While learning at Mir Yeshiva in the capital’s Beit Yisrael neighborhood, British immigrant Josh Steele would often visit his Jerusalemite cousins for dinner when the friendly confines of the yeshiva, which houses 7,000 students, began to feel claustrophobic.
Finding the path to becoming a kiruv (outreach) rabbi more difficult and filled with red tape than he anticipated, Steele contemplated returning to the United Kingdom to pursue a career in management consultancy.
But his then-12-year-old cousin didn’t want him to leave the country and hatched a plot.
“As I’m the best chef she knows,” Steele said, “she would fill out the application form for [reality cooking show] MasterChef, and [she thought] if I get on MasterChef, I won’t end up leaving Israel.”
She wound up being right.
“I got a call one day from someone saying, ‘We got your application form, would you like to come in for an interview?’” Steele recounts.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why not?’ Let’s have someone who’s a professional eat my food. Let’s see whether I’m just good in regards to [my family] or whether I’m actually objectively a good cook and I have an understanding of food and flavor.”
Steele passed the first audition with a parve dessert that he still remembers: “Poached peach in a caramel cage with a vanilla and cardamom panna cotta, with a kiwi and lime coulis with passionfruit truffles.
“I had been in yeshiva for five years, so maybe on half a dozen occasions [during that period] I had cooked. I probably made a few cholents in a four-and-a-half year period and nothing else. So I was very out of practice.”
Even so, he made it all the way to the televised round, coming in 10th out of 14 contestants, which is very impressive, given that the show received applications from thousands of Israelis. Being on the show provided him with invaluable experience and great stories, like the night they were snowed into the studio and had to sleep in the Big Brother house.
After MasterChef, Steele became frustrated by the fact that every “high-end kosher restaurant in Israel and abroad really seems to serve the same food on every single menu, just slightly different. Like this guy will put peas or something and that guy will put green beans.”
So he decided to shop his skills around.
One day in the winter of 2014, hitchhiking in Jerusalem for the first time in his life, Steele happened to be picked up by head chef of the King David Hotel, Dudu Biton, who would go on to give him advice and offer him a job at the King David’s restaurant, La Regence. Steele had been advised by famous Israeli chef Shalom Kadosh that if he wanted to get into the restaurant business, he should avoid working in a hotel restaurant.
“There’s unlimited resources and no creativity because you’re given everything you need,” Kadosh told him, so he politely declined the offer.
Instead, he found work as the executive chef of a restaurant called Soyo, which has since closed. The work was too time consuming; leaving the house at 5 a.m. and coming home at 1 a.m. took its toll on Steele. He also wanted to spend more time with his new wife, Ilana, and realizing he wanted to become more immersed in Israeli culture and society, he took a sabbatical from the food business and enrolled at Jerusalem’s Ulpan Etzion in Spring 2015.
“Food isn’t going anywhere; if I have a good idea for food, I’ll be able to pursue it in a couple of years,” he says. “People are not going to stop eating in two years’ time. They will always be eating. With Jews, they never stop eating!” Now, more proficient in Hebrew and a proud father, Steele does most of the cooking around the house in addition to working in consulting, and, true to his cousin’s wish, is still in Israel – Beit Shemesh, precisely.
On top of that, he does cooking demonstrations, is working on developing his own food line and does volunteer work for Yesh Atid.
“In the Torah, it says to love your fellow as yourself,” Steele says, to explain his penchant for volunteering.
And now, without further ado, MasterChef Season 4 contestant Josh Steele presents a cheesecake recipe for your Shavuot table.
AFTER EIGHT CHEESECAKE
Even though Israelis aren’t huge fans of chocolate and mint, cook this up and enjoy something truly special! Ingredients:
• 175 gr. Lotus caramel biscuits
• 50 gr butter
• 600 gr. soft cheese (the more fat the better)
• 100 gr. sugar
• 1 tsp. vanilla essence
• 125 gr. sour cream
• 2 eggs
• 1 box of After Eight mints
Put the biscuits into your food processor and turn them into crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs and press into a pre-greased (preferably with butter) 20-cm. baking tin.
