The Jew And The Carrot

Adventures in Culinary School, Part II

By Aliza Donath

  • Print
  • Share Share

Last month I blogged about embarking on a culinary adventure with excitement, anticipation and a bit of anxiety: I started kosher culinary school. I wanted to find out, can kosher food really be gourmet? One month into my training, I haven’t come up with a definitive answer, but I have gained a few insights on the topic, taken my first good look at the competitive food service industry and become a more adept chopper to boot!

When I started the “Kosher Culinary” crash course, I was hoping to find solutions to those common kosher problems, such as finding replacements for dairy in meat dishes while still using natural ingredients. I also wanted to expand my palate and food repertoire. While I can’t say every question has been answered or problem solved, I have definitely picked up some technique.

On my first day, it was clear that virtually every kitchen term I knew before (knife, frying pan, pot) is wrong, or at the very least not nearly specific enough. Ask for a knife in a professional kitchen, and the shouted questions immediately begin: What kind of knife? French? Pairing? Boning? Requesting a frying pan would yield the question: A sloped-sided sauteuse (for flipping crepes or vegetables) or a straight-sided sautoir?

When we started on knife skills, I could not have been more excited. Finally, I would learn how to chop onions, mince garlic, and butterfly chicken like a pro! This was what I had been looking forward to learning the most. Of course, chopping, slicing and dicing are not nearly as easy as they sound. Knife skills involve a lot more than just being able to chop an onion without taking off a finger. A chef must be able to chop his veggies evenly. If a dish calls for a julienne, all those strips had better measure 2” or they won’t cook evenly.

It’s only been four weeks, and so far we’ve learned how to make stocks, salads, soups, and sauces. We’ve learned how not to break a hollandaise and how to butcher poultry. I have learned a lot of technique, but I wouldn’t say that the course has expanded my palate, atleast not yet. A lot of the dishes we prepare are ones I’m familiar with, in taste if not in preparation (grilled barbecue chicken, French onion soup, salade nicoise). I’m looking forward to learning how to cook and recognize fish, which having come from a family of pesca-haters, I’ve never worked with before.

The topic of kosher gourmet has come up a few times. But, I was disappointed to learn that we’d be using margarine in recipes that call for butter, and conveniently leaving cheese out of meat dishes. I had been hoping to learn some combination of flavors to imitate dairy taste without resorting to hydrogenated oils. Perhaps that’s just a fantastic, impossible dream. Worst of all, there is only space and funding for one kitchen, which means that we will not be covering dairy at all. In this regard, my culinary education will remain incomplete, and I feel a twinge of sadness.

Not getting many answers to my questions, I asked Chef directly what he thought about kosher food in the gourmet kitchen. As someone who was educated in European culinary schools, worked in fancy, upscale treyf kitchens as well as kosher ones, he was sure to have some insight. He told me that the answer to whether kosher could ever be called gourmet wasn’t a simple yes or a no. It was a matter of opinion, and one that would require some deeper consideration on his part before he could give me his personal answer.

Well, that wasn’t the answer I had been looking for. So, I asked, what did he consider the key to good cooking. Should I avoid trying to substitute margarine for butter or rich whip for cream altogether and just forget pareve versions of desserts and sauces? His answer was that those things definitely should be avoided, except that they can’t be avoided. It’s not realistic. People want dessert after a meal and sauce on their chicken chasseur.

Until science or health food comes up with some better alternative, you work with what you’ve got. The real key to good cooking — kosher or otherwise — is to get good raw ingredients. The meat and fish should be fresh. The fruit should be just picked. The stock is always better when you boil bones than when you make it from a powder. A real pareve meal from scratch will always trump a dairy one from a box.

There. I had one secret of the kitchen, one insight into the world of kosher gourmet, if we can call it that. I still don’t have an answer to my question. But I have learned a great deal from chopping to how to collaborate in the kitchen with other people on one dish and how to cope with the inevitable clash of egos.

Hopefully, I’ll find more as we move forward in the kitchen. Until then, I’ll put on my white coat, apron, and hat. Beef and lamb are next on the syllabus!

Aliza Donath is a culinary/art student in New York City. She currently writes for and illustrates the Jewish lifestyle blog Arbitribe, where her further adventures in culinary school appear.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Kosher Gourmet, Culinary School, Knife Skills

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.