Mas­ter of the Chefs: The Kosher Culi­nary World’s Un­sung Hero

The Jewish Voice - - KOSHER RECIPES -

Do you re­call what you were eat­ing in kosher restau­rants 10 years ago? Had you tried sous-vide dishes? Home­made sausage? Fresh, cured gravlax made with only salt, su­gar, pep­per­corns and dill? Shaved black truf­fles on fresh pasta, tossed with roasted porcini mush­rooms? Fried chicken so crisp and ten­der that you’d al­most swear it was soaked in but­ter­milk?

Not likely. It was prob­a­bly a burger, steak or slice of pizza, and don’t for­get that side or­der of sushi.

Yet dur­ing the last decade, one man’s un­sung ef­forts have had per­haps the great­est in­flu­ence on shap­ing and grow­ing the skills of kosher-ob­ser­vant culi­nary stu­dents, men­tor­ing them with his quirky sense of hu­mor, im­bu­ing them with kitchen “street smarts,” and ul­ti­mately plac­ing them in top kosher restau­rants for ex­tern­ships and em­ploy­ment.

If you have eaten at a high­end kosher restau­rant some­time dur­ing the last decade, chances are that some­one work­ing for that restau­rant was a stu­dent, or a stu­dent’s stu­dent, of Chef Avram Wise­man.

Wise­man wel­comes the first co­hort of stu­dents May 1 for the Brook­lyn-based Kosher Culi­nary Cen­ter, which calls it­self “the only kosher culi­nary school out­side of Is­rael to of­fer pro­fes­sional train­ing in the culi­nary and pas­try arts.” But un­til now, his far-reach­ing in­dus­try foot­print has flown un­der the radar.

A kosher caterer, restau­ra­teur, ban­quet chef and menu con­sul­tant for two decades, Wise­man turned to teach­ing in 2000. At the Art In­sti­tute of New York, he trained close to 500 stu­dents in clas­sic French culi­nary tech­niques, es­pous­ing the meth­ods of Au­guste Es­coffier, the fa­ther of mod­ern French cui­sine. In 2008, he started teach­ing at the Cen­ter for Kosher Culi­nary Arts (CKCA). In its sec­ond-floor out­post on Coney Is­land Av­enue in Brook­lyn, he worked as the small school’s lead culi­nary in­struc­tor and, by 2010, be­came its dean of stu­dents. He was known to work tire­lessly, tak­ing only short week­end breaks to go fish­ing in his beloved At­lantic Ocean, up un­til the school’s clos­ing in 2015 due to New York state li­cens­ing is­sues.

Chef David Kolotkin—who runs Kap­ti­vat­ing Kosher, a cater­ing com­pany for up­scale and celebrity events, and is the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive chef at New York City’s renowned Prime Grill kosher steakhouse—calls Wise­man his “go-to guy for in­dus­try ad­vice.”

“Avram Wise­man is like a walk­ing iPhone 7—fully charged, on steroids, with ev­ery app al­ready down­loaded, full of knowl­edge and fun,” Kolotkin said.

Wise­man has men­tored hun­dreds of stu­dents who will, even to­day, stand as he en­ters the room and run to do his bid­ding, while shout­ing the Gor­don Ram­say catch­phrase, “Yes, chef!” His grad­u­ates are a ver­i­ta­ble army of knowl­edge­able pro­fes­sion­als—work­ing in restau­rants, syn­a­gogues, dor­mi­to­ries, cater­ing and com­mer­cial food pro­duc­tion, or as per­sonal chefs and en­trepreneurs. Still oth­ers are food writ­ers, wine gu­rus, and ho­tel or ban­quet hall man­agers.

“[Wise­man] is not only a great teacher in terms of teach­ing what he knows, but I did some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent and he sup­ported me in that as well,” said Bracha Serle, a per­sonal chef for a New York fam­ily and au­thor of the She’s The Chef blog. “He’s al­ways avail­able for ques­tions.”

New Jer­sey res­i­dent Jeremy Brown is not work­ing as a chef, but has ap­plied lessons he gleaned from Wise­man to an en­tirely new field.

“Chef Wise­man showed me that one should mas­ter their work skills, be­come good enough at it to where they can have a sense of hu­mor and a smile, while ac­com­plish­ing their ob­jec­tives in earn­ing a liveli­hood,” Brown said.

Es­ther An­za­root, an en­tre­pre­neur from Brook­lyn who owns and op­er­ates a gluten-free bak­ery busi­ness that sells Mid­dle Eastern del­i­ca­cies, said Wise­man “has im­pacted me by giv­ing me con­fi­dence in my abil­i­ties, teach­ing me new tech­niques and al­ways, al­ways de­mand­ing the best out of me.”

In a thank you let­ter sent to CKCA direc­tor Jesse Blon­der af­ter the school’s clos­ing, a fun­der of sev­eral chefs’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in the train­ing pro­gram wrote, “You have saved sev­eral mar­riages, made sev­eral oth­ers pos­si­ble by al­low­ing the man to earn an honor­able liv­ing, al­lowed at least one widow to keep her house, re­united two fam­i­lies that I know of and al­lowed at least one woman to leave an abu­sive marriage. You (and of course Chef Avram!) should take great pride in your work, a pride that will last far longer than the pay you get.”

“This is part of my legacy,” Wise­man said in a joint in­ter­view with The Jewish Link and JNS.org. “To be able to take a stu­dent, who hasn’t yet found a ca­reer or par­nas­sah (liveli­hood), and watch him and help him as he de­vel­ops mar­ketable, valu­able skills, and then to see him rent his own apart­ment, and watch him get mar­ried and have chil­dren, and support all of them by cook­ing...This is why I do this.”

Wise­man will lead the forth­com­ing Kosher Culi­nary Cen­ter train­ing pro­gram along with one of his for­mer stu­dents, Per­line Dayan. Chefs David Rit­ter and Naomi Ross will join him as in­struc­tors, and Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech of Mon­sey, N.Y., will serve as the top kosher su­per­vi­sor.

In a part­ner­ship with Ben-Gu­rion Univer­sity of the Negev, the Is­raeli univer­sity will be the op­tional five-month des­ti­na­tion for Kosher Culi­nary Cen­ter stu­dents af­ter they com­plete the 216-hour culi­nary pro­gram in Brook­lyn.

“Once stu­dents ar­rive… they will have a five-day Birthright-style tour of Is­rael, with an em­pha­sis on Be­douin and Mediter­ranean fla­vors, and then go to the univer­sity in Ei­lat, where they will live in dor­mi­to­ries with a three-meal-a-day cafe­te­ria. At the end of their time in Is­rael, the stu­dents will have cer­tifi­cates from Ben-Gu­rion and also the Mar­riott, Hy­att or wher­ever their ex­tern­ship lo­ca­tion has been,” Wise­man ex­plained.

If the new cen­ter’s stu­dents turn out any­thing like Wise­man’s past pupils, the next decade should be an­other ex­cit­ing era for kosher restau­rant-go­ers.

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