Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CKCA Scouts Teaneck Restaurants for Externship Opportunities

CKCA left our comfortable, warm school in Brooklyn today to brave the rain and visit Teaneck, a city in New Jersey fifteen minutes from Manhattan, that has become a gastronomic paradise for the kosher consumer. Teaneck has been home for many years to a wide variety of kosher restaurants, but recently it has become noteworthy for culinary excellence in niche cuisines such as New American Cuisine, Tex-Mex barbeque, and French Patisserie, as well as baked goods.

We visited Teaneck because we plan to soon begin sending graduating CKCA students to Teaneck for externships, the second phase of their culinary education. Once they complete CKCA's 150-hour professional course, students have the option to then embark on a professional track of restaurant work for a six-week, 250-hour program in a professional food service environment. With the help of the CKCA director and input from the participating chefs and owners, CKCA places students at institutions that are a good fit with the students' skill sets. All of the restaurants we visited are certified kosher under the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (RCBC).

For example, etc steakhouse, a chef-driven restaurant owned and operated by Institute for Culinary Education graduate Seth Warshaw, a former chef of Livingston, NJ-based Fumio, offers a high quality eclectic menu of New American Cuisine, including steaks as well exciting specialty dishes such as gnocchi, risotto and sweetbreads. When we came in today, he was making a sage and walnut pesto, and we had a wonderful discussion with him regarding his classic influences and his experiences, and the opportunities he could provide to a student interested in working with him to help create gourmet cuisine.

Mocha Bleu, a dairy and pareve French patisserie, is considering taking on a baking & pastry extern, who would have the privilege of working under the France-trained pastry chef Raphael and owner Naftali Abenaim. Raphael makes all sorts of beautiful and delectable pareve bavarians, tarts and macaroons, but perhaps his most celebrated specialty is brioche and croissants. It is difficult to know if there is a better kosher pareve brioche available in the country. We certainly think this is the best we have ever had outside of Paris.

We also spent some time with Joe Kessler-Godin (above) of Smokey Joe's Barbeque. Smokey Joe's is the only authentic, wood-fired, slow-cooked, pit smoked, glatt kosher bbq restaurant in the world. It also serves a pleasing array of Tex-Mex specialties, and he has recently begun a successful series of live music Saturday evenings that bring in the crowds. Our lunch at Smokey Joe's featured the smoked-for-12-hours signature brisket and what Joe promised us would be "the best chicken we have ever had." Now, we've eaten lots of chicken, so we were kind of reticent to believe what he said, but we kind of just have to agree with Joe. If you go there, be sure to get the "succulent, slow roasted half chicken with Smokey Joe's secret bbq rub." It is not to be missed. You will thank us (and Joe!)

We also had the pleasure of meeting with Clark Loffman, owner of Fish of the C's, a dairy fish restaurant which is inspired by California-native Clark's love of fresh fish, a simple yet consistantly delicious menu, and great chowders. In addition to serving English-pub-grub style fish and chips, salads and fish served grilled, blackened, fried or baked, Fish of the C's uses their own fish stock to make a New England style fish chowder and a Manhattan style fish chowder. We tried the Manhattan chowder, which was made with chunks of delicious salmon, and it was truly excellent. We can't wait to go back for the New England Fish Chowder, as we heard it's even better, and that's just hard to believe.

We also visted with Saul Kirschenbaum of the Pasta Factory. We enjoyed doing a drive-by of a place that we've visited to eat and celebrate smachot many times (Liz had her first sheva brachot at the Pasta Factory!), appreciating their reliably delicious continental fleishig cuisine. It was also interesting to note that the Pasta Factory is the only kosher restaurant in Teaneck with a liquor license, as New Jersey laws regarding serving liquor require that restaurants buy an existing license for a very high fee. All in all, Saul was very positive, and we are honored that the Pasta Factory is willing to work with us to help train an extern.

Our last stop of the day was to visit with Richie Heisler, owner and chief baker at the famed bakery Butterflake. We caught Butterflake as it was in the middle of baking 10,000 of the hamantaschen they will make in the week preceeding Purim. We had a wonderful tour, and Richie, coming from a long line of bakers, gave us the benefit of his extensive knowledge of the business side of baking. Not only was it incredibly fun to see piles and piles of pareve buttercream mixing in SmartCar-sized mixing bowls (above), we had a wonderful time checking out Butterflake's impressive industrial ovens (below).

An extern at Butterflake would have to work hard, but we are sure it would be a career-making experience to work under an industry leader such as Richie Heisler. We hope he will come to CKCA someday to give a lecture on the business side of bakeries. We would be learning from the best.

All in all, CKCA's visit to Teaneck resulted in lots of contacts made and universally good discussions regarding potential externships for our students. We are looking forward to talking with our students about their interests regarding these and other available externships after Pesach! Until then, we wish everyone a Freylichen Purim!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Benzion Futerfas Hangs Out His Culinary Shingle

Benzion Futerfas, a Crown Heights-based Fall '09 graduate of the CKCA Pro Program in Culinary Arts and a student of Chef David Ritter, has opened his own catering business, specializing in beautiful kosher platters for special occasions. "Creative Platters by Bentzi," delivers kosher platters for an array of events, such as bar or bat mitzvahs, brisim, sheva brachot, shalom zachors, lechaims, etc.

