns, a Ferris wheel, a moonbounce, face-painting, a marionnette show, and arts and crafts with My Jewish Discovery Place children’s museum. The money raised will provide scholarships for Lee College undergraduate students at the University of Judaism.

“There’s a notion, in the larger community, that ‘kosher’ is just what your grandmother served,” says Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism. “We’re hoping to change that.”

Admission to “A Taste of Kosher L.A.” is $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens, and free for children under age 13. There is a discount of $1 with The Jewish Journal coupon. Wine tasting is $5. Valet parking at the UJ costs $5; parking at Stephen S. Wise Temple costs $3; and it’s free at Curtis School, where shuttle buses will run back and forth to the UJ all day long. For more information, call (310) 440-1579 or (310) 476-9777, ext. 211.