February 21, 2020

L.A. Kosher Chefs Compete in ‘Skill’it’ Cook-Off

From left, Moshe Nafisi, BZ Ingber, Kolev Klein and Moshe Bloch.

Los Angeles kosher chefs put their skills to the test at a cooking competition called “Skill’it,” which aired online at kosher.com on July 4. The first episode went online at 2 p.m. Pacific time and will air every Thursday for the next three weeks. Four contestants and five judges were chosen to participate in the competition. The winning chef will receive a barrel of wine valued at $20,000. 

The four local contestants are BZ Ingber, Moshe Bloch, Kolev Klein and Moshe Nafisi. Klein, an attorney, and Nafisi, a mortgage broker, cook purely out of love. Ingber, who opened his own private catering business, and Bloch, co-founder of the famous Meshuga 4 Sushi on Pico Boulevard, bring their professional expertise to the competition. 

Judge Gabe Garcia is executive chef at Tierra Sur, the restaurant at Herzog Winery in Oxnard, where the competition was filmed. He’s also the  host of “Under the Hood” at kosher.com. “If anything, the goal was to take the kosher cuisine to another level,” he told the Journal. “We were really egging on the contestants to push the boundaries and have a restaurant approach to food.” 

Garcia also runs a cooking show on the website but said he believes this will be the best show at kosher.com to date. He described four long days of filming at Tierra Sur, creating a real time crunch ahead of Shabbat. He said he was upset that there wasn’t enough time to include more details of the goings-on in every episode. 

Photos courtesy of Pinto Productions

Other judges included world-class chef and caterer Nir Weinblut from La Gondola in Beverly Hills, Joe Hurliman, head winemaker at Herzog Wine Cellars, farmer John Fontaine from Rio Gozo Farm in Ojai, and Drew Rosen, Nes Events partner and executive chef, who recently oversaw most of the operations at Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard and who previously has owned and operated six restaurants. 

“If anything, the goal was to take the kosher cuisine to another level. We were really egging on the contestants to push the boundaries and have a restaurant approach to food.”
— Gabe Garcia

The first episode calls on the contestants to create four separate “small bites” dishes. Nafisi, a “self-proclaimed foodie,” told the Journal they had 60 minutes for all four dishes. “For the most part, the days were relaxed and fun,” he said, “but when the clock started, it was game on!”

None of the contestants knew the challenge that was coming their way until the moment they were told on camera. “The element of surprise added a level of excitement, at least for me,” Nafisi said. 

The difficulty of the challenge for the contestants, Garcia said, was using the mandatory ingredients chosen. The chefs also had the option to use a handful of bonus ingredients, which could gain them more points. 

At the end of the 60-minute round, the contestants stood before the judges to present their dishes. In the end, there was one winner and one chef who had to say goodbye.

Comedian Elon Gold hosted the “Skill’it” competition. He brought additional heat to the kitchen, swerving around the contestants and tasting their food.

Behind the scenes, though, Nafisi said that the contestants often found themselves at the Herzog Wine tasting room “getting a pour from my favorite sommelier, Ed.” They even prayed the afternoon Mincha prayer in the barrel room. But Nafisi said he wish he’d known ahead of the competition “that the camera adds 10 pounds. I would’ve done a cleanse or a crash diet.” 

Chanie Nayman, editor-in-chief at kosher.com, told the Journal the website also aired a cooking competition for women last year. She said most of the website’s viewers don’t have televisions in their homes and that kosher.com is “a wonderful place for entertainment.” She added that the website currently features approximately 4,000 completely kosher recipes. It also runs cooking shows, entertainment and lifestyle pages, as well as a database of thousands of recipes that people create for weeknight meals, Shabbat and more. 

Michelle Naim is a senior studying English with a concentration in journalism at Stern College for Women in Manhattan and a Jewish Journal summer intern.