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July 17, 2008

New kosher cooking school steps up to the plate—and that’s not chopped liver!

http://www.jewishjournal.com/food/article/new_kosher_cooking_school_steps_up_to_the_plate_and_thats_not_chopped_liver

A student at the new Center for Kosher Culinary
Arts in New York City slices potatoes on the 
first day of classes. Photo by Sue Fishkoff

A student at the new Center for Kosher Culinary
Arts in New York City slices potatoes on the
first day of classes. Photo by Sue Fishkoff

On the first day of class at a new kosher cooking school in Brooklyn, 22-year-old Erica Zimmerman carefully slices raw potatoes into a stainless steel bowl.

Zimmerman, a student at New York University, says she's always been interested in cooking, but as an observant Jew only wanted a kosher school.

"The only kosher cooking school is in Israel, and I can't take off a year to go," she said. "Then I heard about this new school on Facebook, and I jumped at the opportunity."

Last week, the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts opened in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush. The $4,500, six-week intensive course, run in cooperation with the continuing education department of Kingsborough Community College, is the only professional kosher cooking school in North America.

According to director Jesse Blondel and founder Elka Pinson, it is the only one in the world besides the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, a 5-year-old school in Israel.

Pinson has been dreaming of establishing such a school for years. Last year she took over the top floor of her husband's housewares shop on Coney Island Avenue and advertised for a chef/teacher on craigslist.

Blondel, a 26-year-old Brooklyn native, responded. The kitchen manager at the Culinary Center of New York, he was seeking a new position. Organizing and directing a new cooking school seemed just the ticket.

"I realized there isn't any other kosher cooking school, I'm Jewish, and I grew up not far from here," he says.

Thirteen people showed up for the course, which teaches basic French culinary skills, from making sauces and soup stocks to cooking the perfect omelet, as well as applying kosher laws in a commercial kitchen.

If you keep kosher, Pinson says, you might shell out $40,000 or more to attend the Culinary Institute of America or one of the other prestigious cooking schools, and never be able to taste what you're learning to cook.

"Then you go home, buy the ingredients, and cook and taste it there, double the work," she says.

Pinson says that's the experience of many, if not most, of the chefs working in kosher restaurants in this country. The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts is the first step in changing that, she says, by providing professional training for the kosher cooking crowd.

The center's six-week course can only cover the basics, but it's a start.

"We're on the crest of this new interest," Pinson says. "Guaranteed in six months somebody else will do it, too. Good luck! It's a lot of work."

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