Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Chef Carla Contreras, More Than Just a "Chopped" TV Competition Finalist

Is it truly possible for a professionally trained chef to be skilled, humorous, dynamic, likable AND highly respected by her students? The answer is yes! Chef Carla Contreras of The Red Clog Kitchen is one of CKCA's newest instructors teaching our sold out Summer Cooking Intensive program in Manhattan and our students are raving!

Starting Out...
Chef Contreras started her career in the food world busing tables for a caterer at the age of 17. When she dropped a tray of dishes at a wedding, Contreras' clumsiness took a fortuitous turn and she was reassigned to the kitchen to work the line. She does admit however, that her parents greatly contributed to her interest in cooking. They encouraged her as a child to write family grocery lists for her mom's delicious Italian recipes. As a young adult, Contreras went on to work at country clubs, cafes and as a prep and line cook. She then decided to supplement her kitchen experience with a more formal education.

Her Culinary Background...
Chef Contreras' resume is an amalgam of degrees, certifications, training, personal cheffing and teaching. She has a bachelor's degree from Johnson & Wales, a master's in food management from NYU and is certified as a holistic health counselor. This summer in addition to teaching at CKCA, Chef Contreras is also working as an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education teaching their green market cooking class. She enjoys taking her students to the farmers' market and teaching them how to select and cook farm fresh produce. If that is not enough to keep her busy, she also prides herself on providing one-on-one cooking classes in clients' homes. She calls one of her favorite sessions, "The Pantry Re-do."


Her Passions...
Many days you can find Chef Contreras at the Union Square Farmers Market buying produce and speaking with vendors. She enjoys taking her students to the farmers' market and teaching them how to select local and seasonal ingredients. According to Contreras, "Food and cooking can be spiritual if you use seasonal ingredients and align yourself with the flavors, colors and the many gifts that nature has to offer." One of Chef Contreras' favorite meals to prepare and indulge in is her version of matzo ball soup, homemade Pomodoro Sauce (which she calls her penicillin) over zucchini shavings, instead of pasta, with beef or turkey meatballs.

Celebrity Chefdom...

Chef Contreras' outgoing personality and life experiences have made her the perfect candidate for reality TV show competitions. She became a finalist on the ever-popular show “Chopped” on the Food Network. Contreras also competed on "CYAO," an HLN cooking show, which challenges chefs to transform unhealthy dishes into nutritious meals. She thoroughly enjoyed both of these experiences, feeling that live TV made her more confident and a better communicator as an instructor.

In Her Spare Time...
Chef Contreras is involved with Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (CCAP), a program for underserved public high school students dedicated to igniting a passion for culinary arts in teens.  She continues to mentor participants with many of them receiving scholarships to professional culinary arts programs as a result.

Chef Contreras at CKCA...
At CKCA, we are thoroughly enjoying Chef Contreras' refreshing, healthful approach to cooking and her incredible recipes.  We look forward to seeing her infamous red clogs in our teaching kitchens again in future classes.

FLASH QUESTIONS for Chef Contreras!

One challenging food to prepare: 
Poached eggs in a Ramekin (she’s mastered it now).

Favorite cookbook: 
"Plenty" by Yotam Olenghi.

Her Mentor: 
Eric Pellezzari formerly of The Art Institute in NYC, for his total dedication to technique.

Her favorite recipes: 
Marriage Proposal Chicken (always a great story) and Roasted Cauliflower Soup.

Most useful kitchen tool(s): 
A chef's knife, parchment paper and a Mircroplane zester

Favorite TV cooking show: 
Mind of a Chef (PBS)

Best advise for culinary arts students: 
Read, read, read!  Read every day about culinary arts... a magazine, the New York Times, or articles on leadership in the kitchen. It makes you better at what you do.
Be sure to take classes after your training is complete and work in a variety of kitchens.  All of these experiences will build your confidence and skills.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chef Spotlight: Ellen Sternau, CKCA Instructor, Creates Pastry Magic!

