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

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.”

‘Ace’ holds all the cards when it comes to cakes

You’d think Duff Goldman’s ultimate Rosh Hashanah cake would be, say, a 15-layer honey cake topped with mammoth gates of heaven swinging shut.
Goldman, after all, is the “extreme baker” of the Food Network’s reality series, “The Ace of Cakes.” His concoctions include a 3-foot-tall performing Elvis, a rolling black Jeep Wrangler, a hot-rod engine that spews sparks and a seven-tier “Cat in the Hat” wedding cake.
His show features insane deadlines, aggressive brides, temper tantrums, bleeped-out expletives — and a star who is as likely to wield a blowtorch or a band saw as a rolling pin or cake knife. Critics have said “Ace” is to cake what “Monster Garage” is to cars.
So you’d expect Goldman’s holiday cake to involve Gothic gates or, perhaps, even a Bosch-like depiction of where bad Jews go if they’re not inscribed in the book of life (according to some rabbis).
But no.
Goldman takes his heritage seriously — especially his Jewish culinary heritage — so his idea is, well, serious. “I’d do a three-dimensional cake covered with a painting — an indistinct figure emerging from the darkness into the light,” he says in a telephone conversation from his Baltimore apartment. “It would represent how we should embrace the New Year by constantly moving forward.”
No one has ordered such a cake from Goldman, which is why he hasn’t baked it (it could cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours, depending on how many moveable parts are necessary). So in reality, he is more likely to make the honey cake recipe handed down from his great-grandmother, Mommo — as well as her luscious brisket and tsimmis. He still has those recipes, among thousands of others she wrote on index cards in her imperfect English.
“Mommo gave those recipes to my grandmother, and they were passed down to my mother and then to me,” he says proudly.

The Yiddish-speaking Mommo, who died when Duff was around 4, also apparently passed down her artistic and adventurous streaks. “When my great-grandmother was 14, things got pretty hot for the Jews in her part of the Ukraine, so she fled with her two brothers,” he says. “Her brothers ended up in Argentina and became like these Russian-Jewish gauchos.”
Mommo came to the United States and settled near the frontier. She traveled as far west as her money would take her, settling in Wichita, Kan., early in the last century.
Young Duff (ne Jeffrey Adam Goldman), now 31, remembers her as an avid baker, milliner and weaver. “She had this big, scary loom in her tiny little Wichita apartment,” he says of her textile work.
He keenly watched as Mommo prepared to make apple streudel by kneading a small ball of filo dough with her bare hands, until it covered the entire dining room table.
Back home in McLean, Va., Goldman first attempted to “cook” at age 4 by swinging a meat cleaver at some carrots. Several years later, he disdainfully tossed aside the child-safe tool his mother had given him to carve a pumpkin; instead he tried a steak knife and chopped off a finger (the digit was reattached, he reports).
No wonder his mother, Jackie, a stained-glass artist, refused to let him near the knives when she was cooking, although, in his words, “I was always hanging around when she was in the kitchen.”
Young Duff expressed his artsy side by spray painting graffiti on buses, subways and underpasses (he fought back when fellow taggers beat him up). He shaped up after his bar mitzvah, when he began sculpting in metal and snagged his first professional food job — at McDonald’s. “I could make 12 Big Macs in under a minute,” he says.
Thereafter, he worked in a series of restaurants and decided to specialize in cakes.
“I was drawn to pastry chefs because what they were doing was so process-driven and involved so much craft,” he says. “Even as a [youngster] I saw there were things to be studied, to figure out: protein content and freezing temperatures and so forth.”
While attending the University of Maryland, Goldman got a job making corn bread at a famous Baltimore restaurant. He went on to study pastry-making at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, then worked for Food Network celebrity chef Todd English and soon became the executive pastry chef at the Vail Cascade hotel in Colorado. There, he combined his sculpting and baking talents to make his first specialty cakes (power tools, he soon discovered, were just the ticket to create humongous infrastructures).
In 2000, Goldman opened his own Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, with what he describes as a “ragtag team of musicians and artists with experience in architectural modeling, graphic design, sculpture and performance art.”His creations were so jaw-dropping that he soon received national attention, replicating a piece of rare black Wedgewood china for Hillary Clinton, for example. His flavors included green tea and Thai iced coffee, as well as Goldman’s own version of honey cake.

