Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kosher Baking Guru Paula Shoyer Talks About Her Pastry Background and Her Passion for All Things Baking

Paula Shoyer, a household name in the kosher baking world, is a prolific cookbook author and pastry chef. This year she will be CKCA’s Master of Ceremonies at the 7th annual Kosherfest Chef Competition on November 12th. During her busy book tour for “The Holiday Kosher Baker,” we grabbed the opportunity to spend time with Paula to learn how she became and kosher baking guru.
What kind of professional training do you have?
In 1996, while I was living in Switzerland and studying at the well-known French cooking school Ritz Escoffier in Paris, I received a degree in French Pastry Arts. I wanted to learn how to cook and bake better, not as a career move but purely for fun so I pursued pastry arts since it was easier kashrut-wise.  

How long have you been working in the kosher food business?
Since 1996.

How did you start out and what was your first job in the kosher food world?
I started working while still in school doing catering jobs as well as desserts and special occasion cakes in Geneva.  I started a business called Paula’s Parisian Pastries, taught baking classes and edited two cookbooks for well known author, Susie Fishbein of the kosher cookbook series Kosher By Design.

In one sentence, describe your current role in the kosher food industry?
I am a cookbook author, freelance writer, cooking and baking teacher and a kosher baking consultant.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I make people happy and I feel that I am improving the quality of kosher desserts everywhere.

What do you find to be most challenging as a well-known pastry arts chef?
The constant testing and retesting of recipes until I am truly satisfied with the results.  My approach is -- if I have an idea, I’ll keep working on it faithfully until I achieve my goal.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Never take a “no” too personally and keep moving forward. Know in your heart that if you do what you love, something really good will come of it.

What is the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
Two years ago I competed on the Food Network’s “Sweet Genius”. I thought I was truly ready for the show, but surprisingly I felt awkward being on TV. It was surreal being on air and not just a viewer.
What are your passions outside of baking and cooking?
My family and I love traveling.

What do you want to be known for in the baking and culinary world?
I hope to be known for improving the quality of kosher-parve desserts served in people’s home, bakeries and by caterers.

Where did you have your best meal (outside of your own home of course)?
At Tierra Sur, the restaurant at the Herzog winery in California.

What advise do you have for someone interested in becoming a kosher chef?
Find an area where you can contribute something new or unique and be open to new opportunities. If you believe people are settling for lower standards in kosher, don’t be satisfied. Also, push hard for natural ingredients.
How do you think kosher food will change over the next 5 to 10 years?
I’m hoping that parve products will become healthier and more natural.  I’d love for bakeries to get back to artisan baking and to stop using commercial tasteless ingredients to assemble baked goods.  Let’s hope that bakeries will look like the parve bakeries of Paris, such as Contini and Le XXV.

~ Favorite food?  Fried Chicken.
~ Favorite food to cook?  Inventing new soups and baking French tarts.
~ Favorite cooking show or celebrity chef? I’m a huge fan of Martha Stewart (she’s done Teshuva), her recipes are accessible and I use her books as resources.
~ Favorite kitchen tool? The silicone spatula.
~ Your best tip for successful baking? Read through the entire recipe before you start and be sure to measure properly.

Be sure to check out Paula Shoyer's cookbook “The Holiday KOSHER BAKER”, and her upcoming release for 2015, “The New PASSOVER MENU”!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kosher Tween Eitan Bernath Competes on Food Network's "Chopped"!

In September of 2014, Teaneck, NJ's kosher tween Eitan Bernath competed in the Food Network show "Chopped," in a special episode for young cooks with culinary passion and talent. CKCA was lucky enough to catch up with Eitan for an interview between his Bar Mitzvah lessons and home cooking classes.

Photo Credit: Food Network
How did you become involved in “Chopped”?
A friend of my dad’s told me that they were casting for the show. I never thought that I would make the cut, but I had video and phone interviews that went really well and I was accepted! I was so surprised when they emailed me that I was going to be filmed for 13-14 hours for the show! 

Photo Credit: Food Network 
Have you ever taken any cooking classes that you feel helped you in competing on “Chopped”?
Everything has helped to prepare me, mostly my experimenting, reading and learning about cooking. After the filming of "Chopped", I took a summer class at the Bergen Academy. It was cool to be cooking in an industrial kitchen, baking 300 cookies instead of 30 and making  huge quantities of food, really different from cooking in my mom's kitchen at home.