Creative Platters by Bentzi can be reached at 508-554-4569, or by email at bfuterfas@gmail.com. The business is located in Crown Heights, but delivery is possible (with enough notice) throughout the tri-state area.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Polina Kallush Lands First Chef Post at Max and David's

Polina Kallush (center, holding the Chef's knife), a recent December '09 graduate of the Culinary Arts professional program and a student of Chef David Ritter, has landed her first culinary job at the upscale kosher eatery Max and David's, located in Elkins Park, Penn. Max and David's serves American food and international cuisine: steaks, burgers and specialty dishes. Polina, who lives in nearby Philadelphia, had long hoped to work there. Max and David's, which has a Zagat rating and was named a Zagat "Noteworthy Newcomer" in 2008, is widely considered to be the most gourmet kosher restaurant in the metropolitan area, boasting a stunning open kitchen (the chefs cook on display, in front of the diners), and an eclectic, exciting menu.

"I knew that as part of the CKCA pro program, I was going to need to find a place to work as an apprentice, and because it was such a long drive to Brooklyn from Philly three times a week, I asked Jesse [CKCA director] to ask Max and David's if they would be interested in taking on an apprentice," Polina said. "Instead, several days later, Jesse called me into the office and reported that before he had had a chance to call them, Max and David's had called him. They were looking for a chef."

CKCA runs a Chef's Network program for kosher restaurants, institutions and catering companies, which seeks to match up CKCA graduates with companies needing talented chefs. CKCA also posts public job listings for kosher chefs on its website at http://www.kosherculinaryarts.com.

Polina interviewed for the job at Max and David's and she said there was an immediate feeling of comfort that she had the requisite skills for the job and that Max and David's would be a wonderful place for her to learn, grow and excel as a chef. She started in January as a Max and David's mashgacha and chef, working under executive chef Tommy and another prominent chef, Matt Segal, who was a competitor on the fourth season of the television show Hell's Kitchen. Working with talented chefs is an opportunity that Polina said is a very valuable part of her continuing education.

Polina spends a significant portion of her day checking vegetables and surveying ingredients as part of her mashgacha duties. Max and David's is certified under Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia, which is associated with the Star-K. Rabbi Dov Brisman, one of the rabbis from the certifying organization who works regularly with Max and David's, also has an interesting connection to CKCA. Thirty years ago, he was the chavrusa (study partner) of Rabbi Zushe Blech, CKCA kashrus instructor, who played a big part in Polina's mashgacha education at CKCA. "Rabbi Blech is a wonderful teacher," she said.

As for Polina's cooking, she is currently working the Gard Manger station, preparing salads and some desserts, and she has also begun cooking for the staff. The staff and owners liked her dishes so much that one of them is going on the menu. Polina joked that the chef who worked the grill informed her that he likes her food so much that he plans to move into the spare room at her house. But Polina's husband and three sons (ages 21, 17 and 9) may have a problem with that!

Also, as of last week Polina has begun to prepare the restaurant's regularly offered chicken soup appetizer.

Polina said her most difficult challenges so far have been "figuring out which plates go with which salads," and the like, but she now feels that she is in the zone and doing well. She felt that the CKCA pro program well prepared her to work in a professional kitchen, and that she got more out of the program than she expected.

"I have profound gratitude to CKCA, because it gave me what I needed as a start. Everything else will come with training at the restaurant, because each place needs to train people to their own needs and specifications."

Max and Davids, owned by Robin and Steven Katz, the Delaware Valley's only destination kosher restaurant, (http://www.maxanddavids.com/about.php) is located at 8120 Old York Road, 150 Yorktown Plaza, Elkins Park, PA 19027 Phone: 215.885.2400. Max and David's also does catering for special events.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

CKCA Grad Alex Yakubov Opens Pizza Palace Cafe

Alex Yakubov, a Spring '09 Culinary Arts graduate of CKCA, has opened Pizza Palace Cafe, a dairy and pareve restaurant in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, NY.

Alex came to CKCA as an experienced businessman with little to no cooking skills or advanced knowledge, but had dreams of opening a pizza parlor in his own Forest Hills neighborhood. Under the tutelage of Chef Avram Wiseman, Alex sailed through the professional course in Culinary Arts, which he said provided him with a solid understanding of how to run and manage a successful professional kosher kitchen.

The Pizza Palace Cafe, Alex reports, offers a wide range of dairy and pareve treats, from delicious omelettes, waffles and pancake breakfasts to salads, pizza, fish, pasta and sushi lunches and dinners, with a full line of desserts such as cheesecake and ice cream. All of the sauces are homemade and the restaurant uses only the freshest of ingredients.

The Pizza Palace Cafe has already gained the reputation as the best place in the neighborhood to get Penne a la Vodka, even though Alex said he personally prefers his restaurant's Penne Alfredo.

The Pizza Palace Cafe is located at 63-60 108th Street, in Forest Hills, Queens. Please call 718-997-PIZA (7492). Deliveries and catering are available. Alex invites all current students or CKCA grads to come in and visit, and as an inducement, offers a 10% off CKCA student/grad orders in the restaurant.