The chef began appearing on Food Network competitions and caught producers’ eyes when he arrived at one contest lugging power tools and wearing a goatee, earrings and steel-tipped punk rocker boots (oh yes, he’s also a musician).”I didn’t read the rules very well, so I pretty much broke every single one,” he says. Goldman moved about his table when he should have stood in one place and spilled too much cornstarch on the floor. “But I made a really awesome cake,” he recalls. His piece de resistance looked like a giant peach tree, with the “cakes” hanging off the branches via fishing wire.
Producers rewarded Goldman with his own show, “Ace of Cakes,” which The New York Times called “‘Monster Garage’ for the culinary set.” “Ace” is typical of these kinds of reality series in that it highlights tension between the protagonists.But none of the stress is concocted, Goldman insists. “Running a bake shop is dramatic, because we have real deadlines,” he says.

Rome’s Jewish Culinary Heritage

Rome is a layer cake of culinary civilizations. For centuries Jewish specialties have formed the core of the Roman culinary repertoire including Carciofi alla Romana (artichokes braised in white wine and olive oil), Gnocchi di Semolino alla Romana (semolina gnocchi with butter and cheese), Aliciotti con l’Indivia (baked anchovy and endives) and Lattughe Farcite (stuffed lettuce with olives and anchovies).

Jews first came to Rome in large numbers as prisoners following the annexation of their lands by general Pompey the Great in the first century B.C.E. The Roman Jewish community flourished under prince Herod Agrippa II, who moved from Judea to Rome with his entourage after Emperor Titus’ destruction of Jerusalem (70 C.E.).

Rome’s medieval Jewish community followed the Tiber River’s unincorporated west bank in Trastevere. Later, Jews began moving into the left bank area now occupied by the Synagogue. In 1556 under Pope Paul IV that area became the infamous walled Ghetto. Rome’s Jews suffered periods of persecution and poverty there, but also tolerance and prosperity.

The Ghetto’s walls came down in 1848 and although its residents were free to live wherever they wished many stayed on. To this day, the spirit of this age-old community lives on. The Ghetto’s colorful delis, specialty food outlets, bakeries and restaurants are found primarily on or in the vicinity of the Via del Portico d’Ottavia. On one end of this atmospheric street stands the eighth-century church of Sant’Angelo in Pescheria. It occupies the ruins of a portico that Augustus Caesar rebuilt and dedicated to his sister, Octavia. The portico housed Rome’s main fish market (la Pescheria) from the 12th to the late 19th century, a market largely operated by Jews. Then as now, fish and anchovies in particular were a big part of the local diet.

The roots of the Roman Jewish predilection for anchovies go back to at least the imperial era. Nowadays Romans, whether Jewish or not, favor the anchovy (Engraulis encrasicholus) over other fish species. The Italian terms for anchovies are alici or aliciotti when fresh and acciughe when salted; anchovy paste is called pasta di acciughe. Using them in much the same way as the Ancients, contemporary Roman cooks slip or crush them with glee into everything from antipasti to vegetable side dishes, pasta and main courses.

So fond are Italians in general and Romans in particular of fishy flavors that they commonly home-salt their own anchovies. A few even make contemporary versions of ancient fish sauces.

Anyone wanting to experience what garum actually tastes like should have a meal at Magna Roma, a self-styled "archeological restaurant" in the Via Capo d’Africa near the Coliseum. Magna Roma bases its menu on the writings of first-century C.E. gastronome Apicius, who collected the recipes that later went into the world’s oldest cookbook, "De re Coquinaria" ("The Art of Cooking"). Apicius called for fish sauce in just about every dish he listed.

Surprisingly, the contemporary garum served at Magna Roma is less aggressive than anchovies still crusted with salt, Colatura d’Alici (anchovy juices macerated in brine), or even some anchovy pastes. In making garum the fish does not rot; it’s transformed in a process similar to that of lactic acid fermentation in making cheese or sauerkraut, with a parallel action caused by enzymes and oils found in high concentrations in the entrails of fatty fish.

It was in large part thanks to the Jewish community that the garum tradition was kept alive, through the use of salted anchovies or anchovy brine in myriad recipes.

