In the fall of 2015, I attended a weekend conference called “The Harvest Gathering” put on by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation in Colorado. It was for Jews who work in the food industry; we were chefs, food writers, food entrepreneurs, and more. Everyone I met was doing something interesting, and many potential partnerships could have been made, that is, if we hadn’t come from all over the country.
At that conference, they told us we’d be eligible to receive some funding before the end of the year to put on some kind of experience for our peers. Together with two other Bay Area attendees, Ezra Malmuth of Atlas Edibles and Elianna Friedman, we each applied for and received a small grant. We chose to put on a Chanukah/Shabbat dinner, and because our circle of friends did not overlap, we made it a Harvest Gathering of our own by inviting other Jews we knew in the food industry.
Ezra, Elianna and I spent two full days cooking. We served celery root latkes with crème fraiche and caviar, and short ribs braised overnight, with black truffles. We had a crudo course and made duck egg challah. The grant allowed us to rent dishes, pair wines with each course, and pay a food-obsessed high school student who is now a food writer in New York, Elazar Sontag, to help us cook, serve and clear.
We chefs didn't just cook the food, though. We joined our guests at the table. Over dinner, we each told our food story; how we had gotten into it and why. Of course more than one Jewish mother or grandmother were evoked. The next day, so inspired by what had happened, I started a group on Facebook called “Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals,” and added those who were there, plus many I had met over the years writing about food for J., the Jewish News of Northern California. Within a day, people started adding others. Soon, Chuck Siegel of Charles Chocolates offered to host the first meet-up, which happened in January, 2016. About 25 people showed up, many of whom I knew already, but quite a few I didn’t. At that gathering, Lisa Rogovin, founder of Edible Excursions, said she’d like to see some kind of latke showdown happen. Our official launch was at Covenant Winery in Berkeley, celebrating the new cookbook of Joyce Goldstein in April of that year; in August we went to Sebastopol to tour and sample cheese by Lisa Gottreich of Bohemian Creamery, and by December, we had a latke showdown at the Ferry Building. By April, we had chosen a better name (I knew Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals was just a placeholder) thanks to member and food writer Jim Gladstone, who came up with The Illuminoshi. (I still get so many kudos on the name, and always give credit to Jim).
Our mailing list continues to grow (we are now over 500 names). In 2018, I started charging voluntary dues for the first time.
We are primarily a networking group that holds events – more or less – quarterly. More than one job has been found through the group and numerous partnerships, not to mention friendships.
I said this at our launch and I’ve repeated it numerous times. I believe I'm a pretty good writer and a pretty good chef. But one of my superpowers has always been connecting people who should know each other. And given that Judaism and food are two such major forces in my life, it only makes sense that I would combine them in this way.
So how do you join? Drop me a line and tell me what you do in the food industry. Or find us on Facebook, and request to join there. It's as easy as that.
To read more about us in the press or see photos from our events, visit the Illuminoshi's site here.
Some of the chefs who cooked for the launch with Joyce Goldstein, at Covenant Winery.