Out Of The Kosher Frying Pan, Into The Fire

Three aspiring chefs take on razor-sharp mandolines,
buttercream-filled pastry bags and more, in a six-hour competition.

12/14/10
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What does the abbreviation “DE” mean next to a kosher symbol? If you know that the answer is “dairy equipment” — something that can be eaten after meat consumption but not with meat — then you might have what it takes to be the next great kosher chef.

Of course, you would still have to prove your worth at gutting and scaling a fish, speed-flipping eggs and identifying spices and herbs with only your sense of smell to guide you. The three finalists at “The Next Great Kosher Chef” competition, organized by the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts, battled through six hours of tests and challenges at a professional kitchen space in Long Island City, Queens, on Sunday, before one was crowned the winner.

Following the written test, the competitors — who were narrowed from a field of over 50 video applicants — faced a grueling, 15-minute, four-station challenge, to test their “endurance, speed, leadership and ability to multitask,” said Jesse Blonder, director of the three-year-old culinary school in Brooklyn.

The contestants raced through the course, separating 10 eggs — and checking for blood spots as per kosher specifications — then beating them to a stiff peak by hand, peeling and slicing a handful of carrots with a mandoline, filling a pastry bag with raspberry buttercream and piping out the same message six times, then finally gutting and de-scaling a black sea bass, under the watchful eye of chef Avram Wiseman and pastry chef Philippe Kaemmerle, both instructors at CKCA.

One of the competitors, Josh Pashman, 32, showed his cool under pressure; after slicing two of his fingers on the ultra-sharp mandoline, he opted to continue with the tournament, despite the blood loss, and the limited use of his hand.

“I’ve used a mandoline before,” said Pashman, “but that was sharper than anything you can buy in a store.” Pashman, a strategic analyst at Memorial Sloan Kettering, who moved to Los Angeles from New York two weeks before the competition, said he never thought once about quitting. “I just wanted to keep going.”

Safety is always a concern, said Blonder, but “a professional kitchen is a dangerous place.”

The next stage of skill testing allowed the contestants to breathe — deeply, that is — as each participant was blindfolded, and asked to identify 20 different ingredients by smell alone including lime, celery, parsley and balsamic vinegar.

That was the best part of the competition for contestant Jasmine Einalhori, 22. “I love using my senses,” said Einalhori, a Los Angeles native, who is set to graduate from NYU this week with a degree in hotel management. She hopes to work with food professionally, “though not necessarily as a cook,” but maybe as a restaurateur — bringing kosher dining to a whole new level. “Kosher restaurants are really lacking ambience.”

The kosher chef hopefuls next tried their hands at being short-order cooks, preparing orders of eggs over easy — complete with a garnish of orange, parsley, salt and pepper — as many as they could in 10 minutes. Einalhori emerged triumphant in that round, with six perfect plates, while Batsheva Goldstein, 32, plated five orders, and the bandaged Pashman had two.

“I’ve never made over-easy eggs in my life,” laughed Goldstein, a 32-year-old nurse and mother from Brooklyn. She loves to cook for her family and friends, and has taken some recreational courses at CKCA, which is near her home.

The competition really heated up in the last round, when each challenger had one hour — and one sous chef — to prepare and present a plated dinner, using ingredients in a mystery basket: a quartered chicken and three varieties of squash — zucchini, yellow and acorn. The contestants had to create three plates — to present to each of the kosher experts who were on hand as judges: Seth Warshaw, owner and chef of Etc. Steakhouse in Teaneck, N.J.; Jamie Geller, cookbook author and chief marketing officer of kosher.com; and Elan Kornblum, publisher of Great Kosher Restaurants magazine.

Pashman came back in this round, and scored the most points from the judges, with his take on a Moroccan tagine, with chicken heavily spiced in turmeric, cumin and cinnamon, and a side of sautéed squash with raisins and walnuts. “It was a lot harder than I anticipated,” he said.

But when the final scores were tallied, with points from each part of the grueling day included, Einalhori emerged triumphant, and excited to claim her winning prize: a full scholarship to CKCA’s professional culinary arts program, which she is set to begin next year. She’s already full of big ideas — there may be a new kosher tapas restaurant opening soon.

 

Last Update:

12/15/2010 - 11:10

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Kudos to the winner and especially the creator of the event. It was exciting, intense and meaningful.

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