Chef Mentor online workshops raise kosher home cooking to new levels

Chefs in your kitchen...

By
October 11, 2019 10:43
Chef Mentor online workshops raise kosher home cooking to new levels

CHEF MENTORS: Efrat Libfroind. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Avi Maizels, 33, an ordinary-looking man dressed in the usual Orthodox white shirt and black trousers, had a cookware shop in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market. The shelves were stacked with upscale, imported kitchen tools for serious home cooks. It was so successful that he opened another two stores in Bnei Brak. The three stores are called Klitchen, a double-language pun incorporating the Hebrew kli, or tool, and kitchen. The stores are still running, but Maizel’s wife manages them now. The affable young owner had been paying attention when clients talked, especially to the ones who kept kosher. He discovered they wanted inexpensive, conveniently-located kosher culinary workshops. He decided to offer them the education they were seeking, at a price they can afford.

Today, more than ever before in Israel, culinary magazines and cookbooks abound. They’re full of luscious photographs depicting delectable food. TV shows make a point of using local produce to cook everything from Bubbeh’s matzah-ball soup to Turkish rakhat loukoum. It’s making people curious. And hungry. Kosher restaurants with gourmet menus are opening all over the country. Chefs who had never considered turning their kitchens kosher now find it smart to pay kashrut supervisors and entice the kosher-keeping market to come in. Many excellent Israeli wineries have changed their facilities to satisfy the demand for fine kosher wines. As the kosher community becomes more discriminating and interested in innovative dishes, or upscale versions of familiar ones, they are seeking ways to cook these dishes themselves.

“The dati-leumi [National-Religious] sector wants to move into more adventurous cooking, but not at all costs,” Maizels explains. “Cooking schools and private chefs offer workshops, but they’re expensive and time-consuming. You have to drive out to wherever they are, find parking, and commit to spending three hours there. Then there’s the return home. That’s a whole evening.”

For a three-hour class at a school with a good reputation, you can expect to pay NIS 265-325. Private classes at a chef’s restaurant or home can cost up to NIS 400. Some courses, for students wanting to attain a semi-professional culinary level, run for several weeks. All involve travel and a big commitment of time. But what of people who don’t have the money or the leisure? There had to be a more convenient, less expensive way to upgrade kosher home cooking. Maizels found the answer and created the solution: the Chef Mentor online kosher workshops at chefmentor.co.il.

Each video lasts a half-hour. A monthly subscription costing NIS 97 gives you access to four classes from the roster of teachers. You learn to cook high-end meals at home, in your own time, following step-by-step instructions by well-known Israeli chefs. You can review the classes over and over, or simply prop up your tablet or phone on the kitchen counter as you cook along with the chef, stopping and restarting as you need. Maizels recommends studying one course weekly in order to get the most out of each class before moving on to the next.

The site is new, having launched only this past September. At present, the teachers are: Meir Adoni, who runs two high-end restaurants in Tel Aviv as well as restaurants in New York and Berlin; Efrat Libfroind, a pâtisserie chef with 180,000 Instagram followers, an author of seven cookbooks in Hebrew, two of which have been translated to English, and who also runs the bakery department at the Dan Gourmet cooking school; Uri Scheft, master baker, cookbook author nominated for the James Beard culinary award, and owner of the upscale Lechamim Bakery in Tel Aviv; Hila Alfret, food writer and international cook; and meat specialist Matan Avrams.

At the time of this writing, Chef Mentor classes cover fancy desserts, yeast and puff pastry baking, meat, fish and easy daily meals. The latter, taught by Hila Alfret, has an interesting fillip: getting the best out of leftovers. Four new courses will be added every month.

All classes are in Hebrew, although Maizels promises to supply English subtitles soon. The photography is excellent, with the camera slowing down to show hand movements and techniques. Maizels intends to add more types of ethnic cooking, including Arab and Chinese, with each class utilizing exclusively kosher ingredients.

“IT DOESN’T matter if the chef is Jewish and kosher or not,” he says. “As long as they use kosher ingredients on the videos.” In addition, each chef must have a personable, friendly style. Maizels himself is not a foodie, although he takes a natural interest in eating well. “I’d never cooked before in my life,” he admits. “Never even fried an egg. But I cooked fish and chips for my kids from the Meir Adoni video, and it came out like a million dollars.”

He adds, “I’m one of 13 children. You can imagine that my mother has many grandchildren. For her birthday, she gathered about 12 of her grand-daughters – none of whom had ever cooked – and set up a big TV monitor on the kitchen counter. They turned on Efrat Libfroind’s chocolate desserts video and went to work. It was a big party. They had fun with Grandmother and made tons of chocolate tarts.”