I also went to Le Gourmet Factory in Englewood, NJ, which is more a boutique type cooking school for kids my age. My instructor Chef Dana Cohen actually came in third place on the show "Hell’s Kitchen"! I enjoyed my summer classes so much that I'm continuing to take private lessons at home. I can't wait to learn how to make new fun appetizers, sugar treats, my own snicker bars, pulled sugar, French pastry and my favorites -- Indian and Mexican food (especially fish tacos).

How long have you been interested in cooking?
When I was 9 years old I really got interested trying new foods and fell in love with cooking. I especially enjoy cooking new foods for my family. For Rosh Hashanah I made French macaroons with apple cinnamon jam. They were a big hit!

In one sentence describe what your dream job would be in the kosher food industry?  
I want to cook professionally and eventually author and publish my own cookbook.

What do you find most rewarding about cooking?
That I get to eat and enjoy what I make.

Which do you enjoy more cooking or baking and why?
I like cooking a bit more because there are no boundaries with the amount of ingredients you can use.

What do you find the most challenging/frustrating about cooking?
Having to start the dish over from scratch when you make a mistake.

What is the most important lesson you ever learned while cooking?
To always keep an eye on the flame and always stay focused (and yes, I prefer gas burners).
What is the most bizarre thing that ever happened to you in the kitchen?
I was making an omelet with fried onions and it burst into flames!

What do find the hardest to make?
A few things. Making homemade butter, ice cream, my own cheese and creating an original recipe for the demo I'm doing for the creation of steak burritos and sliders really pushed me.

What are you passions outside of cooking/baking?
I love blogging about food and my favorite blog is "Cooking With Amber".  I'm also working on getting a chicken so I can have fresh eggs on hand, I know it sounds crazy but food tastes different when you know where it comes from.

What do you want to be known for in the culinary/baking world? 
Homemade foods like butter ice cream and making Dulce de Leche from scratch.

Describe the best meal you ever had… 
I had the best super spicy burger, even the waiter warned me before I ate it! It was a habanero patty with grilled jalapeño with seed and a house spicy sauce. Have I mentioned that I make my own hot sauce?

What advice do you have for other young people who are interested in getting into the kosher food business? 
Apply your mind to something and you can learn how to do it no matter how hard it is.

~Favorite food to eat? Butter. I can’t live without it.
~Favorite Cookbook?  Food Network’s You Tube page.
~Favorite Cooking / Baking Show / Celeb Chef? Guy Fieri, the host of  "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," my favorite Food Network show. I also love “Chopped” of course. 
~Favorite kitchen tool(s)? A blender and my own hands.
~Best tip for successful cooking / baking? Don't do other things while you cook and don't text and cook!

Follow Eitan on Facebook, Instagram @chefeitanbernath and Twitter @chefeitan and check out his website

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

CKCA Graduate Dan Zelkowitz Pops the Cork on Hospitality Management!

We sat down with CKCA graduate Dan Zelkowitz, Assistant Vice President of Operations for F&B Hospitality Group, to talk about his career in hospitality management, his perspective on the kosher food business and his passions outside of cooking.

How did you go from having an interest in food to being an Assistant Director of Operations at a hospitality group? 
I began working in Israel in the food business right after high school. I did everything from butchering chickens to manning egg stations. From there I attended CKCA and became a personal chef, which I did throughout college. At the height of my personal chef business, I employed two staff chefs and a handful of servers - things mushroomed beautifully! My goal was to understand all aspects of the food business.

Currently, I am fortunate to be the Assistant Vice President of Operations for F&B Hospitality Group and oversee/direct 16 restaurants. I am working on opening several more in the near future.

Dan working with a client as a Personal Chef.
What is most rewarding about your work? 
I get to work with some of the most amazing individuals. The hospitality industry is made up of uniquely talented people and I enjoy getting to know them both personally and professionally. It is especially exciting to see a restaurant develop from a mere concept to a real functioning space.

What is the most frustrating? 
One of the most frustrating aspects of my work is that none of the venues I oversee are kosher! I am very intimately involved with the conception and development of a menu and then I'm not able to eat anything. It's frustrating.

What is the most important lesson you've learned on the job? 
Never underestimate the hard work of people behind the scenes! There are a million components that make a restaurant successful most of which the customer never even sees or thinks about.

What are your passions outside of cooking?
I look forward to taking road trips with my wife, reading literature and watching movies. Relaxation is key!

What would you like to be known for in the culinary world?  
For bridging the gap between kosher and non-kosher, and having a restaurant that appeals nearly equally to both segments of the population.

What's your best advise for someone considering going into the food business?  
1) Don’t believe TV! There is no such thing as a cushy chef's job, unless you have spent 20+ years proving yourself every day.
2) Being a chef has to be more than a job for you. It has to be a passion and a way of life.

