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!

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