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!

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.