Whisk together the soft cheese, sugar, vanilla essence, sour cream and eggs.
Melt the box of After Eights in a metal bowl over simmering water – a bain marie – and mix into the cheese mixture.
Pour into the tin onto the biscuits and bake in an oven pre-heated to 180º for 20 minutes until the edges are set and the middle is still wobbling and leave in the oven to slowly cool. This sets the cake and avoids cracking.
Place in the refrigerator.
You can serve as is or top with a dark bitter chocolate glaze, wild berries, or whatever inspires you.
SUGAR- AND GLUTEN-FREE PEANUT BUTTER, CHOCOLATE AND STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE
For the health-conscious, here is a recipe with no added sugar!
• 140 gr. oats
• 150 ml. unsweetened applesauce
• 1 kg. cream cheese
• 300 gr. honey, maple syrup or agave nectar (use less at first and
add more if you want it sweeter like me)
• 100 gr. unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
• 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract or seeds of one vanilla pod
• 300 gr. hulled and quartered strawberries
• 190 ml. creamy sugar-free peanut butter (more if you like it
• 100 ml. milk
Preheat the oven to 160°, and lightly spray cake tin with nonstick cooking spray.
To prepare the crust, stir together the oats, applesauce and 2 Tbsp. peanut butter until thoroughly combined. Press into the
bottom of the tin and bake for eight minutes. Allow to cool slightly.
To prepare the filling, beat the cream cheese and honey together until creamy. Mix in the cocoa powder, cornstarch and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the strawberries and spread on top of the cooled crusts. Drizzle 60 ml. peanut butter on the mixture, as it will produce a great swirl when cooked. Bake for around 45 minutes, or until the center is 65.5°.
Cool completely to room temperature in the pan before laying plastic wrap over the entire surface and chill for at least three hours.
Mix 100 ml. of peanut butter, milk and honey if you like it sweeter, until it achieves a runny but thick consistency. Add the milk slowly, as you don’t want it too thin. Pour over the cheesecake and return to the refrigerator until ready to devour.
I served it with a homemade chocolate and caramel frozen yogurt
You can substitute these flavors for whatever you want. Go wild this Shavuot. Remember, your creativity is only limited by your imagination!
BUTTERNUT SQUASH CHEESECAKE
The Midrash – the text that fills in gaps in the Bible’s story – says that Mount Sinai was held over the Jewish people’s head. In this style, I would like to turn cheesecake on its head and introduce my Butternut Squash Cheesecake recipe. It’s silky, creamy and exciting!
• 175 gr. Lotus caramel biscuits
• 50 gr. butter
• 600 gr. peeled butternut squash
• 75 gr. butter
• 125 gr. sugar
• 200 gr. soft cheese / cream cheese (the more fat the better)
• 100 ml. natural yogurt or heavy cream
• 100 ml. sour cream
• 2 vanilla pods (can substitute 1 tsp. vanilla essence)
• 2 eggs – separate yolks and whites
• Icing sugar
Put the biscuits into your food processor until they are crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs and press into a pre-greased (preferably with butter) 20-cm.baking tin.
We’re using the same base as the After Eight Cheesecake to keep things a little easier – and the caramel teams perfectly with this recipe!
Cut the butternut squash into small cubes. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the squash and 50 gr. of sugar and cook on low until soft.
Place into your food processor until smooth. Push the mixture through a sieve to make it even smoother and leave to cool down.
Mix together the soft cheese, yogurt or heavy cream, sour cream, 50 gr. sugar, vanilla seeds and two egg yolks and then stir in the squash mixture.
Whisk the egg whites until they start to get stiff, add 25 gr. of sugar slowly and then fold into the squash mixture.
Pour into the tin onto the biscuits and bake in an oven pre-heated to 200º for 45 minutes until the top starts to get firm.
Leave to cool and then place in the refrigerator until ready to eat.
When serving, sprinkle icing sugar on top.