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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Kosher cooking school opens in Brooklyn

From JTA:
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. Why learn to cook food she'd never be able to eat?

That limited her options.

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

On Monday, the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts opened in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush.

The six-week, $4,500 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, whose husband runs a housewares store on Coney Island Avenue, the main shopping street in the neighborhood, has been dreaming of establishing such a school for years. Last year she took over the top floor of the shop 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.

Pinson and Blondel opened negotiations with Kingsborough, and ironed out the details in May. That left little more than a month to set up the room, build the curriculum and advertise for students.

Thirteen people showed up this week for class. On the first day, they sit around a large steel table intently watching chef Mark D’Alessandro, the school’s main teacher, demonstrate the finer techniques of chopping vegetables.

Holding up half an onion, D'Alessandro shows how to place it on the cutting board and dice it finely by making several horizontal slices before chopping vertically with his chef’s knife.

“There’s no machine that can do that for you?” one student asks anxiously.

D’Alessandro looks at her balefully.

“That’s the second time my heart has been broken,” he says to muffled laughter.

All of the students keep kosher to one degree or another. The class is about evenly split by gender, and range from a 16-year-old boy to a grandmother in her 60s.