Chef of Philadelphia’s K’Far turning out incredible baked goods and plates inspired by the Middle East.

By Khushbu Shah
May 12, 2020
Jason Varney

K‘Far translates to “village” in Hebrew, and chef Camille Cogswell’s version is a culinary utopia. Her restaurant, K’Far, located on a busy corner of Rittenhouse neighborhood in Philadelphia, is a place where piping hot rings of Jerusalem bagels, shaped like lithe zeros that got stretched out at yoga class, are constantly being pulled from the ovens. (The restaurant makes around 1,300 pieces a week.) They are best slathered with butter and generous amounts of za’atar or piled with fluffy yellow scrambled eggs and brushstrokes of bright green schug, a fiery Yemenite hot sauce. It’s enough to make you forget cream cheese ever existed.

The ovens also turn out loaves of tender kubaneh, a labor-intensive bread that takes nearly 11 hours to make and involves “finger-painting” dough with butter. In Cogswell’s world, the loaves are sliced, toasted, and piled high with shockingly pink salt-roasted beets and labneh, or swooshes of brown-sugar ricotta. Though Cogswell runs the kitchen at K’Far, she’s quick to highlight the menu is a team effort. Having spent years working as a pastry chef, she says she often puts her ego aside to learn from her cooks.

In the evening, the lights dim, and the village transforms from a bustling all-day café to an equally bustling dinner spot. Tiny ruddy grains of housemade couscous arrive at the table suspended over a fragrant saffron and garlic broth. A piping hot Le Creuset pot is turned upside-down to reveal a perfect mound of t’bit, an Iraqi chicken-and-rice casserole. The rice—fatty, plump, deeply savory—is flavored with both dried and fresh amba, a fermented pickled mango condiment.

This is Cogswell’s first time helming both a savory and pastry kitchen. K’Far is the more feminine counterpoint to her mentor Mike Solomonov’s more masculine Zahav, where she still remains as the executive pastry chef. (Yes, she works two jobs.) The room is softer, painted in calming hues of pink. There is an all-female leadership team, and lots of plants. Because she is neither Israeli nor Jewish, she turns to her large collection of cookbooks for menu inspiration. K’Far might be a Hebrew term, but Cogswell emphasizes that the menu is not “religiously affiliated.” Instead, she is looking to celebrate the cuisines of the region, making her K’Far a place of acceptance and good food. It’s one village we’d happily call home.

Tara Donne