Recently, I visited Trastevere to ask my favorite Rome fishmonger, Anna Elisa Scipioni, how she preserves her acciughe the old-fashioned way. I discovered that she uses coarse sea salt or kosher salt, a handful of bay leaves and a large round sterilized glass jar at least 5-inches wide with a tight seal, such as a Mason jar. She fills the jar with layers of salt, bay leaves and fresh anchovies 4- to 5-inches long. She discards the anchovy heads but does not gut the fish (the entrails impart flavor and their enzymes aid the maturing process). Atop the filled jar she places a weighted, wide-bottomed water glass or tumbler that fits snugly into the jar’s mouth. The weight slowly presses down the anchovies and salt, keeping air out.

Stored in a corner of the refrigerator or in a cool cellar and topped off regularly with salt to keep the fish submerged in brine, the anchovies are ready after one month (but are even better after two or three). To use them, all you need do is rinse them under cold water and with your fingers remove the fins, backbone and entrails, and then separate them into fillets. If desired, you can crush them to make paste. Once desalted you can store anchovy fillets or paste under olive oil in the refrigerator for several weeks and use them to make all the traditional Roman Jewish and other favorite recipes.

David D. Downie is the author of “Cooking the Roman Way: Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome” (Harper Collins).

The Circuit

A Hungry Mob

It was a moment that the members of Women’s Department of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Business and Professional Division will never forget: a kitchen full of young women learning about and noshing on the Sicilian culinary stylings of chef Henry Hill.

Yes, that Henry Hill — the former Mafioso who entered the FBI’s witness protection program and helped the Feds root out organized crime.

By night’s end, there was red liquid splattered all over the kitchen. Thankfully, it was just leftover marinara sauce on empty plates from quickly devoured homemade Italian delicacies: chicken marsala with mushrooms, grilled eggplant rollatine, piping hot penne pasta — all kosher.

It was slightly surreal to find a former “wiseguy” giving cooking tips to 50 upstanding young Jewish women, mostly in their 30s. But there’s more to the story. Hill — best known for his Howard Stern appearances and being portrayed by Ray Liotta in Martin Scorcese’s “Goodfellas” — has been struggling to put his underworld past behind him. For 2 1/2 years, Hill, 58, has been a Beit T’Shuvah rehab resident, trying to kick his alcoholism. Hill told the room that he was proudly sober, despite a setback 10 months ago in the progress of his recovery.

The evening’s hostess, Janis Black Goldman, generously opened up her Beverly Hills home for this unique experience.

“You can be here for a good cause and meet old and new friends in a comfortable environment,” said Goldman, the daughter of philanthropists Stanley and Joyce Black. Goldman had suggested Hill to the Women’s Department after she had met the ex-mobster at a Beit T’Shuvah Shabbat event, where she enjoyed a firsthand encounter with his formidable cooking prowess.

“He’s someone in recovery that made a success in his life,” said Goldman’s sister, Jill Zalben. “People today want to see that. He’s teaching us that we can have a life and you can move on.”

Hill told The Circuit of cooking’s therapeutic nature. “It relaxes me where a psychiatrist doesn’t excite me.” His cookbook will be released by Penguin Books in October.

Hill and The Circuit notwithstanding, there was only one other XY-chromosomed guest present — Black family friend Jono Kohan.

Kohan himself comes from a Jewishly active family. His mother, the lively Rhea Kohan, emcees Jewish galas with her dazzling wit. His brother, David Kohan, co-created NBC’s hit sitcom, “Will & Grace.”

“There’s a lot of female energy in the room tonight. I find it very positive to be around,” said Kohan, obviously enjoying this most fortuitous male-to-female ratio.

Also contributing to that female energy: Michele Sackheim, division chair; Harriet Rossetto, Beit T’Shuvah director; Laurie Konhiem, The Federation’s Women’s Campaign chair; Sharon Janks, vice chair liaison; outreach committee members Cynthia Baseman, Andrea Corsun, Sara Essner, Marilyn Sonners, Galia Nitzan and Barbara Zolla; Bobbi Asimow, Women’s Campaign director, and Jody Moss, Women’s Campaign professional staff.

