Lab-created kosher Shr!mp

At 29, this Russian Israeli American Jew is an ordained Orthodox rabbi, the owner of a catering company that specializes in kosher, sustainable sushi, and a sharp PR flak for L’Chaim Foods — which you may have read about here in J., or in the San Francisco Chronicle.

And now Rabbi Alex Shandrovsky is adding another specialty to his resume: purveyor of “kosher shrimp.”

Over the past few months, the San Francisco resident has been orchestrating pop-up dinners of different cuisines put together by local chefs and food innovators featuring only kosher foods — such as the “shrimp” dishes that were served at a Filipino food pop-up March 6.

The dinner was held on the basement level of SOSVentures Revolution, a hip SoMa coworking space in San Francisco. One of the co-sponsors was IndieBio, self-billed as the “world’s first synthetic biology accelerator,” and “New Wave Foods,” whose first product is “shrimp,” which fit perfectly into Shandrovsky’s philosophy of “kosher food and wisdom.”

It also fit into the Filipino menu, which featured a first course of “Popcorn New Wave Shr!mp,” and a soup/stew course that included taro leaves slow-cooked in a spicy coconut milk-based stew with … yes … “shr!mp.”

In a pre-dinner presentation, a representative of IndieBio talked about a new phase in human evolution: If the first was the domestication of animals and crops, she said, the second chapter will engage biology as the new domesticator.

Alex Sahandrovsky and wife Racheli at “Shr!mp” pop-up event photo/L’chaim Foods

Part of what the company wants to offer the world is sustainable edible options that will equally please palate and conscience. It is doing this by funding startups whose creations include animal-free eggs and gelatin, and artificial meat developed in petri dishes, such as meatballs by Memphis Meats.

Sadly, Shandrovsky said, even if this product gained a a kosher seal of approval, it is unlikely to be considered parve since it originates from animal cells.

The big question was if the “shr!mp” (as it was dubbed on the menu) tasted good, and anything like the original. About a third of the sold-out crowd of 60, many of them wearing religious head coverings, gave “shr!mp” a thumbs-up. But how were the followers of the laws of kashrut to know what real shrimp actually tastes like?

Sam and Fabienne Adler, an Orthodox couple from San Jose, helped supply an answer to that question. Having become ba’alei teshuvah, or newly observant, just six years ago, they said they could still recall the flavor of real shrimp — and they approved of the substitute.

Shandrovsky co-created the Filipino pop-up dinner with JP Reyes, a vegan/vegetarian chef at Google. Chef JP, as he is known, began his professional life in the corporate world, then got tired of it and decided to cook professionally. Ironically, he now cooks for the epitome of the corporate world at Google headquarters in Mountain View.

Chef JP’s ethnic background and culinary preferences served him well in creating a menu that was Filipino-inspired, but he had to go through a crash course in Jewish dietary laws. His menu included not only the two “shrimp” items, but also barbecued vegetable skewers, kosher chicken (or tofu) mushroom sisig, a Filipino method of marinating, and java rice seasoned with vegan annatto butter. All of it was served on huge banana leaf placemats (no plates) and eaten by hand (forks were doled out as necessary).

However, since the food had to be cooked in a kosher kitchen — L’Chaim Foods uses the kitchen of Adath Israel Congregation in San Francisco’s Sunset District — as well as delivered ahead of time, the popcorn “shrimp” didn’t fare very well.

What works for sushi rolls (as long as they are kept properly chilled) does not work so well for deep-fried food. After transport and sitting around for some time, it will never be sizzling, crispy or even sufficiently hot, whereas a Filipino-style sautéed, steamed or curried “shrimp” might have fared better in such circumstances. Then again, the deep-fried banana egg rolls for dessert fared even worse.

Still, the event proved to be another hit in L’Chaim Foods’ new line of pop-up kosher dinners.

Sandrovsky’s previous events included Japanese and Ethiopian events, and a kosher Valentine’s Day dinner.

One of L’Chaim Foods’ latest posts touts the company’s Purim menu, which features a “24-hour, slow-cooked, pulled barbecue brisket hamantaschen.”

Brisket hamantaschen? Seems as if Shandrovsky is intent on living up to his pledge of “disrupting kosher in the Bay Area.”