Expanding food savvy
Kat Romanow is director of food programming at the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (photo from Kat Romanow)
Kat Romanow has taken upon herself the challenge of teaching people more about Jewish food in one of Canada’s most Jewish cities.
“I started studying Judaism in my undergrad and, at the end of it, food was something that sparked my interest,” said Romanow. “I ended up going to Boston for a summer to do an internship and it was there that all of this coalesced.
“Jewish food is what I want to study academically. I also felt a connection to Judaism – Shabbat dinners, shul … I get the non-academic Jewish things, and it was there I realized I felt a deep connection to it. That’s when I knew I wanted to convert. It’s a connection I didn’t necessarily feel in Catholicism, but I found in Judaism – the community, rituals … things that really speak to me and bring meaning to my life.”
Romanow was born and raised in Montreal and is currently the director of food programming at the Museum of Jewish Montreal, where she runs and manages Fletchers, the museum’s restaurant.
Founded in 2010, the museum offers walking tours of historic Jewish neighbourhoods, numerous online exhibits and a large oral history collection. And, now that they have a physical space – which they acquired about a year ago – they also offer lectures, workshops and pop-up exhibitions.
Romanow majored in Jewish food history at Concordia University and, in conjunction with the museum and a friend, developed a walking tour called The Wandering Chew.
“We aimed to teach people about lesser-known Jewish food traditions through pop-up dinners, cooking workshops and other food events,” said Romanow. “That’s where I got the cooking experience, holding pop-up dinners for 30 to 40 people. We’d find the community we wanted to explore, interview people from the community, including getting their recipes, put together a menu and do a dinner.”
The goal was to expand people’s knowledge about Jewish food. “Here, in Montreal, you automatically think of bagels and smoked meat,” said Romanow. “But, our aim was to go beyond that and show people that Jewish food is very diverse and is made up of a lot of different cuisine and dishes.”
At Fletchers, they serve foods during the day that draw from the flavours of the diverse communities highlighted on the walking tours. And, in the evening, one can find a variety of workshops, meals and cookbook launches.
Romanow has been selected to represent Montreal at the ROI (Return on Investment) Summit in Jerusalem July 2-6. The summit brings together 150 of the brightest Jewish minds from around the world to brainstorm ideas for the future.
“I’m really excited,” said Romanow. “It’s also my first time going to Israel. For the summit, I’m most excited about getting to meet all these other young Jews doing really cool projects … making connections and sharing ideas. We’ll learn from each other and build off of what we’re all doing. So, I think, coming out of this, I’ll be full of new ideas and inspiration. I’ve already received emails and I can see potential future collaboration.”
Romanow is planning to stay in Israel after the summit, to visit the country, experience the Israeli food scene and get some new ideas for Fletchers.
Something she has found lately is that people in their 20s and 30s are becoming more open to exploring different ways of making the food they grew up with different, putting their own mark on it.
“There’s now a community of younger Jews who are reintroducing people to what Jewish food is,” said Romanow. “I want to keep adding to the menu and keep holding more and more events, so that people can really engage with their Jewish identity through food on a regular basis.
“But, I also aim to write a cookbook about exploring Jewish food in the Diaspora. That’s what I’ve been doing with the Wandering Chew. I think the cookbook is the next step. I’m in the process of writing the proposal, so hopefully in the next few years it will come out.”
For now, Romanow plans to delve deeper into local Jewish food history, as she balances running Fletchers, the Wandering Chew dinners and walking tours of the local Jewish food scene, which are called Beyond the Bagel.
Through Beyond the Bagel, Romanow said, “We go to places like Schwartz’s and we eat bagels. But, I did all kinds of archival research and oral history interviews … and so you get to go deeper into the history of these places.
“At our space (at the museum), we also have a boutique where we sell things related to Jewish history and Montreal – books, locally made products. And we use it as an event space … concerts, lectures and many more.
“Right now, we have Yiddish classes there, too, and photo exhibits that change throughout the year related to Jewish culture. We’re not a traditional museum, one that you go into and look at objects. You can come to the space, grab a bite, browse the boutique and also go on one of the walking tours or onto the website.”
For more information, visit imjm.ca.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.