Chowing down on ‘Traif’

A new web series takes a silly, semi-biographical look at the life of a Jewish chef serving up lobster and pork in the heart of Los Angeles.

January 7, 2017 20:03
4 minute read.
JASON (CASEY GRAF), Philippe (Michael Wouters) and Jackie (Gianna Didonato) pose outside the restaur

JASON (CASEY GRAF), Philippe (Michael Wouters) and Jackie (Gianna Didonato) pose outside the restaurant Traif.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The whole show is a real family affair.

It’s not just that brothers Jared and Adam Levy are working side by side with their dad, Lew Levy, on a new TV series. But actually the entire show, Traif: An Unkosher Series, is based on the life of their cousin/ nephew, Jason Marcus.

Listening to the banter between the father and sons makes you think that their own lives could work just as well as the focus for a sitcom. But instead the threesome are pooling their talents to create the new web series Traif. The show loosely follows the story of the reallife Traif restaurant in Brooklyn, opened by Marcus in 2010 amid much clamor for its brazen focus on serving, well, everything as not kosher as could be.

The TV version of the show is set in Los Angeles, not New York, and also gives its protagonist a side job: being the host of a kooky late-night cable cooking show. Marcus, played by Casey Graf, is the somewhat goofy but lovable chef and owner of Traif, who tries to juggle the disparate parts – and people – in his life. There’s the surly French maitre’d, the ditzy hostess, the tough producer and the moronic best friend, an ensemble that gives the show its silly, zany character.

The series does anything but take itself seriously, but even so it winds up with some outlandish and farfetched scenarios, like the cooking show episode that featured special guests – a hassidic mohel and a Lorena Bobbitt-inspired spurned woman.

There’s also the surprising but amusing appearance of Marcus’s parents, Harvey and Myra – animated figures who pop up at bad times to have heart-to-heart talks.

“We’re probably the only web series that combines live action with animation, especially in our early episodes,” said Lew. The parents are easily the most overtly Jewish characters in the show, throwing out yiddishisms and a heavy dose of parental guilt.

Lew created and directed the show and wrote it along with Jared, while Adam directed the animation and all three worked as producers.

“It’s been a lot of fun” working with his family, said Jared. “We of course have the generational gap, so writing at times can be a little bit difficult just because what’s funny to my dad isn’t necessarily funny to me.”

They spar back and forth, but always find a middle ground, and wait eagerly to see how audiences react.

“Sometimes the younger generation loves his jokes and dislikes mine and vice versa,” said Jared.

“It’s kind of interesting how it works out.”

So far the family trio has produced three short episodes that are available online: “The Truffle Shuffle,” “The First Cut is the Deepest” and “Da Swine Intervention.”

The three have all worked in different areas of the film industry for years, but saw the time as ripe for a collaboration.

“Jared called one day and said, ‘you know, as a group we should work on a show,’” said Lew. “Being their dad and being so proud of them and what they’ve already accomplished I couldn’t think of a better gift than to sit down and work with them.”

So they dug up a script that Lew and Marcus (before he moved to New York and opened the real Traif) had written years ago about a chef, tweaked and fine-tuned it, and set off to start producing.

They independently funded the first three episodes, and are hoping to find investors or crowd funding to keep going. They have four more episodes written already, but are waiting for the feedback on the first three.

“Our crew is ready to go jump on board and work for no money,” said Lew, “but we don’t want to do that.”

And while one storyline involves hassidic Jews protesting outside the restaurant, the filmmakers say they haven’t had much pushback – yet.

“Controversy is always nice in a certain way,” said Jared. “You’re never going to make everyone happy, but we hope people will understand it’s all in good fun and it’s based on the real thing so it’s not like we’re telling a story that hasn’t been told before.”

While the real Traif restaurant generated a fair amount of criticism from the local Jewish community, the trio wouldn’t be upset if they got a little bit of the fame and notoriety as well.

“Maybe not everyone is going to like the show but maybe they’ll respect it,” said Adam. “We’re not trying to offend anyone – just like in the show we’re trying to do what we enjoy doing.

“We’re hoping that we’ll also be embraced by the community,” he continued, “whether it’s the Jewish community, the comedy community – or maybe we’re offending everyone.”

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