So Who’s A Deli Maven?

Hopefully you read that title with a Yiddish-type accent, which is how it sounded in our head when we wrote it. 😉

That question came to mind while we were perusing a copy of the recently releasedThe Deli Maven’s Cookbook. We wondered what actually qualified the author, or anyone who might define themselves in this way, to lay claim to the phrase “deli maven”.


The word “maven” comes from that peculiar mash of Hebrew with Yiddish that most English-speaking Jews listened to while growing up.  The word wasn’t popularized until the 1960’s, and even some modern dictionaries do not recognize its validity. Most definitions, though, as well as the authority that is Wikipedia, state that a maven is a “trusted expert.”

But that begs the question, doesn’t it? Because what makes someone a trusted expert about deli?

We looked into The Deli Maven’s Cookbook for answers. Surely if the author is claiming expert status, his expertise is listed somewhere. Sure enough, in his chapter titled “I’m A Deli Maven”, author  David W. Cowles lays out his expertise in one sentence: “Years of dining in delis on a regular basis.” The rest of the chapter disintegrates into a discussion of the history of cheesecake, and why LA has better deli than New York City.


We think it takes a lot more than eating deli regularly to call yourself a deli maven. In fact, we think that the phrase should be reserved only for those whose life was or is immersed in all things deli.

If you ask Sy Ginsberg if he’s a deli maven, his answer is “so I’ve been told.” He started working at Lou’s Deli in Detroit at the age of 15, opened his own deli at the ripe age of 23, and morphed into the wholesale distribution/meat processing side of deli at 35, where he remains to this day, more than 30 years later. That is more than 50 years of direct deli experience.

Sy is a deli maven because he is as close to a “trusted expert” as anyone is going to come. But what do YOU think makes someone a maven? Who do you trust for advice about any and all things deli? We’d love to hear your comments.