Chef Ellen Sternau has a “no fear” approach to pastry. Using her natural artistic ability and passion for the pastry arts, she is able to craft daring desserts that are both eye-catching and delicious. Over the past four years, CKCA has had the privilege of having Chef Sternau share her knowledge and excitement for the pastry arts with our students. Chef Sternau will be with us this summer teaching classes in both Brooklyn and Manhattan including our cake and cookie decorating classes, our hugely popular French Macaron class, a two week Baking Boot Camp and our Teen Baking Camp.

Chef Sternau’s passion for baking began at a young age - she always loved getting “kitchen-dirty".  She began hosting cooking parties for her buddies at age eight, and by age ten, she made her first attempt at a lemon meringue pie. It didn’t take her long to realize that her future would be filled with icing and cookie cutters, not a “9 to 5” job in a cubicle.
Chef Sternau is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, where she studied both culinary and pastry arts. She chose to pursue pastry arts, which allowed her to work creatively. On her way up the pastry ladder, Ellen spent time as a line cook, worked in a custom bakeshop and waited tables at a pastry shop. Her hard work paid off when she was hired to be the assistant pastry chef at Acqua, a four star California restaurant. While there she was fully immersed in the art of chocolate, cake & pastry decoration and learned to make flawless, flavorful batters and sauces. She ultimately became their Master Pastry Chef, creating menus and desserts while also managing the staff.

Chef Sternau adopted her whimsical approach to baking from Franny Jacobs, an inspirational force and mentor. Jacobs believed that being fast, fun and creative in the kitchen is the key to excelling in pastry arts. Chef Sternau took this motto to heart when she created the world renowned chocolate “Brooklyn Bridge Dessert” while working as pastry chef at the River Cafe, a Michelin starred restaurant and fine dining institution famous for it’s sweeping views of the bridge and the city across from it. The dessert was such a hit that Ellen was paid to continue piping each chocolate bridge by hand even after she left her position as pastry chef!

These days, when she isn’t constructing chocolate bridges, catering weddings, decorating cakes or teaching classes she manages her full-time job as a wife and mother. If her plate wasn’t full enough, Ellen also has a second career as a personal trainer. Some of her first clients were actually the owners of a bakery where she worked as a consultant! When they saw that she could create beautiful, delicious pastries while still managing to stay fit, they had to know the secret. Chef Sternau was happy to share.

Favorite Kitchen Tools: 
Offset Spatula. Handy for everything, small and large, a Microplane Fine Zester and any good rubber spatula.

Favorite Cookbook:
"How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman, a New York Times food columnist and natural food movement enthusiast.  

Favorite Celebrity Chef:  
Jamie Oliver. He is fun, down-to-earth and makes delicious food. Also, Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten.

Advice for CKCA Grads Starting Out:   
If you’re not having fun working on a project, stop and start over. Its just food! Enjoy what you’re doing and don’t forget that messing up is part of learning. 

Food Advice For All:
Use really high-quality, non-processed ingredients. Learn to read labels, your desserts will taste better.

Be sure to check out the below classes taught by Chef Sternau!  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Alumni Spotlight! Rebecca Zauss, Sous Chef & Manager, Abigael's on Broadway

Rebecca Zauss, graduate of the Summer 2013 professional culinary arts program at The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts (CKCA), is an inspiration for any budding cook!  Starting as a child, baking in her mom's kitchen with her grandmother, Rebecca is now a sous chef in training at the renowned Abigael's Flagship Restaurant in midtown Manhattan and the Manager of the Abigael's concession stand at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY.

What does it take to be a professional chef right out of culinary school?  
Growing up in California with a love for cooking, Rebecca “hosted” her own cooking show in her family's kitchen at the age of eight.  She was quite a trend setter, not knowing that cooking shows would soon become a popular niche on reality TV.  Several years later, on career day in high school Rebecca dressed up as a chef (hat, whisk and all) cultivating serious attention to her culinary aspirations.

Rebecca earned an associates degree in Hotel/Restaurant management in California, but knew that she required a culinary education in order to learn the skills necessary for professional food service. Committed to tasting the food she would cook, knowing it was critical to learning and honing her craft, she realized that a kosher venue, The Center For Kosher Culinary Arts, was the only place for her to go.  CKCA is the only kosher cooking School in the United States.

