Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spotlight on Liz Alpern, Gefilteria Co-Founder, Entrepreneur and Recipe Developer!

Photo Credit Liz Reuven

With a passion to elevate gefilte fish’s lowly reputation, fishmonger Liz Alpern of The Gefilteria has successfully pushed her business's food out of the jar and onto store shelves worldwide. A few minutes with Liz reveals that any Kosher Career is possible with passion, drive and the skills to succeed.  

Number of years working in the (Kosher) food business:

Best way to describe your education in culinary and how you got to where you are:
I learned a lot through experimenting on my own, and then got more formal training testing recipes with cookbook author Joan Nathan. I apprenticed in a pastry kitchen in Washington, DC and assisted a chef with cooking classes. I also worked on a Vietnamese food truck and have done a lot of catering.

Since starting a business of my own, Gefilteria, I’ve jumped into new food challenges regularly and learned from many chefs and business owners. Overall, I think that while my more formal training was really important, the most important thing is that I constantly put myself in situations where I try new things and learn from those around me.

What was your inspiration to do what you do?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single inspiration, but I can say that I’ve always been inspired by Jewish history (I was a Jewish history major). In the kitchen, I’m constantly inspired by flavors that make me think, feel and remember. So of course, making Jewish food makes a lot of sense!

What was your first job in the food business? second job?
When I was 15 years old I worked at the local kosher bakery in the town where I grew up. I was a counter girl, but I begged to help in the kitchen and sometimes got to ice cookies and dip strawberries in chocolate.

My second job in the food business was in college, when I started a challah business from my apartment! It was called Challah Back Bakers and people still talk to me about it.

In one sentence, describe what you do in your current position...
Everyday I cook, write, experiment, research and generally get my hustle on in the arena of Ashkenazi cuisine.
Photo Credit Molly Goren

 What do you find most rewarding about the work you do?
There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing something start as an idea and ultimately become something I serve to an excited and eager customer.

What do you find the most challenging?
Business is all about constantly growing and pivoting. You can never get too comfortable, and that can be challenging.

What is the most important lesson you ever learned on the job?
Never assume anything. Every major mistake I’ve made in the kitchen or in business in general was because I made an assumption and didn’t actually check to see that my assumption was correct. For example, I never assume something tastes good, even if I used the same recipe as last time. There are so many variables! Or, I never assume that someone who bought something once will buy it again. They might’ve liked it, but I still need to work to keep them interested.

What are you passions outside of cooking/baking?
I’m passionate about working out and staying healthy, which is certainly challenging sometimes. I’m also passionate about maintaining a community of friends and family around me.

What do you want to be known for in the culinary world?
I have to say that I hope to be known as the co-author of an amazing cookbook! My book comes out in 2016 (The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods, co-authored with Jeffrey Yoskowitz) and I want to be known for having offered an expansive and exciting take on Ashkenazi cuisine!

The original Gefilteria Gefilte Fish

Favorite food to eat? Soup, any kind!
Favorite food to cook? Soup, any kind!
Favorite kitchen tool? Immersion blender.

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