How do you think kosher food will change in the next 10-15 years?
I expect that consumers will be willing to expand their horizons and become more adventurous eaters. Restaurants in turn will offer more creative menus, wine lists and atmospheres that depart from the traditional kosher eatery. I love the idea of "chef driven" restaurants and hope that becomes a popular trend in the kosher culinary world .

~ Favorite Food to Eat? A well cooked burger always hits the spot.
~ Favorite Food to Cook? Simple fish tartars.
~ Favorite Cookbook? "Jerusalem: A Cookbook".
~ Favorite Cooking Show or Celebrity Chef? Geoffrey Zakarian.
~  Favorite Kitchen Tool? My Japanese mandolin!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Swimming Around the Island of Manhattan AND Professional Cheffing? CKCA Chef Instructor Barbara Rich Can Do it All!

Chef Barbara Rich, an instructor in CKCA’s Summer Cooking Intensive Program, is a dynamic, seasoned teacher and mentor. She is committed to helping her students learn correct and creative techniques for using ingredients in harmonious ways.

We sat down with Chef Rich to hear how she developed into the professional chef she is today. We learned more about her passion for contributing to the culinary world through teaching and molding high quality chefs.

What is your earliest food memory? 
In St. Louis as a child I was always helping in the kitchen. As soon as I got into high school I started working in the kitchen of a gourmet “take-out” shop.  I guess that’s where it all started!

Do you have a formal culinary education?  
I trained at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. My goal was to gain a thorough understanding of proper cooking techniques, a non-negotiable requirement for being a successful chef.

What has been your path to success as a professional chef and highly respected instructor?
I’ve navigated the twists and turns of the food industry and was able to learn from every culinary position that I’ve had. When I worked at a high-end restaurant, the executive chef trained me to be quick, organized, efficient and consistent. At my jobs in cafés, restaurants and even as an executive chef, I butchered and filleted all the chickens and fish myself! Although my experience in a professional kitchen has been invaluable, I’ve enjoyed the transition to being a chef-instructor.

What do you enjoy about being a chef instructor?
I’m really loving the culinary teaching world and encourage others to consider it.  If you have good communications skills, experience in the kitchen and technical know-how, it is really rewarding to educate the chefs of tomorrow. You need to understand your craft and have the capability to communicate your food knowledge to students so they understand ingredients and cooking techniques. It takes a lot of mental energy, but it so rewarding to watch students develop into competent and talented professionals.

Right now I’m enjoying teaching at CKCA and The Natural Gourmet Institute, both professionally and recreationally. I was recently named Director of Career Services at the The Natural Gourmet Institute! I’m so happy that I get to do it all!

What do you see currently trending in the food world? 
I know it's not cooking, but juicing is going off the charts! I’m even teaching a class on it with a focus on using living foods and detoxification in juicing.…Who would have thought?

Do you have favorite cookbooks or culinary reads? 
"The Joy of Cooking" by Irma S. Rombauer. Also, believe it or not, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. It's a classic! You’ll also find me reading "Cooks Illustrated," a great read.

How about celebrity chefs?  Do you have any favorites?
Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, chef/co-owner of Wallsé in New York City and Chef Jody Williams, Author of “Buvette: The Pleasure of GoodFood,” a new cookbook that just came out.

What kitchen tools are your favorites?
Easy: My lemon juicer, my Microplane zester and a cast iron pan, which holds heat beautifully and is truly the best pan to use for browning.

Who is your mentor?
Bill Cardwell, who taught me how the chemistry of food works and how to respect food characteristics for the best outcome.

Also, I am really inspired by Judy Rogers of the Zuni Café, where I worked. She taught me the importance of being meticulous. I’m just in awe of her – she really taught me how to treat food and to respect its seasonality as well.

What ingredient / food do you find challenging to make?
Torrone, which is a delicious confection made of honey sugar and egg whites. We use it to make meringues, but I rarely get it quite the way I want. I always get advice from my colleague, CKCA Pastry Chef Ellen Sternau.

If you weren't cooking what would you do for a living?
My best answer is to talk about my passion for athletics and yes, you need to be in good shape to work as a serious chef. 

I’m going to be swimming around the island of Manhattan this fall at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim!  Honestly, it’s just like cooking. There is always a “finish line” in the kitchen. 

Also, both pursuits require you to keep up your endurance so you can produce a quality end product. The race is going to be 120 miles over 6 days!

What is your best advice for culinary students and new grads?
Be prepared for a full experience that requires your mental, physical and intellectual energy and attention. Be willing to put in the time to develop your skills in different areas and different kitchens. Commit to doing whatever it takes to be successful – it is truly worth it in the end!