Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chef David Blum of Hartman's Fine Kosher Foods in Toronto Shares His Approach to Cooking Kosher Across the Canadian Border

Chef David Blum, Executive Chef at Hartmans Fine Kosher Foods in Canada, was a fierce competitor at this year’s Kosherfest competition. He fired up the contest with his bold flavors and colorful plating.

CKCA spoke to Chef Blum about what fuels him in the kitchen, his culinary passions, and the future of the kosher food industry.

Describe your culinary education?
I attended culinary school in Jerusalem at the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, which unfortunately closed. I then returned to Toronto and received my diploma from George Browns' Food and Beverage Management two-year program where I learned about business and operations which are essential to running the “front of house.”

What were your first jobs in the food business?
When I was sixteen I had a summer job at Joe Boo's Cookoo's in Toronto manning the fire pit which was surrounded by a revolving wall of roasting chickens!  My second job was at Umami's Sushi while I was studying at George Brown. I worked in the dairy kitchen taking advantage of every opportunity to work as an apprentice to the sushi chefs.

In one sentence describe what you do in your current position.
I manage and operate the kitchens for Hartmans, executing our large line of prepared foods, retail items, frozen foods, catering, and pop-up restaurant.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Seeing the smile on a customer’s face who is able to find everything she needs for a last minute dinner party. After 15 minutes of shopping she is all set and I know that my job has been well done. 

Second, I must share the moments that helped build my passion for working in the culinary industry. I love smelling the freshly opened truffles from Italy, getting the first taste of two-month dried charcuterie, grilling off beef “bacon” wrapped Kobe ribeye, arranging hamachi tartar for a photo shoot, stuffing a cornish hen with foie gras for roasting, loading up my smoker with beef ribs and hickory wood... I could go on and on!  Many of my friends with other careers are totally jealous of what I do for a living.

What do you find most challenging/frustrating?
I have a profound hearing loss and rely completely on my cochlear implant. Working in a noisy environment can be challenging. It has been said that deaf people have a heightened sense of taste and smell which certainly works to my advantage.

What is the most important lesson you've learned on the job?
Many chefs have big egos. To be a successful chef you need to handle your ego carefully. I trained in Japanese kitchens where there is the highest level of respect for the chef or trainee. I apply that attitude to my workplace and expect that from my cooks.

What is the most bizarre thing that ever happened to you on the job?
I was executing a wedding for 450 guests with a staff of 33 workers. My cochlear implant hearing aid broke early on during service and honestly, I could not hear a thing.  I had a full staff waiting for orders and hungry guests expecting food. I quickly pulled a wait staffer to be my personal interpreter for the evening – standing by my side at all times. The end result?  Everyone was pleased and there were no hiccups. Funny enough, after dessert the bride’s brother who was also deaf found me in the kitchen to offer a spare hearing aid!

What are you passions outside of cooking / baking?
I’m an avid car enthusiast - classic cars and sports cars. For my birthday, my wife bought me an hour of driving a Ferrari at the racetrack.

What do you want to be known for in the culinary world?
I wish there was a James Beard award for the kosher world. It would be a dream for me to win that award and to be recognized for my work in the kosher food industry.

Describe the best meal you ever had.
I went to my wife’s family moshav where friends invite you for a full day barbecue rather than just one meal. There were forty of us and we used a grill the size of a ping-pong table. We grilled up cow brain, duck liver, lamb chops, fillet mignon and other kosher cuts, which are unavailable to us in North America. Dessert was an empty plate and a knife with an invitation to cut right "off the vine" from the family farm. We helped ourselves to passion fruit, raspberries, persimmon, watermelon and other sun bathed fruits. Their approach to simple farmer style cooking was by far the most enjoyable meal I’ve ever had.

What advice do you have for someone who is interested in working as a chef?
You need to LOVE it in order to last. If you find gutting a fish tolerable and interesting then you are in the right career. Also, culinary students and chefs need to stay in good shape and exercise since the kitchen is a physically demanding environment. Understand the difference between "eating" and "tasting" so you can avoid overeating.  


Favorite food to eat?  My wife’s cholent
Favorite food to cook? Charcoal grilled fish
Favorite Cookbook? Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi 
Favorite Cooking Show / Celeb Chef? Chuck Hughes of Montreal
Favorite kitchen tool? My beloved zester

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