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Thursday, October 29, 2020
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Will Shalom Yehudiel of The Humble Toast get chopped?

On Tuesday, September 22, at 9 p.m., The Food Network will air an episode of "Chopped", featuring Teaneck chef Shalom Yehudiel.

Owner and executive chef of The Humble Toast and the soon-to-open dairy Italian restaurant La Cucina di Nava, Yehudiel competed against three other chefs for the top prize of $10,000. Each chef has the same basket of mystery ingredients from which they must create something eye- and palate-pleasing in 20 minutes for the appetizer round, and 30 minutes for the entree and dessert round. A chef is eliminated—chopped—after each round, until a winner is chosen. Regardless of the outcome, which Yehudiel knows but we won’t know until showtime, the real winner is kosher cuisine.

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Yehudiel cooked with all kosher ingredients on a station that was kashered by Rabbi Ari Senter, kashrus administrator of the KOF-K.

Producers of the show first reached out to Yehudiel in February 2019, asking him if he wanted to compete on "Chopped". Although he was interested, as the owner of a kosher restaurant, he didn’t want to be seen cooking non-kosher food and making dishes he couldn’t taste. “First thing I did was to get advice from the RCBC and KOF-K,” he said. “They said it was a great opportunity if I could cook with kosher ingredients and [if] they could come in and kasher the equipment.” During the next year, he went to the studio to do interviews on film, and a crew came to the Humble Toast to film the staff in action, before they asked him to compete on a specific episode.

He held several discussions with the producers about being able to participate in a completely kosher way. Before they made their final decision, Yehudiel arranged a conference call with Rabbi Senter to explain the details. They agreed.

Rabbi Senter said he was happy to help. “It was a great opportunity to showcase to the world that kosher food can compete with any non-kosher cuisine.”

Rabbi Senter and his team came to the studio the night before the competition, after the previous show was filmed. They kashered Yehudiel’s oven, countertop and a few pieces of equipment besides the new pieces purchased for him. There is a pantry with ingredients that the chefs can take in addition to their mystery baskets. Rabbi Senter put stickers on every item in the pantry that was acceptable for Yehudiel to use. The ingredients Yehudiel cooked with from his basket were kosher versions of the ingredients in the other chefs’ baskets.

Rabbi Senter said the kashering and labeling took about three hours. “The staff was wonderful. They asked lots of questions and spent a lot of time talking to us. They were a great bunch of people.”

The four contestants met near the studio at 6 a.m. Someone from the show met them and walked them to the studio, where they explained the day and gave them their chefs’ jackets. “They put us in front of our mystery baskets and said ‘Go!’” recalled Yehudiel. “It’s hard to remember what I cooked or said, what was good and what mistakes I made. There’s such an enormous amount of pressure. All of a sudden, there are cameras in your face. I’m cooking in front of judges and world-famous chefs.” Yehudiel expressed it as a completely positive experience, although much of the day was a blur.

“It was an unreal, high-intensity, really giving-your-all kind of day,” he recalled.

Yehudiel said he hopes everybody watches and roots for him and The Humble Toast. “I’m very proud of representing Teaneck, New Jersey and Am Yisroel. I wore my yarmulke with a Humble Toast logo and my tzitzits. I hope I made a kiddush Hashem with what I did.”

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