In preparation for the big day, Camille Cogswell and her team prepared 100 borekas stuffed with Bulgarian feta, potato, Swiss chard or jam and sweet cheese; hundreds of chocolate rugelach; and dozens of cookies, pistachio sticky buns, babkas and walnut cakes.
July 31 was the opening day for K’Far, an Israeli-inspired bakery and cafe led by Chef Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook of the restaurant group CookNSolo. Cogswell, who has spent the last three-plus years as head pastry chef at Zahav, serves as executive chef of this new venture. Chef de Cuisine Troy Wilson leads with her.
But the plethora of pastries wasn’t enough for the crowds coming to the bakery at 110 S. 19th St. near Rittenhouse Square. Nor was it enough for the following day, or the day after that. Within hours of opening, K’Far started to run out of pastries. By end of day, only salads and grain bowls remained.
“It’s been happening much more quickly than we anticipated, and it’s incredible,” Cogswell said. “We just get this big rush when things open, and we’ve been selling out of pastries so early. I’m working on trying to produce more and more and more as fast as we can.”
But customers keep coming.
Jamie Fox, senior fellow for Repair the World, was at K’Far on July 31 at about 2 p.m., an hour before closing. (The bakery now closes at 2 p.m. but plans to extend its hours for dinner service.) She had been there the day before during K’Far’s soft opening and had ordered the potato boreka, rugelach and a drink. A friend of hers and former Repair the World fellow worked there, and she had come to support her — even though she saw on social media that they had run out of pastries.
Gretchen Fantini, owner of Sweet Box Bakery, also came by to support the opening.
“Everyone’s so excited about it,” said Fantini, who ordered an iced coffee and said she would also probably get the tabbouleh salad. “I just wanted to come support it.”
That first day, people cheerily bustled into K’Far, a Hebrew word that means village.
Beyond the aforementioned pastries, K’Far also offers Lebanese kubaneh toasts, topped with a variety of goodies like smoked trout, avocado or brown sugar ricotta; Jerusalem bagels with smoked salmon, air-cured beef; and salads and grain bowls like quinoa tabbouleh, tehina chicken salad and Tunisian salad.
Cogswell isn’t Jewish and didn’t have much experience making Mediterranean food before she started working at Zahav, she said. She was born in Asheville, North Carolina, and spent time developing her pastry experience in Chapel Hill and Seattle, eventually attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After graduation, she started working at the Michelin-star NoMad in New York City.
In 2015, Cogswell decided to move to Philadelphia, where her fiancé lived. She was looking for a restaurant that would be a good fit for her, and Yehuda Sichel, the chef of Abe Fisher, put her in touch with Solomonov, eventually leading to her position at Zahav.
“The energy at Zahav, the food that was so bold and unique and exciting, the team there — it was something really special and that was obvious from the beginning,” Cogswell said.
A little more than two years ago, Solomonov and Cook approached Cogswell with their idea for the new bakery, she said.
In February, Cogswell traveled to Israel for the first time. She went with Solomonov and Cook, “eating our way through so many cities and so much land,” she said. “It was such an incredible trip, and it really sunk in for me and really clicked for me, experiencing the culture and meeting people and not just eating food but seeing what is produced from the land.”
From that trip, she brought back an understanding of how Israeli cuisine fits into people’s lives. One observation she had was the emphasis on freshness.
“Vegetables are so much more a part of their daily diet than it is for Americans,” Cogswell said. “We eat vegetables, but Israelis, Turkish people, everyone in the Middle East is eating vegetables, like grilled vegetables for breakfast and all of these extensive arrays of salads, like vegetable salads, like the salatims you get with your meal at Zahav.
“It’s just incredible. You might taste one vegetable five different ways, and it’s all different. They respect and utilize the ingredient in so many different ways. I really loved that, and we tried to bring that forward in our menu here as much as possible.”
A few months after that trip, Zahav took home the title of Outstanding Restaurant at the 2019 James Beard Awards. The year before, Cogswell took home a big award of her own from the James Beard Foundation — the Rising Star Chef of the Year award.
“It was absolutely surreal,” Cogswell said. “I still kind of pinch myself about it. It was such an honor, so gratifying and humbling. It was really so self-affirming to have people tell you that they believe in you in some way and that there’s something that you’re doing that’s connecting with people and is seeming to make a difference in some way or another. Not that it’s changing people’s lives, just that it’s being noticed and connecting with people and bringing people joy.”