Rebecca and her family were particularly impressed with CKCA's commitment to assisting students with job placement, guidance and externships.  While in the professional program, Rebecca spoke with friends attending other culinary schools who were not receiving job placement assistance, and many were ultimately forced to pursue employment in other industries.

Reflecting back on her time at CKCA, Rebecca fondly recalls the intensity of working in the busy kitchen classroom. Her instructor, Chef Avram Wiseman, simulated a real kitchen environment by keeping the pace steady, requiring students to cook and plate professional quality dishes under pressure. 

Recognizing her talent, maturity and ambition, CKCA placed Rebecca in an externship at Abigael's on Broadway. She was offered a full time position almost immediately. Rebecca felt prepared to start working after graduation, but had never imagined that she’d be cooking at the “largest kosher restaurant in the world”!  Working at Abigael's, Rebecca is under the tutelage of Jeff Nathan, a celebrity chef and well known cookbook author. Chef Nathan has become her role model and mentor and has shown Rebecca how important a “hands-on” approach is to ensuring the highest standard of cooking and service. 

Rebecca’s responsibilities at Abigael's as a sous chef in training and a manager at the Barclay’s concession are helping her to develop both culinary and management skills. These skills, along with her unbridled work ethic, passion to cook and create and desire to make people happy are sure to serve Rebecca in the bright future that lay ahead for her. We wish her the best of luck and have no doubt that Rebecca will eventually fulfill her dream of owning a catering and party planning company.

Flash Questions:
  • Favorite dish to prepare/eat: Salmon Pasta Florentine
  • Favorite cooking show: Jacques Pepin (PBS), Iron Chef and anything with Bobby Flay
  • Most useful kitchen tool: A superior chef’s knife (her “3rd hand”) and good zester
  • Hardest food to work with: Tofu and fish. They are challenging to flavor, maintain texture and not  overcooking them is a challenge, especially when catering.
  • Best advice to CKCA grads and students: Pay attention to everything. At CKCA you can get a lot of one-on-one advice, take advantage of the opportunity and don’t think you know anything. Be humble!
    Abigael's Concession Stand at Barclay's Center

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

“Product To Passion" Seminar! Successful Food Entepreneurs Inspire Fledgeling Kosher Food Business Owners!

Jesse Blonder, CKCA and Irwin Dayan, Exceed Network
The CKCA  /  Exceed Network co-sponsored spring gathering of over 50 participants was buzzing with discussion and questions focused on strategies to bring kosher home-made foods, marketed and sold to the next level of manufacturing, distribution and profitAttendees, who bake and cook,  brought an array of samples of delicious products, all home made, yet mass produced on a small scale and already selling to the public.  Business ventures ready to expand included cream pies, bottled low-fat, low sugar and unusual salad dressings, chocolate dipped fruit pops, cinnamon buns and more.  
The panel’s winning combination of Eleanor Maleh, CKCA graduate of  Mazza &More Catering, Elizabeth Alpert of Gefilteria, Channalee Fischler Schlisser of The Challah Fairy and Jen King of Liddabits Sweets dynamically shared their journeys to success as well as their most practical advise on how to establish, brand and expand a profitable kosher food business, along with the challenges of balancing work and family life.

With an opportunity to network and hungry for the next seminar we found participants' most pressing questions to be directed at, finding facilities for manufacturing, how to move from home business to mass production,  taking the “leap” to expand and how to determine product shelf life.

We look forward to sponsoring future events of this kind and invite you to email us your interests in culinary and pastry arts. To attend future events email us at

Monday, February 24, 2014

Spotlight on: Executive Chef Laura Frankel

CKCA is pleased to announce that Laura Frankel of Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering will be the featured chef in the first installment of our new exclusive fine dining series, The Chef’s Table.  

