Each month, The Well highlights an amazing (and eligible!) individual.
This month, we have a conversation with NJP Zach Berg!
TW: You recently moved back to Metro Detroit after living in San Francisco. What brought you home?
ZB: I'm at the age where I want to put down roots, whether it's a business, a home, or a family. It seemed like an appropriate time to come home. Also, the food scene in Metro Detroit is really exciting right now, so the move home made sense for my career as well.
TW: You've hosted a couple of awesome cheese "pop ups" at Gayle's Chocolates in Royal Oak -- and have another coming up (1/28/17 from 11am-8pm). Tell us about the model and the one coming up - why a pop up?
ZB: When I do a cheese pop up, I show up at Gayle's Chocolates with 8-10 types of cheeses. I sell all of the cheeses retail, and will cut any size piece that you want. I also do cheese trays for special events. This time around, I am going to feature a pairing of chocolate and cheese. I like the pop up format because it allows me to test the market and see if Metro Detroit is interested in a cheese shop. Come stop by for free samples!
TW: You've worked for Zingerman's in Ann Arbor and for Bi-Rite (staffed by several former Zingerman's employees) in San Francisco, in addition to a number of other fine dining establishments. What are the secret ingredients to a great food business culture?
ZB: To me, the great secrets in business are not really even secrets. I have learned that it's all about the people; the team you have around you is paramount. You cannot be effective without them, and it's crucial to always show your team appreciation and gratitude.
TW: Rumor has it you were a top finisher in a national cheesemongering competition -- tell us about it! And how did cheese become one of your specialties?
ZB: I got into cheese while working at Zingerman's, where I was blown away by the flavors of cheese, and the stories behind it. Cheese really represents an intersection of two important interests in my life: storytelling and food. In 2014, I placed second at the Cheesemonger Invitational in San Francisco. It was a lot of fun, and I suggest anyone who is a cheese lover attends this event. Now, I'm a CCP -- a Certified Cheese Professional. Yes, that is a real thing(!) and exists through the American Cheese Society (it's akin to being a cheese sommelier!).
TW: You're a product of Hillel Day School -- looking back, what about those years has stuck with you?
ZB: What really stuck with me from that time is a sense of community. Our class did everything together - attended school, went out on the weekends, and played basketball. Now that I've moved back, one of the best things I have done is reconnect with those friends from 20 years ago, Rabbi Dan included!
TW: What's your favorite book and what about it moves you?
ZB: I love to read, so I have a lot of favorites. A book that really spoke to me was Way of Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. It's a great book as well as a series. I really enjoy themes of managing one's energy, and the idea that we are capable of things well beyond what most of us believe we can do.
TW: Where would you most like to travel to that you haven't visited?
ZB: Italy. As a student of food and wine, I believe it would be a monumental trip. I have never been to any of the classic European culinary destinations but I think the Italian way of life, particularly southern Italy, is most appealing.
TW: What's your favorite Jewish ritual and why?
ZB: I've always been a Havdallah kind of guy. I really enjoy the connection to all of your senses. I also appreciate the idea of being mindful of the end of the Sabbath and beginning a new week.
TW: Who is the coolest Jew?
ZB: Rick Rubin, first because his beard is epic. Second, he was a punk rocker who revolutionized hip hop while remaining humble and not spending a lot of time talking about himself.
TW: If you could add an 11th commandment what would it be?
ZB: Thou shall treat people as thou wish to be treated.
TW: Finish the sentence: When I go to The Well…
ZB: I drink deeply