Learning to dish up kosher gourmet food at the Jerusalem Culinary Institute

World's first glatt kosher cooking school caters to young Jews.

shelly food 224.88 (photo credit: Shelly Paz)
shelly food 224.88
(photo credit: Shelly Paz)
"I grew up eating kosher food, and I hated it," says Jay Engelmayer. Today, Engelmayer is the head chef of the first school in the world for glatt kosher cooking, the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, located in Moshav Messilat Zion, near Beit Shemesh. After a rebellious eight-year period of eating non-kosher food, Engelmayer, who made aliya from New York 18 months ago, rediscovered his roots and his true vocation: teaching Jews aged 16 to 35 from Israel and the Diaspora the secrets of gourmet kosher food. The 10-month program is now in its fifth year. Masa, a joint project of the Jewish Agency and the state, has granted 17 of the 25 full scholarships awarded to this year's students. A history and political science major, Engelmayer later discovered a love for cooking and attended the French Culinary Institute in New York and The Art Institute of New York City. "Nowadays, New York is full of kosher restaurants. But growing up there, the only option to eat outside was a crummy pizzeria that was always packed with clients who had no other choice," he says. The school's director and founder, Yohanan Lambiase, immigrated to Israel from the UK in 1994, following three years of schooling and cooking in some of Europe's best restaurants. After making aliya, Lambiase, an observant Jew, started a catering company and soon discovered that there was a large market for quality kosher food. Inspired, he decided it was time to teach kosher gourmet cooking. "Kosher food is funky," he says. "It's not just gefilte fish." Three months into the school's program, the students prepared dinner for their relatives, friends and the press, so they could taste for themselves just how good kosher food could be. The evening's appetizers included grilled peppers stuffed with sauteed beef and rice pilaf, smoked buffalo wings, eggplant Napoleon, French onion soup and shepherd's pie soup. Ari Klarfeld, 21, who has already been accepted to a summer internship at a prestigious Swiss hotel, says he ultimately plans to return home to Cleveland and open a kosher Italian restaurant there. "Cooking pasta and fish allows you to make good food while [not] encountering so many kosher limitations," he says. Devorah Seigel, 20, who comes from a haredi family in New York, says she came to Israel specifically to study at the kosher cooking school. When the course finishes, she plans to return home and work in one of New York's many kosher restaurants. "I love New York and I love the US," she says. "[It's] where I was born and it's my home." Yehuda Fisch, 22, says there is a shortage of kosher restaurants in his hometown of Toronto. "The fancy food in Toronto is hardly ever kosher and my goal is to turn the kosher food into fancy and good food," says Fisch. Gershon Gandelman, 26, of Sao Paulo, says that although he has studied cooking, he searched for a program to expand his expertise to include kosher food, with which he was raised. After spending only three months in Israel, he has now decided to make aliya. "My parents are convinced that I'm crazy because we have a good life back in Brazil," he says. "But I'm happy here. I study and I work and I have friends here." Esther Schiffman, 16, the youngest of the group, came to Israel from New Jersey with her mother two years ago. She wants to serve as a cook in the IDF and plans to pursue a cooking career. "My mother is a chef and a few years ago without even noticing, I fixed something she ruined while baking," she says. "My mom was so thrilled she shouted 'I knew it! I knew it! You're going to be a chef too!'"