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Jewish World Review
March 14, 2005
/ 3 Adar II, 5765
Kosher diva outdoes herself with latest offering
Gavriel Aryeh Sanders
It may be a stretch to dub Susie Fishbein, an Orthodox Jewish New Jersey wife and mother, the "Jewish Martha Stewart". But with two best selling cook books her latest, taking only 8 days to make Amazon's Top 500 list and scheduled appearances on a slew of national and regional TV and radio shows, one is certainly tempted to.
This lady of faith first, projects a radiant, telegenic style that is as comfortable on camera as it's on stage, where she might be teaching culinary techniques to hundreds of eager students. Her prepossessing presence and approachable demeanor have brought her a degree of celebrity in the popular cultural milieu that is atypical for an observant Jew.
Though Susie's earlier work, "Kosher By Design: Picture-perfect Food for the Holidays and Every Day", sold 70,000 copies in a little over a year and her sequel, "Kosher By Design Entertains: Fabulous Recipes for Parties and Every Day", just came out March 1 and it's already sold 35,000 copies, with 50,000 copies in print, her success has not gone to her head. (Click on links to purchase. Sales help fund JWR)
After a hand-cramping Barnes & Noble book signing, Susie whispers, "Can you believe this? All these people are coming out for a kosher cookbook? Who'd ever thought?"
EXPLAINING A PHENOMENON
Actually, what has spawned the feeding frenzy for a kosher cookbook?
For an answer, it helps to know a little about Susie's formative years. As a teen growing up in Oceanside, NY., she helped prepare the family home for the weekly welcoming of the Sabbath. While working with vegetables, she discovered a knack for carving simple, attractive designs that brought oohs and aahs of delight to friends and family around the dinner table. During a year of post-high school study in Israel, Susie earned the praise of her dorm mates by whipping up gourmet style meals on a primitive, one-burner hot plate.
"The secret, if there is one," Susie ventures, "is that I've never stopped being ordinary. But I've looked for creative ways to enhance the visual appeal of foods while keeping the preparations uncomplicated for the average, busy person. As I've traveled the country doing cooking demos, people constantly tell me that they are cooking more and loving to cook more with Kosher by Design recipes. They feel like I'm there coaching them through the process."
"Kosher By Design" is themed around Jewish holidays. It includes 250 recipes, along with a very helpful Passover substitution guide. Each holiday section includes an insightful commentary on the significance of the celebration.
Her latest book, "Kosher By Design Entertains", focuses on simchas (happy occasions), such as a milestone birthday, a 50th wedding anniversary, a baby welcoming, a wedding announcement party, and more. With nine unique party formats to choose from, there is no shortage of table décor suggestions. The new book includes over 250 triple-tested recipes.
Beyond their kitchen utility, both books are visually stunning, with full-color photos throughout. They can grace a coffee table just as easily as a kitchen countertop. World-class food photographer John Uher directed the photo shoots, while one of Manhattan's top event planners, Renee Erriech, choreographed the table settings.
"Don't be fooled by the stylishness of the photos," Susie adjures. "The emphasis of Kosher by Design is on easy to do and enjoyable to do. With so many food-based events to prepare for in our communal and personal calendars, our team worked very hard so that you won't have to. We want you to spend more time being a gracious host than a chef that sweats it; but while you're wearing your chef's hat, we'll help you cook with confidence and inspiration."
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While the pictures in Susie's books might be suitable for framing, the recipes themselves can trigger a Pavlovian response, with such titles as:
Broccoli and Almond Bisque
Pecan Crusted Grouper over Amaretto Whipped Potatoes
Kalamata and Mustard Crusted Roast Beef
Sweet Potato Wedges with Vanilla Rum Sauce
Chocolate Mint Dalmatian Cookies
Kosher by Design Entertains has already been awarded "Best Cookbook" at the well attended Kosherworld Expo in Los Angeles in February. However, Susie's success in the kosher observant world is not remarkable. It is to be expected, considering the proliferation of kosher products over the last ten years, paralleled by the steady rise of the ba'al tshuva (returnees to Judaism) movement , which has influenced the sophistication of the marketplace.
APPEAL OF BOOK NOT LIMITED TO RELIGIOUS JEWS
Says Gedaliah Zlotowitz, VP of Sales and Marketing for Mesorah Publications, which published and distributes Susie's books, "What's more astonishing to us is the flow of Kosher by Design books to places so far beyond the Borsht Belt. Barnes & Noble and Amazon have placed substantial orders. Williams & Sonoma carries the book. You can even find it now in supermarket chains. This just doesn't happen to your average Jewish book and certainly not a kosher cookbook! We are recognizing the appeal and salability of Fishbein's recipes in the mainstream marketplace. It seems a lot more people than we thought are interested in Jewish cooking and Jewish holidays."
Passover is a time to celebrate our historic liberation, not to feel oppressed by the cruel taskmaster of the menu
More than any other holiday, the onset of Passover spikes the stress level in Jewish homes of all persuasions. While fewer than 30% of American Jews may observe a weekly Sabbath meal, over 80% will attend a Passover Seder. This year is even more complicated with the first night of Passover beginning as Sabbath ends on Saturday night, April 23rd.
Susie Fishbein is a veteran of many a Passover season and says, "This is a time to celebrate our historic liberation, not to feel oppressed by the cruel taskmaster of the menu. People across America have told me our books make it very easy to plan delicious, aesthetically pleasing dishes, using all the ingredients appropriate to the Passover season."
Having tackled the Jewish holidays in book one and parties and happy occasions in book two, what's ahead for Fishbein and team? Susie beams, "John Uher, Rene Erreich and I have just started shooting the pictures for the next iteration in the series. And it's a bit like the Star Trek mission to boldly go where people haven't gone before! We hope to release "Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen" just before Chanukah."
Most parents want to chase their kids out of the kitchen when cooking. Why is Fishbein creating a book to bring them back in? "Judaism is the original home-based business," she asserts. "It's an intergenerational baton pass of identity, heritage, ideals, values, traditions, and spirituality. Telling the story of our people once a year at Passover is probably not enough to keep us thriving. This new book will, I hope, help families incorporate more of Judaism in our most important Jewish institution of all time the home."
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Gavriel Aryeh Sanders is national speaker, writer, and broadcaster on themes related to Jewish learning and living. He resides in New York. Comment by clicking here.
© 2005, Gavriel Aryeh Sanders