In 2010, David Sax took on the Jewish deli with his James Beard Award-winning book, “Save The Deli”–and in the process, helped kickstart the rebirth of the Jewish deli, befriending the next generation of schmaltz slingers like Mile End’s Noah Bernamoff.
With his first book since that coup, Sax is taking on a less overtly Jewish food, but one that says much about the direction of ethnic food and all food trends in the country: the cupcake. “The Tastemakers” looks at how our food is shaped in the 21st century world; but Sax still sees things largely through the lens of Jewish food.
“The cupcake was the food trend that kicked off the 21st century,” Sax told The Jewish Daily Forward from his Toronto home. “It was the 9/11 food trend – after 9/11, people sought out comfort. It became a symbol of an era.”
But despite the influence of social media and “viral” food trends, Sax says a few determined entrepreneurs can still exert control in the food world.
“Twitter might be true on a day-to-day level, but the most powerful, sustained influence and impact comes from within the food industry,” he says, citing everyone from famous chefs to buyers for large companies, to people starting food trucks.
Sax imagines a hypothetical black-and-white cookie business to show how trends and hype have become an important part of food, for better or worse: “The cookie guy tweets and makes T-shirts to sell cookies. If it turns into a trend and evolves, good for them.”
But he also cites the pioneers of the current deli renaissance as examples of tastemakers who bucked a major trend (low carb, low fat, healthful eating).
Turning back to Jewish food, Sax predicts that following the rise of reinvented Ashkenazi favorites, Sephardi food will be the next big thing: “What no one’s really done, and what you’re going to see, is real Mizrahi-Sephardi food coming out. Someone’s going to go deep into the history and those communities. Someone will do the Ladino restaurant.”
And addressing the spread of these food trends around the world, he said it is preserving culture, not monopolizing it. He points out the goodwill that Israeli food has produced: “It’s going around the world. It’s the most reviled nation by many people’s standards. But the world’s going crazy for Ottolenghi and pomegranate.”