Kosher food scene in Bay Area to lose an epic contributor

There will be a lot less duck fat in the Bay Area’s kosher culinary scene.

Rabbi Alex Shandrovsky

Isaac Bernstein, the force behind Epic Bites catering, is moving back to New York in a few weeks. Epic Bites dairy events will continue, however, with Bernstein’s right-hand man, sous chef Heshy Fried, at the helm, working in conjunction with L’Chaim Sushi.

“Heshy has worked side by side with me for over two years,” said Bernstein, who launched Epic Bites in 2011. “I know he’ll be able to handle the catering operation.”

Rabbi Alex Shandrovsky, founder and owner of L’Chaim Sushi, said the two entities are natural partners. “The two businesses value the highest level of kashrut, quality and ethically sourced ingredients, and providing amazing cuisine,” he said. “It’s an honor to continue to develop and help Epic Bites evolve in its next chapter.”

Chef Isaac Bernstein is moving to New York photo/andy altman-ohr

Shandrovsky added that Bernstein will stay involved in a senior advisory role. “He’s still very invested in seeing it succeed. He brought something here that had never been here before, and wants to see all of us grow, so we’re very much on the same page.”

While the Oakland-based Bernstein was never able to pull together enough investors to realize his goal of opening his own restaurant in the Bay Area, the catering business was going very well. And he and his wife were happy here.

But in addition to his hectic schedule, Bernstein was doing some consulting work for Pomegranate, a kosher market in Brooklyn, N.Y. Its owner finally made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Given that he and his wife have two children now, being nearer to their families is a big draw. Plus, tuition for private schools was looming.

Also, added Bernstein, only half-jokingly, “There’s too much passive-aggressiveness here, unlike the straight aggression on the East Coast. I know how to deal with that much better.”

From “Modern Haimish” pop-up dinner: Chicken liver mousse with cured blueberries, balsamic syrup, gribenes and nasturtium

In addition to quickly becoming the favored caterer by those who cared not only about kosher but about sustainable ingredients, Bernstein became known for his over-the-top tasting menus, some of which ran 24 courses. He regularly wowed diners with his 10 courses of raw fish, followed by numerous molecular tricks, like cardamom flavored dirt and olive oil powder. He also regularly made bacon from veal and ham from duck, allowing kosher diners to feel like they were tasting the forbidden. He also liberally used duck and goose fat when he cooked a meat meal, to mimic the richness of butter.

The tasting menus, however, were a small part of the business; catering was his main source of revenue. But “I never wanted to do this forever,” he said. “I never wanted to be a caterer. The restaurant I envisioned would never have worked here. I’m also at a point personally where I don’t want to work 120 hours a week anymore.”

Now, the East Coast will get a taste of his talent. “I’ll be working in [Pomegranate’s] culinary department, making improvements and focusing on future growth,” he said. “It’s a super challenging job. I’ll be working with ingredients I may not have familiarity with, and dealing with people who don’t know what organic is, and don’t understand sustainability. It’s an opportunity to enlighten people, by getting that message across subtly every day.”

Brooklyn’s gain is the Bay Area’s loss.

“It’s an epic disappointment,” said Rabbi Gedalia Potash of Chabad of Noe Valley.

Rabbi Yosef Langer, head of Chabad of San Francisco, helped organize a few gourmet events with Bernstein that were tabbed “Modern Haimish Wandering Kosher Pop-Up Dinners.” Langer said he and others were hoping Bernstein “could parlay these pop-up dinners into a brick-and-mortar kosher restaurant, which San Francisco is in dire need of.”

Though he’ll continue to look for a new pop-up partner, Langer said that Bernstein will be “terribly missed. Not only is he himself haimish, but he is one of the hardest working, creative people that I’ve ever met. He is also so committed to building community, and that formula is very hard to find. He is an amazing guy and a great chef.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."