“I couldn’t have done this event without Henry,” said Greer Sanders, division outreach chair. “He planned the whole thing from soup to nuts.”From salad to spumoni is more like it. But you get the picture.

For information on Women’s Business and Professional Division, which will hold its annual banquet at the Four Seasons on May 8, call (323) 761-8275.

Helping Hands

More than 500 people honored Abraham Spiegel and Fred Kort at the American Society for Yad Vashem’s first West Coast Tribute Dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. For more than 30 years, Spiegel has been instrumental in helping expand Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the world’s leading Holocaust artifact repository and research center. Holocaust survivor Kort has also contributed greatly to Yad Vashem’s cause. The evening, where “The Young and the Restless” star Eric Braeden was master of ceremonies, featured a message from Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Omert and raised nearly $500,000 for Yad Vashem.

A Dozen Good Eggs

Twelve University of Judaism second-year students took part of the Sid B. Levine Service Learning Program over winter break, working with the elderly, the homeless, the disabled and adults with autism.

A Taste of the Best

Journal food writers Judy Zeidler and Judy Bart Kancigor signed their cookbooks at the delectable Food Fare, sponsored by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Fifty of Los Angeles’ best chefs, restaurants, caterers and wineries gave out tasty samplings of their work, while everything from cookbooks, personal trainers and symphony tickets were bid on during a silent auction. Organizers said that the annual fundraiser, which took place in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, raised more than the $400,000 the event brought in last year.

Generation to Generation

Second-generation Holocaust survivor Ricci Zuckerman visited the students of Hebrew Academy High School in Huntington Beach. The Second Generation group founder responded to an invitation by the school’s Jewish history teacher Helen Kern.

The Way to a Woman’s Heart

I began cooking some years ago, drawn to the kitchen’s rocky shores by the twin muses of economy and romance, shall we say (because it sounds so much better than the twin demons of cheap and horny).

This siren’s song promised that the best way of getting a woman back to your place at the end of the evening was to get her there at the start of the evening and keep her there as your dinner hostage — uh, I mean “guest.”

I liked that I could express my creativity and show her my sensitive, nurturing side, while at the same time cutting the cost of a date by more than half and almost doubling the chance of getting lucky. The sheer economy of this plot was beautiful. Why hadn’t I thought of it before?

My culinary skills are entirely self-taught. I did not learn how to cook at my mother’s knee. There was no chance of that growing up at my house. My father likes to say that Mom thinks the word “cook” is a noun, not a verb. (As in, “The cook made it.”)

As a result, when I first got started, I had no knowledge of culinary things, of mise en place (advance preparation of ingredients), or demi glacé. I didn’t even know how to do that neat trick where you throw all the stuff in the sauté pan up in the air and catch it again before it goes kablooey all over the stove top. That’s a very important trick to master if you’re going to impress your date with your savoir-cuire (knowledge of cooking).

I asked a friend who used to work in a restaurant what to do.

Q: How long should I cook it?

A: Until it’s done.

Q: How do you know when it’s done?

A: Cut it open and look inside.

Q: Isn’t that cheating?

A: Why don’t you order out?

There is also the “expletive” method, which involves touching the meat to ascertain a certain amount of elasticity, which corresponds to a degree of doneness. This looks great and will almost certainly have you uttering expletives when you burn your fingers doing this. Works for baked potatoes too.

Cooking isn’t especially difficult. Basically, a recipe is no different from the instructions that come with a model airplane kit. Follow the instructions until you know what you’re doing, then throw them away and follow your instincts. Real men never follow a recipe. (Unless you’re baking, which is like building a real airplane. I don’t bake.)

The most important thing for the bachelor chef is to look like you know what the hell you’re doing. Being in command of the kitchen is being master of your domain. This begins with having a sharp knife, many towels on hand, and a little dish of kosher salt. Kosher salt has three important properties: 1) It is easy to handle, which is important when you need to add a pinch of salt. Pinch is good, shake is bad. 2) It tastes better than table salt. &’9;3) It fulfills the Jewish angle of this story.

You should also taste everything as you go along. Pass a little spoonful to your date and ask, “What does it need?” They love this. If you’ve done your job up till now, she should be absolutely swooning that (a) you’re making dinner for her, (b) it tastes pretty good, (c) you asked her opinion and (d) you’re heterosexual.

