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 “รก 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!

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