As of a few weeks ago, I have officially completed kosher culinary school. I’m not a chef, and certainly not professional, but I’d like to think that I’ve come away with a few tricks and techniques not to be found in the average home kitchen.
When I first started culinary school, I was excited and curious, and especially interested to answer a burning question: Can kosher food ever be considered gourmet? With all the ingredients missing from our repertoire (shellfish, bacon, etc.), certainly we could never measure up to the kitchen of some treyf chefs, I thought.
As the weeks progressed in culinary school and I learned how to concasse tomatoes, roast a rack of lamb, and whip up pate-a-choux swans, I found myself marveling at the sheer amount of knowledge a chef must have.
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?
Every time Bravo’s Top Chef begins a new season, I watch with eagerness, excitement, and like any kosher-keeping fan of the show, a twinge of jealousy. Not only because the winning dish always seems to include bacon or because all that oyster ceviche looks so tasty, but because I know that there will never be a kosher contestant on the show.
Let’s face this. The judges on the show are super objective: they don’t allow for leniencies because of little things like injuries and illness. How much would they allow for a kosher-keeper? Eventually, they would mention something about the chef being “held back” by their rules, or the challenge would be based around lamb in yogurt sauce or pork belly. And then, of course, the kosher chef would be asked to pack their knives and go.