June 19, 2012
The Cure [RECIPE]
Republican or Democrat, Atheist or Believer, Jew or Foodie. Most agree that the first two comparisons are well known as groups with opposing ideas, but few think of the third comparison as opposing groups. How can a Jew be a foodie or even think of being a chef in America? Chefdom in America is associated with a few ubiquitous characteristics; clever cooking related tattoos, closet full of pork inspired graphic t’s that proclaim “will work for lardo,” and a publicly displayed sense of pride in pursuing a promiscuous and risky lifestyle. Ultimately, the modern image of a chef is not someone bubby would want at her Shabbat table. Herein resided my struggle, where do I, a nice Jewish boy from Orange County, fit into the world of young American chefs. I don’t have tattoos, I don’t have shirts with pigs on them, and my life as a newly married man is far from risqué. The fact is I don’t fit in, and I am proud of it.
My name is Michael Israel and I was born to be a cook. Ever since I could say blintz, I have been in the kitchen, cooking. Growing up, I tried to do the right thing. I got good grades, did my best to go to a good college, considered the usual paths a good Jew should follow (doctor, lawyer, accountant). After graduating from college, I realized that my love of food and cooking went well beyond being a hobbyist. My path was clearly marked, and I knew I wanted to be a chef. I enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America to study cuisine and realize my dream of being a professional cook.
I have been lucky to live in many great American cities, and also spent a year living in Europe. In my brief time on this planet I have had the chance to work for some of the best chefs and restaurateurs alive today. My path to owning my own kosher food truck has been exciting, challenging and arduous. I love food, I love great ingredients, and I love impeccable technique. I am a cook, but more importantly I am a Jew. So how then, can these two things exist and flourish together? The cure to this disease is Kosher Bacon.
Being Jewish is not easy. Our major holidays revolve around fasting or remembering how awful our existence once was. Many of the rules and regulations of Judaism can seem limiting and stifling, especially the laws of kashrut. As a chef, I have always wrestled with kashrut and the business of kosher food. There are many things about the kosher world I question, but ultimately, I am in awe of the fact that life is so good for modern Jews that we can carry out such debates. I am not interested in complaining about the fact that I can’t utilize traif in my cooking. My pursuit is to use my culinary knowledge and skills to make delicious food that celebrates Jewish life.
Typically, when other chefs find out that I am kosher they ask, “You don’t eat pork but do you eat bacon?” From New England Clam Chowder to Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast, it is hard to be an American and not eat bacon. The key components to its deliciousenss are the cure, smooth fat, and proper smoking. Pork fat and young animal fat, like veal and lamb, are smooth. When an animal ages the fat becomes course, as though there is sand in the fat. The next time you are throwing a mixed grill, squish the fat of a piece of lamb, beef and veal and take note of the differences in texture and spreadability.
Ultimately the goal of this blog is to teach and inspire the reader to celebrate Judaism and Jewish life through cooking. The recipes are geared to teach the reader to become a more confident and able cook. If there is something in the recipe that you cannot replicate, use common logic and try to adjust the recipe so that it works in your kitchen. Never fear failure in the kitchen, just know that any challenges or shortcomings will only make you better prepared for the next recipe.