Haute Kosher

Chef Paul Prudhomme stepped up to the kosher challenge,creating an elegant couscous dish.

Combine ancient laws of kashrut with the finest chefs from Europeand the United States. Mix well. Stir in a couple of Israelimashgiachs and a liberal splash of French artistic temperament.Season to taste with Hebrew, English and Italian. What you end upwith is “Haute Cuisine Goes Kosher in Jerusalem,” a light,entertaining documentary that airs locally on KCET on Dec. 9 at 7:30p.m.

The movie is a behind-the-scenes look at a unique cross-culturalculinary event. In honor of Jerusalem’s 3,000th anniversary, 13 ofthe world’s most acclaimed chefs were invited to the ancient city.Shalom Kadosh, executive chef of Jerusalem’s Sheraton Plaza Hotel,was in charge of assembling the list of renowned culinary wizards,and to his surprise, every one of them accepted the invitation. Theirassignment was to cook a kosher meal for 300 guests at a benefit forEin Yael, an open-air museum. Leaving behind their own visions ofbuttery lobster dishes and recipes enhanced by pork fat and cream,they created a 12-course feast that strictly adhered to Jewishdietary laws. With the exception of Jean-Louis Palladin of Jean-Louisat Washington’s Watergate Hotel, all were newcomers to the rules ofkashrut.

It’s fun to watch as the chefs embark on a military-likeoccupation of the enormous kitchen, where each presides over his owneager mini-army of sous-chefs and kitchen aids, some of whom traveledfrom as far away as Orthodox Brooklyn for a chance to learn under amaster of gourmet cuisine, even if only for a day.

Beautifully captured here is the artistry and painstakingattention to detail that goes into high-end food preparation. Thereare also some nice offbeat moments, inevitable with this many cooksin a kitchen — a Jewish one at that. Dapper and corpulent Louisianachef Paul Prudhomme seems jazzed by the challenge of inventing acourse that even non-Cajun Jews can love. With typical Americancan-do optimism, he creates an elegant couscous dish, steering clearof items that will bump up against Jewish dietary law.

More amusing is the ongoing tango between some of the moreirascible French chefs and the vigilant rabbi in the kitchen. Theadaptation of European gastronomy to the rigors of kashrut leavessome of them cheerfully inspired, but others are less sanguine.”Kosher is the worst,” said Edmond Ehrlich, director of Laurent inParis. “You take a nice cut of meat, cover it in salt, then you washit in water like you wash your underwear. It’s great for underwear,but for meat?”

Directors Noemi Ben Natan Schory and Adi Frost chronicle thechefs’ tour of the Old City’s produce markets, their dinner at thehome of a wealthy Jewish connoisseur and their flurry of preparationsfor the big night, which is the climax of the entire trip. As the 300paying guests arrive in anticipation of this mother of all menus, thescene in the kitchen is a Babel-like study in expertly controlledchaos. One by one, courses are loaded onto waiters’ trays andlaunched into the dining room. By evening’s end, the chefs haveindividually dressed and turned out 4,200 plates. A feast such asthis one may happen only once every three millennia or so, but forkosher foodies, it’s the stuff dreams are made of.