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

By Khushbu Shah
May 12, 2020
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Jason Varney

Ed note: Camille Cogswell no longer works at K’Far.

"I’m saddened to have been let go from my position in the CookNSolo company. I believe that it will take me awhile to process having to leave my incredible team of people that are so dear to me and the programs that I developed and dedicated myself to for the past four and a half years at both Zahav and K’Far. I still cherish the invaluable time that I spent working for Mike and Steve and this does not change the incredible relationships that I built, the countless things that I learned, and the immense hard work that I put in during that time. I’m grateful for the mentorship that I received and the opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have. I don’t know what CookNSolo’s plan is for the future of K’Far but I hope that it will be positive and serve the community with as much warmth and love as I tried to during my time as Executive Chef there. I wish them the best.

But it’s not my intention to have this news detract from the more important focus that everyone should have right now: fighting the injustice and oppression that Black Americans have faced in this country for centuries and continue to endure today. That needs to continue to be the biggest focus until we have significant and monumental progress in overturning the racist structures of our society and putting in place systems that support the BIPOC in every community." — Camille Cogswell

"Camille has been a big part of the CookNSolo family for almost 5 years. It has been an incredible run, and we’re proud of her and the work we did together at Zahav and at K’Far. We’re rooting for and know that she will continue to have much success." — Spokesperson for CookNSolo

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