With our region’s sizable and active Jewish community, most Long Islanders have a good general sense of what “kosher” means. No mixing dairy and meat, no shellfish, no pork. Those remain the most elementary basics.
But what many of us may not know is that the definition of the word goes far deeper than dietary restrictions. Harkening back to the Old Testament, this biblical word can actually define a way of life—one that is proper, genuine, and authentic.
Those are the tenets of what it means to truly be kosher. And these principles are never far from the mind of Adam Bolender: Culinary Academy of Long Island graduate, former Coast Guard staff officer, active EMT volunteer — and current chef-owner of Kosher Thyme Marketplace in Plainview. A man whose mission has clearly been to serve his community, from delivering aid in times of tragedy, or just some of the best darn matzo ball soup and roasted chicken this side of the Five Towns.
Of course, no good origin story is without its detours. Bolender graduated high school with his sweetheart and a plan. They were both going to music school and walking down that career path hand in hand. However, he found himself coming home frustrated every day; it wasn’t music that soothed his inner beast, but rather watching Food Network and cooking after class.
“My epiphany was, why can’t I do this all the time, then?” Bolender reflected with a rosy-cheeked smile. “So I withdrew . . . and enrolled in culinary school.” With that, he became the fifth generation of Bolenders to work in the food service industry.
“Weren’t you scared?” I asked. All his life, he’d dedicated himself to the study of music. Was it all for naught?
“No,” was the immediate answer. He had reached that pivotal moment of clarity one only sees in movies and was ready to risk it all.
For some, this experience is once in a lifetime, but for Bolender, it happened again just last spring, with his second son on the way. After catering for celebrity events in Chelsea, then for those same high-caliber clients for a private airline, and finally, working for years as a majordomo and private chef on Long Island’s North Shore, he realized that he wanted to get back to his roots. He wanted to give back to his community even more than he was, so he took yet another gamble: he jumped right into the footsteps of his father—kosher butcher Mark Bolender—with the purchase of what was once Kosher Food Emporium.
Exposed as he was to different cuisines, he began thinking like an innovator. “When I went to culinary school, it was hard to keep kosher,” Bolender admitted. “I’d taste but not swallow.” What these tastes did, though, was make him question how he could bring these experiences to the kosher community through adaptation. Such was the inspiration for Kosher Thyme, and under the watchful eye of his mashgiach Gershon Allweiss—an on-site supervisor certified by the prestigious Vaad Harabonim of Queens—he’s absolutely doing it.
At this Glatt kosher specialty marketplace, butcher, deli, and caterer, the South comes calling with cornmeal-dusted fried chicken and gumbo. The Far East pays a visit with Bolender’s Chinese-inspired red rib marinade—minus the swine. An authentic wok set-up in the back invites that influence to stay longer. There are even surimi-based “krab” cakes to toe the line.
However, that’s not to say you won’t find the usual suspects: matzo ball soup, cold cut sandwiches, kasha varnishkes and humanely raised, vegetarian-fed, antibiotic/hormone-free meats. They’ll just all be enhanced with a touch only a chef can bring, like scratch-made broth, baked apple and cinnamon kugel, housemade sauce on the cheeseless eggplant parm, brined roast chicken and beef seasoned with Bolender’s own blend of spices. His Rosh Hashanah catering menu promises to step up your own new year’s table with the same attention to detail.
And for this upcoming year, gluten-free, vegetarian and even sushi are all developments in the making for the pristine prepared foods case, already filled with microwave- and/or oven-safe chef-prepared and mashgiach-approved creations. Sealed and double-wrapped, these dishes are ready for any oven, kosher or not.
For those who want to try their hands at home, Bolender’s culinary background has helped fill the shop’s shelves with every ingredient a chef could want, from hard-to-find ethnic items (think rare novelty treats like Israeli chocolate bars studded with Pop-Rocks, Bamba peanut snacks, Bissli snack chips—nothing is off limits with Adam and his father’s sourcing skills!) to Pereg spices and Prigat juices to international brands with kosher certification.
On top of all that, Bolender fabricates his own meat the old-fashioned way. Every day, beef is ground in-house. He makes his own turkey and chicken sausages. He butchers the whole animals under supervision so strict that Allweiss holds the keys to the storefront and its padlocked walk-in.
“I’m an owner without a key!” Bolender jokes with pride. “Because that’s what helps give my customers peace of mind.”
Which is essentially what living kosher boils down to: peace of mind. Knowing inherently that what you are doing in all things is good and right, no matter how high the hoop is that you’re setting for yourself. Being authentic and true to oneself, filling every action with integrity.
It’s a hard path. But for a man who has already dedicated his young life to service—through the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the Coast Guard, partnering with Hauppauge-based CEO (Career & Employment Options) to provide internships and teach job skills to special needs students, and now, this new market—it’s the only one there is. Singlehandedly, Adam Bolender is making kosher the new cool this new year by taking it beyond the table and into our lives.