Thursday, December 11, 2014

Australian Chef Itta Werdiger Roth of Mason & Mug Shares Her Experiences in the Kosher Food World

Chef Itta at Mason & Mug

Originally from Australia, Executive Chef Itta Werdiger Roth is now one year into co-owning and cheffing at the renowned Mason & Mug Restaurant in Brooklyn. Read on to hear more about Chef Roth's path to success in the kosher food and hospitality industry. 

Number of years working in the (kosher) food business:
Eleven years

What other jobs have you had in the food business?
My first job ever was at an ice cream store as a teenager where we made our own waffle cones in Melbourne, Australia.  Years later I was randomly a mashgiacha and prep cook at an Israeli food festival. My first job in New York City was as a personal chef. I also ran a boutique catering company for a few years. I was an original Pardes employee, first as a server and then as a line cook. Most recently, I ran a really cool music based supper club called The Hester. 

What is the best way to describe your education in the culinary arts in the culinary arts and how that got you to where you are? 
I'm self-taught. I'm street smart, work hard and use my instincts in the kitchen. I read cookbooks as though they are novels. 

In one sentence, describe what you do in your current position.
I'm the chef at a “small plates” beer and wine bar. Small plates, means that we create several dishes and present them to our customers on small plates in a rustic and unpretentious way. I create the menus, cook the food, train others to cook the food, talk to purveyors, meet deliveries and deal with a lot of very small local companies, too many!

What do you find most rewarding about the work you do?
Seeing our customers enjoy themselves because of the unique restaurant  environment that my partner, Alexander (Sasha) Chack and I have  created. Alexander comes from the 92nd Street “Y” food and beverage venue in Tribeca.

Chef Itta giving a demo.
What do you find the most challenging?
Trying to pass on the specific vision of each dish and overall line setup to my cooks.

What is the most important lesson you ever learned on the job?
The importance of SPEAKING CLEARLY and SLOWLY and being super organized. Also, having a really good, but simple prep-list always in motion on my gorgeous white board!

What is the most bizarre thing that ever happened to you on the job?
Crazy stuff happens all the time but nothing ever surprises me. One time I accidentally let some crack addict clean the windows! My skirt has fallen down and my hat has come on the line and a million things have flown out of my hands and splattered everywhere during a rush. 

What are you passions outside of cooking / baking?
Hanging with my family, live music, cycling, skiing and swimming in the ocean.

What do you want to be known for in the culinary world?
The girl who made a bar kosher or maybe something related to my pilgrimage to introduce different veggies to Americans and to get them to eat way more of 'em.

Describe the best meal you have ever had.
That's really hard. I've eaten a lot of really good food. But to be honest, I started cooking because I wanted to eat my own food my own way so it is a toss up between the yuuuum Spaghetti Bolognese I've been making with Grow and Behold ground beef and chicken liver with wine...or a kind of macro bowl with short grain brown rice, kimchi, a mixture of warm veggies like kabocha squash and kale with brewer's yeast, brags, hot sauce and toasted sesame seeds. Looks gorgeous, tastes great and is so good for you too.

What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming a chef?
This job is for you if you know how and want to work really hard, like 14 hour days on you feet and, if you know its not truly beneath you to do anything and everything that is involved in running a kitchen. If you love eating and enjoy serving people with a great passion, this job is for you.

How do you think kosher food will change over the next 5 years? 10 years?
It will keep following the rest of the hip food world I guess, with more natural, seasonal, wholesome and local ingredients. Hopefully, the kosher world and Americans will grow out of all the fat free foods. The growth rate of diabetes and obesity has grown so much -- what does that teach us exactly? Do I have to spell it out?

Chef Itta at Kosherfest 2014

Favorite Food to Eat? My "macro bowl" of brown rice, kimchi, warm veggies, brags, hot sauce and toasted sesame seeds.
Favortie Cookbook?
The Flexitarian Table written by Peter Berley.
Favorite Cooking Show/ Celeb Chef? I don't watch reality TV and competitions, but competing in Kosherfest 2014 was a lot of fun.
Favorite Kitchen Tool? Other than a sharp knife, hmm the food processor is very helpful and I use a Microplane  for many things.  

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