Meir Adoni, perhaps the best-known of the Chef Mentor chefs, goes out of his way to reassure his audience that excellent home cooking doesn’t take some sort of magical inborn talent.

“I’m going to take you to where your cooking fears are, to all the things you don’t dare do in the kitchen,” he says, “to cook the foods that you search for in restaurants. I’ve chosen easy, fun techniques that I’m sure you’ll master. Even if you make small mistakes, these recipes will result in food you’ll be proud to present at the table.”

Having watched several of the courses and downloaded the recipes, this writer can attest to how enjoyable they are. I cooked a sea bream baked in a salt crust as Adoni taught it, served over a fresh-corn polenta, with mushrooms and beurre blanc. I was surprised at how unfussy and easy the recipes are and enjoyed learning the bonus tips and techniques garnered along the way.

I particularly like that the chefs educate their viewers to get the most real, lively flavors from fresh ingredients. Watching chef Matan Avrams making hamburgers from meat he chose and ground himself, I learned the importance of judging the meat/fat ratio and even why it’s important to alternate the lean and fat parts when grinding the meat. It made me want to rush out and buy a stand mixer with a grinding attachment, because “that gray, frozen ground meat you pick up at the supermarket” will never look the same to me again. Although if grinding my own at home seems too big a deal, I can perfectly well select fresh meat at the butcher’s and ask that he grind it to my wishes (coarsely, please) – because now I know. It’s amazing how much information is packed into the half-hour, all with no feeling of rush or pressure. And at NIS 24 per course, you can’t get a better deal.

Efrat Libfroind, who teaches how to make outstanding chocolate desserts, tarts and mousses, says of the Chef Mentor courses, “This project is so convenient for students. People who want a culinary degree can study at the Dan Gourmet school, but someone who lives in Dimona or Eilat, and who’s interested in getting some tips in, say, decorating with chocolate, can just turn their device on and view the classes over and over if they want. It’s different from YouTube videos in that the focus isn’t entirely on recipes, but on techniques, together with my insights and explanations.” She adds humorously, “One woman wrote in and said, ‘I lie in bed with my laptop, and you’re in my house! Then I go to my kitchen and you’re there, as often as I like.’”
Uri Scheft, a true artist of breads and yeast bakery, says, “It’s a great project. The viewer sees a normal, everyday kitchen, and I explain everything in straightforward style. I bring my own raw ingredients and prepare everything myself. I’ve taught for many years, and I see that being able to review the class is a big help.”

Scheft obviously enjoys teaching, and he has many useful tips for the home cook. For example, he teaches how to substitute the baker’s peel, which is a wooden paddle for sliding loaves into the hot oven, with a cardboard sheet. He enthusiastically shows how with one no-knead dough, the home cook can make pizza, six focaccias with different toppings, plain ciabatta bread, and even a delicacy he calls “focaccia shakshuka.”

Cheese Bourekas from Uri Scheft
Yield: 8 bourekas

135 grams cream cheese at room temperature (1/3 cup)
80 grams feta cheese (½ cup, crumbled)
70 grams sour cream (4.5 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp.)
2 eggs
25 grams flour (3 level Tbsp.), plus more for flouring
500 grams thawed, rolled puff pastry (1 package)
1 tsp. water
Pinch salt
50 grams sesame seeds (5 Tbsp.)
50 grams nigella seeds (ketzach in Hebrew; 5 Tbsp.)

Whisk the cream cheese and feta cheese in a bowl to obtain a uniform mass.

Add the sour cream, one egg, and flour; whisk to mix well.

Place the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out to form a square 20 x 40 cm., about ½ cm. high (8” x 16”, ¼” high).
Use the edge of a knife to shape the pastry into an exact square.

Cut 8 equal squares of 10 x 10 cm. (4” x 4”)

In a small bowl, mix the second egg with the water and salt – this will be the glaze.

Place 3 Tbsp. of the cheese mix on the center of each puff pastry square.

Fold the bottom right corner of each pastry square to the top left corner, creating a triangle.

Using your fingers, press the triangles down ½ cm. from the open edges (¼”).

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Place the bourekas on it, and chill them in the refrigerator at least 20 minutes.
In the meantime, heat the oven to 200°C (390°F).

Remove the bourekas from the refrigerator and brush the egg wash all over the tops.

Spoon the sesame and nigella seeds into a small bowl; mix them.

Scatter the seeds generously over the bourekas.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the bourekas are golden.

Allow them to cool a few minutes, and serve.

The recipe was adapted to standard US measurements, but to obtain the exact results, it’s best to follow the original metric measurements.

Chef’s tip: Keep the puff pastry very cold, as it loses shape easily when warm. Prepare the filling, egg wash and seeds ahead, in order to work quickly.


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