As the founding chef of the acclaimed Shallots Bistro in New York, Chef Frankel was a pioneer in the world of kosher fine-dining. Since then she has moved back to her native Chicago, has written two well-known cookbooks -- Jewish Cooking for All Seasons  and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes -- and has become the executive chef of perhaps one of the best kosher catering operations in the country: Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies. She is also quite active as an educator, sharing her craft and experiences with live audiences across the country and on her website, Laura's Kosher Kitchen.
Chef Frankel with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck
Chef Frankel has been interested in cooking for as long as she can remember. She suggests, half jokingly, that she emerged from her mother’s womb with a full understanding of how ingredients work together. By age 5, young Laura was actively cooking, baking, and playing musical instruments. It was Bashert then that she would grow up to be a professional chef, a career requiring creativity and a passion for working with one’s hands.

Chef Frankel received her professional training from Le Cordon Bleu and The French Pastry School, and credits this education with giving her the skills to plan the elaborate menus that she executes as an executive chef at a large catering operation. Culinary school also taught her the chemistry behind baking. These days, it is chemistry that drives Laura’s philosophy on parve desserts, known to be one of the kosher food world’s greatest challenges. She explains that both sweet and savory parve dishes can be made with natural ingredients like olive oil and nut butters instead of the typical non-dairy substitutes that are commonly used. “I want to do it in a real way, not to create “faux food (using parve whips and margarine) so I prefer to use more natural and seasonal ingredients”.
Chef Laura Frankel 
At Spertus in Chicago, Chef Frankel is fortunate to have as a mentor and employer one of the original “celebrity chefs”. Although Wolfgang Puck may not be well known to the kosher community, he is widely celebrated as one of the innovators that started the American foodie revolution. Aside from owning numerous restaurants around the country, he also has his own cookware line and is one of the go-to chefs for catering the nation’s biggest events, including the Academy Awards. His interest in kosher? "A bit of a mystery", Laura says, but she confirmed that he holds an annual Passover Seder and has an ongoing commitment to keeping kosher kitchens around the country used exclusively to cater kosher events.

Chef Frankel holds the unique distinction of being the only female executive chef of a kosher catering kitchen in the US. Her days are long and intense. The food for her catered affairs are prepared “á la minute” (at the minute - served fresh), not reheated, as many caterers do with large volume cooking. All dishes are timed to the second. 

Laura is committed to modernizing kosher food, and works hard to eliminate the stereotypes that plague the kosher food world to this day. She uses only the highest quality ingredients, often sourcing her products from small purveyors who specialize in one item. Among her most favorite foods and ingredients are duck--”amazing flavor and crispy skin”-- and bittersweet chocolate; with Callibeut as her preferred brand. She pairs its dark, seductive flavors with luscious olive oil in her signature chocolate mousse. 

Chef Frankel is excited about teaching and partnering with CKCA  -- “why not have a wonderful food experience with intimacy and nice people who will truly appreciate a fun evening”! -- and we are delighted to have her!
Flash Questions for Chef Frankel
1) Favorite Dish: Confit artichokes.
2) Favorite Kitchen Tool: Fish Spatula by Peltex for easy manipulation of delicate food “without brutalizing it”.
2) Her Mentors: Jacquy Pfeiffer, “he is the chef’s chef” and owns the French Pastry School, and Wolfgang Puck: “He has incredible integrity, when he visits he speaks with and shakes hands with the kitchen staff, and has been an incredible mentor to me”.
3) Favorite Celebrity Chef: Lidia Bastianich on PBS, “she has integrity, lets flavors speak for themselves and she cooks for her mother!”
4) Favorite cookbook: Alice Medrich, author of Cocolat. “She understands chocolate better than anyone.”  
6) Best advice for CKCA students and graduates: “Remember that cooking takes love, don’t rush it and never skimp, every ingredient should taste good alone and follow this path in the rest of your life. It will breed integrity and keep you at your best.”

