You might know Jake Cohen from his work at Saveur, Tasting Table and The FeedFeed or his recipe videos on Tik Tok and Instagram. Now, the New York resident has his first cookbook, Jew-ish, coming out March 8th and he’s doing everything he can to make it a success.
So how did Cohen get to be the master of social media and an avid promoter of expansive Jewish cuisine? It started with high school dinner parties.
“In high school, I didn’t have many friends,” he said. “I was a heavy kid and I had gotten into cooking and started inviting people over for mock dinner parties.” The dinners included meals he cooked following recipes from Ina Garten and Giada De Laurentiis, whom he idolized.
The response helped build his confidence as well as deeper friendships. It also led to the desire to cook and extend hospitality to others which landed him at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and subsequent work in restaurant kitchens.
But working in restaurants turned out not to be his thing. Instead, after looking for a job in recipe testing and development, he landed at the Saveur test kitchen. From there he moved to Tasting Table, where he expanded his involvement with writing and digital media.
There was also a short stint as the restaurant critic for Time Out New York before landing his “dream job” at The FeedFeed, helping them build their editorial brand. He left that job last Fall to strike out on his own. Despite the impressive resume, Cohen said “there was a crazy amount of rejection the whole way.”
“For every great position I’ve had, I’ve been rejected from three to four others,” he said. “I think it’s part of the process, and it makes the sweetness of success that much sweeter when it’s layered over the bitterness of rejection.”
His first book proposal, about the Iraqi Jewish recipes of his husband’s family, was turned down. He came back with Jew-ish, a documentation of his and his husband’s journey to explore their Jewish identity. The couple both grew up relatively secular, but decided to start hosting Shabbat dinners as adults as a way to connect with their Jewish heritage without going to synagogue. They had each grown up with what they deemed quintessential Jewish foods, but Cohen’s babka and his husband’s tahdig were worlds apart.
The two became involved with One Table, an organization that aims to bring people in their 20s and 30s together to celebrate Shabbat in a way that’s approachable and sustainable for them. Cohen said one of the main reasons they started hosting these meals was to break bread with others, as he had done (and loved) in high school, and to share dishes from both of their backgrounds.
In fact, every recipe in Jew-ish was tested at a Shabbat dinner. “If you’re hosting ten people these recipes will work and they won’t make you lose your mind,” he said. What makes the dishes in the book unique, he said, is that they’re focused on simple techniques for ingredient-driven creations.
Cohen’s identity and brand, which has exploded during the pandemic, is so tied to his Judaism that one can’t help but wonder if some of the online hate he’s experienced made him question the focus of his work. “I think that’s part of the game,” he said. “And that means sticking to his mission and being authentic. “I want to write and produce content within the line of who I am and my identity,” he said. And that means betting on himself. Cohen pushed for a photo of every recipe in the book, as well as for his unorthodox author photo.
“I want this to be my vision, and if it isn’t, then it’s someone else’s vision. If it does poorly because of my vision, I’m okay with that kind of failure,” he said. To that end, Cohen is leading the marketing push for Jew-ish with a “chai’s worth” (18 days) of giveaways and live videos with brands and people he loves, all of whom are connected to the book. He also did a unique pre-order bonus for the cookbook. Instead of receiving extra recipes, readers who purchase Jew-ish before its release date can download a digital haggadah that he created with One Table to use this Passover (reminder, the holiday begins on March 27).
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