July 21, 2024
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Center for Kosher Culinary Arts Closes Professional Program

Brooklyn—For the past eight years, the most delicious, gourmet kosher food you’ve ever tasted has not been available to order in any restaurant or store. The best seat at the best table has been with Chef Avram Wiseman, Chef Philippe Kaemmerle or Chef Robert Pertusi, and a small bevy of other top NYC chef instructors, as they wielded their culinary magic and taught students how to replicate their unmatched skills in a small, second-floor kitchen on Coney Island Avenue. Whether it was how to achieve a precise matchstick cut of a carrot, how to break down a whole fish and cure it with only salt, sugar and dill, how to present a hot or cold appetizer to its ultimate advantage, how to roll the lightest, flakiest croissant on the planet, or how to create the perfect osso bucco, CKCA took inexperienced neophytes and turned them into professional culinary artists, many of whom have gone on to great success in the kosher culinary world.

For the more than 500 students who graduated from the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts’ professional program, either in Culinary Arts or Pastry Arts, the doors to the kosher world didn’t just open, they blasted off. Graduating students went to externships at Mike’s Bistro, Prime Grill, etc. Steakhouse, NoBo Grill and countless other restaurants and institutions, and many continued on from there. Students such as Jordana Hirschel of the Five Towns opened a personal chef business called The Blue Ladle. Teaneck’s Avi Roth opened Gotham Burger in NYC and Teaneck. Alex Yakubov took over the ownership of Pizza Palace Cafe in Queens. Chanie Apfelbaum, of the popular food and craft blog Busy in Brooklyn, blogged her CKCA Pro Program experience and went on to a busy career in food writing. There are so many more. Simultaneously, CKCA also operated and catered special events and demonstrations on both large and small scales, including administering the famous annual chef competitions at Kosherfest, the kosher world’s annual trade show.

What set CKCA’s professional education apart was not just that it was the only classic French culinary training program in America that was housed in a kosher kitchen. That meant that kosher-keeping students have been able to smash Jewish cooking stereotypes and learn, en masse, the proper way to build a mother sauce or the proper butchery of a chicken or side of beef, as taught by the father of modern haute cuisine Auguste Escoffier, and translated, with humor and heart, by seasoned kosher caterer and longtime instructor Chef Avram Wiseman, who also served as dean of students.

French pastry, in many of the various regional styles, was taught expertly by Chef Philippe Kaemmerle, who grew up in France’s Alsace region and worked in Michelin-starred restaurants all over Europe before heading pastry programs at top Manhattan restaurants. French technique was now not only in the purview of the kosher-keeping culinary student; the knowledge was all of a sudden available for the taking, and the tasting. While many successful kosher-keeping chefs have emerged from non-kosher culinary schools, they often lamented the difficulty of learning without tasting.

Also included in the CKCA professional program’s syllabus was the ServSafe® National Restaurant Association certification program, an exam administered along with the certificate program’s final examination, as well as industrial kashruth training, taught by world-renowned experts on commercial kashruth in the realm of food production.

That’s why the kosher world expressed shock and sadness when Jesse Blonder, CKCA’s managing director and partner, announced last week that the professional program would close. Citing pressure from state vocational education authorities and the fact that the program grew far beyond its size without much-needed funding or partners, Blonder told Kosher Today that he is considering options and may “regroup and search for ways to continue training chefs in this age of high demand for kosher chefs.”

Blonder joined CKCA in 2008 to develop the school’s professional program with partners Elka and Baruch Pinson, who also own Happy Home Housewares, a cooking supply store just downstairs from the culinary school, which is located in the heart of Flatbush, near the corner of Avenue J on Coney Island Avenue. The school held classes in a renovated upstairs space and previously only offered cake decorating and other recreational courses. In subsequent years, while the professional program took a front seat during the day, the space pulsated in the evening with recreational programs for all ages taught by the same top instructors as the professional program, and professional programs (for those working or going to school during the day) were often offered in the evenings as well. Date nights and couples cooking competition events sold out weeks in advance.

Blonder told the Jewish Link that he was very proud of what has been accomplished during the past eight years, and that the school will stay open for recreational programs and private events for the time being. As part of his announcement, he said, “With pride and professionalism, we trained a community of culinary and pastry chefs who now share their skills and talent with the kosher food world. They bring exemplary skills and passion to restaurants, catering, manufacturing, media, management as personal chefs, and more. We know they will continue to make us proud,” said Blonder.

The program, which provided unmatched career support and both formal and informal career counseling, produced a cohesive group of graduates who have nothing but compliments about Blonder and their instructors.

Hillel Kober, a graduate of CKCA’s 2009 Culinary Arts program, took to Facebook to share his thoughts on the news, which include sentiments shared by many. “I would like to express my gratitude to you [Blonder] and say a very big thank you to the school as well as the rest of the staff who have taught me so much over the years that I have been affiliated with this incredible school. I just feel that I owe a thank you to everyone for teaching me concepts as well as [giving me] the guidance I need for future endeavors,” Kober wrote.

Kober, a Maryland native, came to CKCA after his gap year in Israel. He has worked as a line chef in various restaurants and is currently freelancing and cooking for special events.

“I have a huge amount of respect and honor for everyone who has ever walked through the CKCA door and left with the knowledge they were looking for,” he wrote.

Learn more at http://www.kosherculinaryarts.com.

Elizabeth Kratz, JLNJ’s editor, is a 2009 graduate of CKCA’s Professional Program in Culinary Arts.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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