Jewish TikTok star Eitan Bernath pushes kosher cooks to innovate

Eitan Eats the World is full of winks to the kosher consumer.

 THE ENERGETIC Eitan Bernath: TikTok sensation.  (photo credit: Penguin Random House)
THE ENERGETIC Eitan Bernath: TikTok sensation.
(photo credit: Penguin Random House)

The first thing you may notice about the cover of TikTok cooking phenom Eitan Bernath’s new cookbook Eitan Eats the World is how vibrant it is. It almost seems to give off energy, between Bernath’s big smile and the bright colors.

The inside of the book gives off the same fun and youthful vibe, with a lot of recipes that seem like they’d be great for a fun dinner party with friends. There are entire chapters dedicated to snacks – like crackers with homemade cured salmon and creative schmears, chaat with three varieties of chutney and handheld foods, like burgers, tacos and meat on skewers.

The first-time cookbook author and social media figure was just as energetic in an interview with the Magazine, which can be heard in its entirety on the JPost podcast, describing his passion for trying and preparing new foods, and pride in being Jewish.

Bernath, 20, shares his enthusiasm about food of all kinds – if the book is any indication, Mexican, Indian and Israeli are favorites – with millions of followers on social media. He’s especially popular on TikTok, where his short, upbeat cooking videos got so many views that he was signed to talent agency William Morris Endeavor the following year and got a gig as principal culinary contributor for The Drew Barrymore Show on CBS after the host saw her daughters watching his videos. Forbes, which named him one of their 30 under 30 in Food and Drink in December, said that Eitan Productions, his social media content company, reaches 300 million consumers annually.

For those of us who like to play Jewish geography, Bernath grew up in a Modern Orthodox family in Teaneck, New Jersey and graduated from Yavneh Academy (which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also attended for a couple of years of elementary school) and Yeshivat Frisch, even posting videos from the school’s music festival a few years ago.

 WITH ACTRESS Drew Barrymore on her show. (credit: Eitan Productions) WITH ACTRESS Drew Barrymore on her show. (credit: Eitan Productions)

Bernath’s celebrity in the Modern Orthodox world preceded his broader success, when in 2014, Bernath took part in the cooking show Chopped at age 12, with a kippah on his head and did not taste the dishes he prepared, because the utensils were not kosher.

Eitan Eats the World is full of winks to the kosher consumer. The book is not necessarily being marketed as a Jewish or a kosher cookbook, but all of the recipes are kosher – even his take on a cheeseburger from California’s famous In-N-Out chain. That recipe, for example, calls for “450 grams ground protein (I use plant-based protein).”

“One of the things I was most excited about, especially for kosher-eaters, is that a lot of recipes will push kosher cooks out of their culinary comfort zone,” Bernath said.

He described trying to find a way to make kosher chicken tikka masala, when the recipe usually features chicken marinated in yogurt, violating the prohibition against mixing milk and meat.

“Growing up, I was always looking for substitutes,” he said. “Coconut milk is actually the perfect substitute and does the same thing as yogurt [in this recipe]. There are a lot of little things like that, which I think kosher-eaters will recognize and other readers, who aren’t Jewish and don’t know what kosher is, won’t even realize.”

Asked what his favorite recipe is in the new book, Bernath quipped that it depends on his mood.

“One of the most meaningful recipes is probably my Grandma Linda’s chicken soup with my dad’s matza balls,” he said. “For me, comfort food are those recipes that you have memories around... I was just home for Pesach, sitting at the Seder eating matza balls and chicken soup with my family. That is the most nostalgic sensory experience I can think of: the smell of soup in the air, the taste, the visual of eating with my family... Many of my greatest memories with people who I love involve eating this soup.”

Bernath often wears a Jewish star necklace on The Drew Barrymore Show and for other public appearances, and said he very consciously tries to be a positive representative of the Jewish people.

“I have this sense of responsibility that comes with being Jewish in the public eye, whether visually from the Jewish star that I wear... or just my first name, Eitan,” he said. “Now that my videos reach hundreds of millions of people a year, I am very aware that, for most people watching the videos, I am the only or one of the few Jews they will interact with in their life.

