How the world’s first all-vegan Jewish grocery store is preparing for Passover

Growing up, restaurateur Andy Kalish associated two smells with Friday nights: his grandmother’s chicken soup and the mothballs in his grandfather’s cupboard. Kalish’s grandparents, Sam and Gertie, were both immigrants — from Romania and Glasgow via Romania, respectively — who settled in Detroit’s Dexter-Davidson Corridor, a historically Jewish neighborhood .

There, Kalish’s childhood was steeped in traditional Ashkenazi food, from lavish kiddush tables filled with bagels and smoked salmon to Gertie’s home-cooked Friday dinners, often served with platters of pickled herring, which Kalish stirred by banging. gently the leg of the table with his knee.

“Everything my grandmother made and then everything my aunt Elaine – who was ultimately the owner of my grandmother’s recipes and cooked for Hanukkah, Passover and Rosh Hashana – did, they came from those recipes” , said Kalish. “These wonderful, wonderful meals kind of taste the same forever.”

Related: Gefilte fish isn’t just for Jews: Passover staple is a great daily snack

As such, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that Kalish, along with his wife and fellow restaurateur Gina Marino-Kalish, decided to open Sam & Gertie’s – a Jewish grocery store in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood – in 2020. Although the offerings would be based on Kalish’s family recipes and childhood food, there was one wholesale difference. It would be the world’s first all-vegan Jewish grocery store.

“Everything we do vegan is meant to replace its animal counterpart in every possible way to replicate it,” Kalish told me when I went to visit the grocery store (which is located on a quiet residential street lined with trees next to the two other vegan restaurants in Kalishes, Kal’ish and the upcoming L/A Mex). He led me past a slowly forming line of customers ordering bagels with “lox” — made from slow-smoking, thinly sliced ​​tomatoes — and dairy-free cream cheese.

Once we sat down at a table, he continued, “I mean, you didn’t ask the question, but I’ll give you an answer. ‘Why are we doing this?’ We have a 23 year old son, and over his years the world has changed dramatically, if everyone does a little something, there’s a picture of him having a rich and wonderful life and hopefully longtime that my grandparents had… If we don’t do something, the world will just dissolve and burn in madness.”

Sam & Gertie’s Bread (Sam & Gertie)

Kalish thinks eating plant-based meals is one of the simplest, most democratic things anyone can do to save the planet. It also fills a need for Jewish vegans, who want to enjoy traditional foods often made with dairy products or schmaltz. This division becomes apparent around holidays like Passover, where dishes such as brisket, matzo dumplings in chicken broth, and kugel are commonly served.

That’s why Kalish started offering a Passover menu through Sam & Gertie’s. It includes a dizzying array of dishes like fake brisket; gefilte “no” fish; matzo lasagna with tomato ragout and vegetable starch cheese; onion potato kugel; and frosted chocolate deli cake.

Finding a credible substitute for meat-based classics takes work. During our conversation, Kalish compared it to a science experiment. “One that never really ends,” he joked.

Sam & Gertie’s brisket, for example, is made with nearly 15 all-natural ingredients. Kalish didn’t want to reveal any proprietary secrets, but he incorporates a variety of beans and grains cooked to varying degrees of doneness to mimic the “rings” of fat found in a cut of beef.

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“Creating flavors isn’t complicated,” Kalish said. ” The texture ? A bit more.

Ultimately, it’s Sam & Gertie’s version of a traditional seder – minus the egg and bone on the seder plate.

“There’s the spirit of the law and there’s the letter of the law,” Kalish said. “We’re really focusing on the spirit of the experience – and we’ll be selling many hundreds of these meals.”

Many of these meals are mass-delivered to Chicago suburbs like Skokie for large family gatherings. Many more are also picked up by individuals looking to celebrate the holiday in their own way, which resonates deeply with Kalish.

“I came here after college 30 years ago and couldn’t go home for all the vacations,” Kalish said. “So I found places where I could go and feel at home. Hopefully it will do the same for someone else.”

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