For kosher Instagram stars, the food is just the appetizer

Naomi Nachman, aka The Aussie Gourmet, and Chani Apfelbaum of Busy in Brooklyn, hit Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market and dish about the world of kosher foodies

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Food bloggers and kosher food media personalities Melinda Strauss (left), Naomi Nachman, Beth Warren and Chani Apfelbaum (far right) (Courtesy Naomi Nachman)
Food bloggers and kosher food media personalities Melinda Strauss (left), Naomi Nachman, Beth Warren and Chani Apfelbaum (far right) (Courtesy Naomi Nachman)

MAHANE YEHUDA — There was a plate of salsa-laden, beefy homemade sausages on the table, but professional foodies Naomi Nachman and Chani Apfelbaum, with a combined following of 70,000 people on Instagram, hadn’t reached for their phones to spread the gospel. Yet.

In the world of food appreciation, whether one is a chef or a home cook, posting what one is cooking, or eating, or thinking about eating, is de rigeur. In fact, it’s been the exposure on Facebook and Instagram that have created such a following for Nachman and Apfelbaum, making them brand names in the kosher food media world.

Not to worry, though. They posted plenty during their four-day visit in Israel for the Jewish Media Conference.

Nachman, aka The Aussie Gourmet, and Apfelbaum, known as Busy in Brooklyn, had been active earlier in the day on Tuesday, when they each shared on Instagram their tastings at Cafe Kadosh, including the much-awaited seasonal doughnuts, and a table full of breakfast delicacies.

Now, after dinner and networking events, the two, along with their fellow food buddies Beth Warren (author of “Secrets of a Kosher Girl”) and Melinda Strauss (“Kitchen Tested” blog), were at Hatch, the recently opened brewery in the open air market.

These two social media leaders have each recently published new cookbooks — Nachman’s “Perfect Flavors” (her second in 19 months) and Apfelbaum’s “Millenial Kosher” (her first) — but they’ve taken different paths in their lives as social media influencers.

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A post shared by Chanie Apfelbaum (@busyinbrooklyn)

Apfelbaum, with 50,000 Instagram followers, first found her way as a food blogger and food stylist and photographer, writing Busy in Brooklyn after working in web design, and then developing her natural skills as a photographer and food stylist.

When she first started writing her blog, it was very Ashkenazi in tone, with recipes such as gefilte fish served three ways, and sugar in every dressing.

She slowly developed her own culinary voice, exploring other cuisines, swapping out sugar for honey, moving to more savory flavors, and ultimately putting a modern twist on traditional Jewish — and Israeli — foods. A look through “Millennial Kosher” shows ramen noodles in the shakshouka (and made with bottled tomato sauce for the rushed millennial cook), marble cake pancakes and lachmajine flatbread topped with a runny egg.

“I totally believe in trashing it up, you have to have fun sometimes,” said Apfelbaum. “Being a blogger really pushes you creatively, you’re always tweaking things.”

So there’s also breakfast sahlab, the traditional winter drink usually made with rosewater and cornstarch, but with Apfelbaum’s substitution of farina, or a gefilte fish pizza, which she swears by.

One of Apfelbaum’s biggest social media successes was her Hasselback Salami recipes, one of them drenched in bourbon, the other glazed with cranberry sauce and sriracha, a very clever take on the classic sliced potato dish that went viral when first posted on Instagram.

“Instagram stories changed everything,” said Apfelbaum, referring to the feature that lets users post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours. “When you put your face out there and your story in a personal light, it totally took it to another level. You get recognized everywhere, and people message you their stories, it’s super accessible. They’ll send me pictures via direct messaging; it takes everything to a whole new level.”

Nachman’s food career is similarly broad, and extends to Australia, England and South Africa, although she’s lived in the US for the last 27 years.

A kindergarten teacher by training, Nachman had moved to Woodmere, Long Island with her American husband. She grabbed the opportunity to teach a local JCC cooking class, figuring she knew more than a little something about making sushi. Always a quick study and comfortable in the kitchen, she grasped that kosher personal chefs were the wave of her personal future, particularly for the upwardly mobile, religiously observant population of her community.

Nachman established herself as the Aussie Gourmet, a personal chef making Shabbat meals and post-wedding feast meals, as well as Passover seders and other holiday dinners for clients in the community. When the entire foodie revolution erupted, along with the emergence of Facebook and Instagram as natural sites for anyone into food appreciation, Nachman just rolled with the changes, putting herself where she needed to be.

“I’m like a hacker, I’m always learning something new,” she said.

Now she judges chef competitions, sells rugelach on the shopping channel QVC, blogs about travel, hosts her own weekly radio show, and has columns in local newspapers and Jewish magazines. And she’s always available to her followers on Facebook and Instagram.

“I’m always evolving, always looking for the big new trend, for what’s going to be next,” she said.  “I want to be everywhere and nobody else has the diversity I have.”

At the same time, Nachman is easy and relaxed, chatting about her granddaughter, her new sparkly sneakers and what she had for lunch. Yes, she has 20,000 followers on Instagram, but she’s in this business because she likes people and being a food media personality utilizes those natural passions and enthusiasms that are so innate to her personality.

She even still loves entertaining — “I’m landing Thursday morning and my Shabbat menu is already set,” she said.

Nachman doesn’t blog, but her food follows trends and smartly cuts corners for the busy home cook. Her latest cookbook includes many of the soups, salads and power bowls of today’s kitchen, but it’s also a reflection of what she likes to eat.

“I could do vegetables and protein all day,” said Nachman. “But even these kinds of big salads” — pointing at her recipe for “Power Bowl,” which includes radishes, avocado, mango and greens with one cup of granola and a maple syrup, orange juice, cinnamon and apple cider vinegar dressing — “I have to look hard for what’s going in it, what’s the dressing, what’s the crunch, should it have an egg on it? Those are all considerations.”

These kosher media stars are also good friends, supportive of one another, and of pretty much anyone in the kosher media world, they both said.

“Most of us are really good friends,” said Apfelbaum. “It’s so necessary because there’s so many questions, you need a support network.”

They estimated that there are about 25 kosher food professionals with well-known blogs or websites, and another 150 Instagrammers.

“These are siblings, not rivals,” said Nachman, “because you grow together.”

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