About The Chef’s Table
Witness the creativity and skill of today's best kosher chefs. The Chef’s Table at CKCA offers foodies, connoisseurs, and gourmands alike the opportunity to experience up close and personal a master chef practicing his or her craft. While preparing an exclusive tasting menu, the guest chef for the evening will demonstrate and describe the advanced techniques and culinary secrets that have propelled him or her to the top. A wine pairing for each course is also included. Join CKCA and today’s top kosher chefs at The Chef’s Table for the most exciting dining experience in kosher today!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Shlomo Schwartz, Your Own Soulful Personal Chef

Shlomo Schwartz is the kind of cook whose journey and experiences as a person influence each and every dish he creates as a chef. “Your Soul Kitchen” the name of the personal chef service that he started after graduating from our Career Training Program in Culinary Arts captures the intimate approach that Shlomo takes to the business of personal cheffing. CKCA has been inspired by Shlomo’s so much so that we have invited him to join our team! He has been working for CKCA as a kitchen manager and as an instructor for our popular Date Night Couples Competition Class since last summer. Starting in the spring, he will also be teaching classes on Contemporary Israeli Cuisine.

A native of Be’er Sheva Israel, Shlomo was raised in a home where the whole family cooked together. The kitchen was his comfort zone and by his teen years he was already cooking and baking for large family gatherings. For the year after serving in the Israeli army, Shlomo volunteered in the Jewish Community of Stockholm, Sweden and found himself back in the kitchen hosting Shabbat meals
for locals and tourists. He has continued to host and cook large meals for Shabbat guests and friends, first on his journey back to Israel and now in New York City.

Sabich Tartin- Iraqi- Jewish- Israeli Sandwich with Fried Eggplant, 
Eggs, Green Tahini, &  Parsley over Malawach.
After living and working here in NYC for a while and enjoying cooking solely as a hobby, Shlomo decided it was time to dedicate himself fully to his craft. He enrolled in our part-time evening program in the fall of 2011, pushing his passion for cooking up to the front burner. The part time, evening hours allowed him to pursue his education while continuing to work and support himself. This made the transition practical and his dream a reality.

Upon graduating, Shlomo was accepted for a prestigious externship at The Prime Grill, New York’s renowned kosher steakhouse. Working alongside its executive chef, Shlomo learned everything from basic kitchen prep work to the detail and creativity involved with plating dishes in an upscale restaurant. Recognizing his dedication, ambition and skill, Prime Grill entrusted Shlomo to test the recipes that were included in their best selling cookbook, “The Prime Grill CookBook: Redefining the Kosher Experience”. Shlomo is ecstatic to have had such a unique opportunity and acknowledges the importance it played in his professional development. He is especially proud to have been included in the cookbook’s acknowledgements.  

Shlomo has gone on to work in a number of settings within the food business, each experience adding to his culinary repertoire in a unique way. These days, Shlomo has his hands full serving the many diverse clients he has taken on through his personal chef business. Personal cheffing is the ideal setting for Shlomo. He strives to understand each of his clients' needs, to know who they are, what their food experiences have been and then to create a personalized experience through which he shares the passion and joy he himself has for cooking. As Shlomo says “If you can touch people with food, why not bring them that joy?”
Strawberry Blossom Tart - Almond Crust, Roes Water Pastry Cream, 
Fresh Strawberries 
Shlomo is a budding Chef with insight well beyond his years. CKCA is proud of his accomplishments and thrilled to have him as part of our team!

Favorite American cooking show: Chopped,  “Its about a chef creating, not about their failures”
More on cooking shows: Enjoys Israeli Master Chef since it is about family, tradition and heritage and truly about the people.
Favorite food to cook with: Techina (Tehini), with his next challenge to create a drink using Techina as an ingredient!
Hardest food to work with: Fish - ”it needs ongoing attention, is delicate and every moment until it is eaten is critical.”
Shomo's clients’ favorite dishes: Cherry Tomato Confite, his secret - transforming tomatoes by roasting them, and Green Techina, adding spices and herbs--giving Techina new life.
Favorite spice: Zaatar, a Mediterranean spice blend.
Most useful tool in his kitchen: His hands first, then, the almighty food processor since one can do almost anything with it and get different results...vinaigrette, chopped herbs and even flaky dough.
Shlomo’s advice for new CKCA grads:  
- It is a journey and a skill-set to keep developing, so be patient.
- Stay in touch with the school and instructors, they will continue to support you.
- Be yourself, be truthful to yourself and you’ll find your place in the culinary world.

Our next part-time Culinary Program will start on March 2, 2014. Get information here!