This is a really good time to kiss, refill her wine glass and add a pinch of salt.

A quick story about Emeril Lagasse. I met the Food Network star (“Bam!”) about 10 years ago, before he was famous. We were at a party in Hollywood and he was happy to be recognized outside the food world. I prodded him for one pearl of kitchen wisdom, one thing that I could take away with me and use. I was like one of those comics where the guy travels for days to get to the guru at the top of the mountain and asks about the meaning of life. He said: “Seasoning, Jeffrey.”

Friends, I have been to the mountaintop, and the answer is “Seasoning.” What would life be without seasoning? It would hardly be worth living. But make sure you cook it until it’s done.

Even though I got into cooking as an excuse for a cheap date, I now cook because it’s relaxing and the passion I bring to it comes out in the dishes. Besides, I’m virtually guaranteed a good meal, and all the big laughs always happen in the kitchen.

Chanukah Specials

Amidst a blizzard of Christmas specials, the commercial networks are giving short shrift to Chanukah, so it’s up to public television and radio stations to pick up the slack.KCET (PBS, Channel 28) is putting the emphasis on the culinary delights of Chanukah with the following programs:

“New Jewish Cuisine” – Chief Jeffrey Nathan demonstrates his recipes for potato latkes, brisket and challah zeppoles (braided challah). On Tues., Dec. 19, at 3 p.m.

“Home Cooking with Amy Coleman: Chanukah Feast” on Wed., Dec. 20, at 3 p.m.

“Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan: Chanukah – Olive Oil and Freedom” on Wed., Dec. 20, at 3:30 p.m.

On a more spiritual note, rabbi and author Joseph Telushkin will speak on “Moral Imagination” on Thurs., Dec. 21, at 10 p.m.

“Chanukah at Bubbe’s” – Puppets visit everyone’s favorite grandmother, who relates stories of the Festival of Lights. On Sun., Dec. 24, at 7 a.m.

“The 41st Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration” will pay tribute to the religious holidays of our diverse region. On Sun., Dec. 24, at 3 p.m. and Mon., Dec. 25 at 9 a.m.

Sister station KOCE (Orange and Los Angeles counties) airs “A Chanukah Mitzvah” Fri., Dec. 22, at 4 p.m. In this program, Mitzvah Mouse and his puppet pals David and Rachel of “Alef … Bet … Blastoff” fame travel back in time and meet Judah Maccabee.

Chabad will counterprogram Santa Claus with a program on “The Rebbe: A Portrayal of Optimism, Courage and Jewish Survival.” On KCOP (Ch. 13), Mon., Dec. 25, at 10:30 p.m.

The Jewish Television Network has scheduled Chanukah-themed programs from now through Dec. 26 at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. over Adelphia cable channels 10, 15 and 20, Time Warner channels 29 and 37, and Media One channel 39. Visit for more details. Shows include:

“HomeStyles” – Host and Jewish Journal columnist Teresa Strasser comes up with innovative ideas for holiday decorating, chocolate treats, and a new dreidel game.

“New Jewish Cuisine” – see KCET listing.
“A Chanukah Mitzvah” – see KOCE listing.
“92nd Street Y Presents” – Contemporary chamber and choral music on Jewish themes and the premiere of “Chanukah Suite” by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum.

“Spirit and Song” – A documentary on a national gathering of choral singers joining in a concert of Jewish music, with emphasis on Chanukah and other holidays.

The Nickelodeon and Noggin networks will jointly air “A Walk in Your Shoes” on Sun., Dec. 17, at 6 p.m. Two girls, one Jewish and the other Catholic, “switch” their lives for four days and experience each other’s religious observances.

On the radio side, KCRW (89.9 FM), station manager Ruth Seymour will reprise for the 23rd year her three-hour Chanukah tribute, “Philosophers, Fiddlers and Fools” next Friday (Dec. 22), starting at noon.Also touching on the Chanukah theme at KCRW will be “The Loudest Voice” by Grace Paley and read by actress Rhea Perlman, on Dec. 24 at 8:30 p.m. and Dec. 25 at 1:30 p.m.

Check for programs on other public radio stations.