From MasterChef to married, mehadrin chef

So here's what happened.
Last September I had finally decided to leave Israel after five years in Jerusalem's Mir Yeshiva. I had been in higher education for a decade and enough was enough. Although my parents were very happy with my decision to return to England, and finally to try get a 'proper' job, that was not my primary motivation. I was 29, single, lonely and had had one too many negative experiences in my Haredi bubble. I missed my friends and wanted to start using what I had learned in theory and put it into practice. Job interviews were lined up in political, geopolitical and management consultancy. The standard middle-class life awaited! Then, one day I got a phone call that changed my life.
In short, a year beforehand, having had enough of sharing a room with four other Yeshiva guys - some of whom used smelling bad as a cheaper way than caffeine of keeping them awake - I moved to my own 'cozy' apartment. As a thank you for how my cousins had always opened their homes for me when I needed a good meal and some chill time away from yeshivah, I had them over for meals. My cousin Galit, then 14, didn't want me to leave Israel and figured if she signed me up for MasterChef, I would definitely get on the show, as I was the best cook she knew, and then would definitely stay in Israel.
Well, they called me. So I decided that as I loved to cook, it would be interesting to see if professionals also liked my food. After many levels of auditions I made it on the show. The behind the scenes stuff that happened we are not allowed to talk about really but what happened as a result is "cray cray." As I decided I could stay in Israel due to this experience, my friends in New York set me up with someone they had wanted me to meet for years. I had previously been uncertain of the rendezvous since she was in the US and wanted to live in Israel while prior to the show, I was in Israel and wanted to live abroad. We met and got married on June 9th and now she is my world. I know this sounds cliché but if you ever meet Elana you'll understand why. As a result of my stay in Israel, I also became executive chef and part owner of a mehadrin/glatt kosher gourmet cafe/restaurant called Soyo on Emek Refaim Rd. in Jerusalem.
Wow! I'm exhausted. I haven't had a chance to breathe in the last year. This blog will probably be my way of letting out all that's happened as I finally have an opportunity to look back and perhaps share with you what is coming as this of Devils over time.
Israel is not designed to make things run smoothly for you though. I'm not sure if I finally decided to make aliyah more because I want to try making my life here or due to the fact that I just never wanted to enter the Interior Ministry (Misrad Hapnim) ever again! If I went to a psychotherapist, I think most of my time would be spent grumbling about why it's so complicated to pay bills and deal with Israelis. The Torah says we are a stiff-necked people, but until you become part of a society of Jews you can never really understand this. The things that help me survive this are, not necessarily in this order: my wife; living my closet dream of using my culinary creativity on the daily; the fact that even though I live with a bunch of people with stiff necks, my wife is luckily a physio, that everyone in Israel is willing to even die for their neighbor - something the recent war showed us all.
Anyway, while I want this blog to be about food also, let me introduce you to a problem I have as a crazy cook married to a traditional eater. She doesn't want boeuf bourguignon every day. Can you imagine? Chopped liver is chopped liver. I need to not just face the challenge of life that is marriage but now try and make classic dishes, not too rich, that we can both live with. So here is my 'Appetite for Perfection'. I want to take classic kosher dishes and make them friendly to those with a Michelin palette and to those for whom plain boiled chicken is just fine.
First job? I guess let's start with something half of us love (for some reason) and the rest hate. It is the cause of many negative Jewish experiences. It can be slimy or baked so dry that my house slipper might be more appetising. It's a fish dish, classically from Russia with a more savoury note or Poland with a sweeter note. Everyone thinks their recipe is the best and that is the only one they can stomach. Guessed yet?
Gefilte fish, of course.
On a side note, a friend of mine once took me to a shadchan (matchmaker) for a Friday night meal. When she asked if I wanted gravy with my fish, and came with a piece of gefilte fish encased in jelly, needless to say what I did with that meant she never called me to set me up with anyone. Worked out in the end, but for any of you looking for love...
Talk about a challenge of how to make this fit for fine dining. Well, wish me luck as I go off and experiment on stock and fish combinations. Let's see if I manage to succeed or fail like so many have done in the past and continue to do.
Tune in next time for original recipes and my latest trials and tribulations as I cook my way through the Holy Land...
E-mail Josh with recipes you want to see Josh create, advise or requests in general at [email protected]
Josh has a degree in War Studies from Kings College London, a Masters in Business Management, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education and is a rabbi. He is a self- taught chef and after appearing on MasterChef Israel is Executive Chef proprietor of Soyo, 51 Emek Refaim, a gourmet mehadrin/glatt kosher cafe/restaurant and catering company, and travels the world doing events and cooking demonstrations.