“There are so many despicable, evil things that people believe about Jews, and I... feel a responsibility that however I act they will assume all Jews act... When I’m in the public eye, I’m extra, extra aware of how I’m acting and presenting myself, representing what Jewish values are and being a kind person who helps others.

“For me, it’s something I take a lot of pride in. I am a very proud Jew. That extra responsibility... is something that I take very seriously,” he stated.

Bernath said he also enjoys being approached by people who are Jewish or have Jewish connections and see his necklace, something he experienced when he recently attended a Gucci event during New York Fashion Week.

One of the big political issues in the cooking world lately has been cultural appropriation, with prominent recipe writers accused of using ethnic foods in ways that are disrespectful. Bernath tries to consider how he would view non-Jewish writers sharing Jewish recipes when he is writing or creating content.

“It’s a very complex issue,” he said. “I love cooking from around the world. My approach is to be honest about it: I’m Eitan. I love cooking these foods and learning about these foods and the places that they’re from. And when I’m sharing recipes, I try to be super clear that I’m sharing what I learned. I’m not an expert, I’m an enthusiast. I love Indian food.”

The key is to be respectful, transparent and give credit where it is due, Bernath said.

“If I saw a Christian making matza balls and never mention Jews, I’d feel that’s not great. So, I try to be respectful. But, there’s no need to be scared... I’m bound to upset people sometimes, but I always try to be respectful. And when you do mess up, listen, don’t be defensive,” he said.

It was hard to choose just one recipe to share from Eitan Eats the World, since there are so many I’m looking forward to making. I picked queso fundido, which I thought exemplified the book’s vibe. It’s a fun snack food, a dip, it’s Tex-Mex, a genre of food that many kosher cooks probably haven’t tried, and it combines cheese with plant-based protein instead of the usual meat. Monterey Jack cheese is not easy to find in Israel – Gouda makes a good substitute. 

Queso Fundido

Serves 8.

If you’ve never had queso fundido, think of it as regular queso’s sophisticated, older sibling. (Some might say it’s the FUN-dido version of queso?) This Tex-Mex classic originated around campfires near the United States-Mexico border, but you don’t need to wait for a camping trip to give this a try. You can replicate the heat and smoke of a campfire pretty well in your home kitchen, thanks to the spice blend in this recipe.

Now, I have to be bossy about one thing, and that’s never use preshredded cheese. It’s coated in a powder so that it doesn’t melt or stick together during shipping and storing, and that powder coating will be a REAL detriment to the final texture and flavor of this dish. So grate your own cheese, please! 

Pico de gallo

2 small tomatoes, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

¼ cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon diced jalapeno

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper 

Queso fundido

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 225 gr. ground protein (I use plant-based protein) or chorizo (see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 poblano pepper, chopped
  • 1/3 cup diced yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light beer, such as Tecate
  • 1 (225 gr.) block yellow cheddar cheese, coarsely grated on the large holes of a box grater
  • 1 (225 gr.) block Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely grated on the large holes of a box grater
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 (20 cm.) flour tortillas, warmed for serving
    1. Make the pico de gallo in a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste.

2. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat and add oil. Once it’s hot and simmering, add the ground protein and cook until lightly browned, two to three minutes. Add cumin, paprika, dried oregano, chipotle powder (if using), salt and black pepper, and mix until thoroughly combined.

Cook for an additional minute, then add the poblano and onion, and cook until lightly caramelized, four to five minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Reduce the heat to medium, sprinkle flour over the top of the meat and vegetables, and stir to combine. Cook until the flour has been absorbed into the mixture, about two minutes.

3. Add the beer and stir thoroughly to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture begins to thicken, two to three minutes. Whisk the cheeses into the pan, a small handful at a time, until they are completely melted.

Transfer the mixture to a medium heatproof bowl and top with pico de gallo, chopped oregano and cilantro. Serve immediately while hot, with warm tortillas on the side. 

Quick bite

This recipe calls for ground protein and a mix of spices to give this cheese dip its kick, but if you can find fresh chorizo or a plant-based version, you could substitute that for the meat and spices. If you are substituting chorizo for ground beef or a plant-based alternative, omit the cumin, paprika, dried oregano, and chipotle powder. ■