July 16, 2024
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July 16, 2024
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Do you remember what you were eating in kosher restaurants 10 years ago? Had you tried sous-vide dishes yet? Housemade sausage? Fresh, cured gravlax made with only salt, sugar, peppercorns and dill? Shaved black truffles curling onto delectable fresh pasta tossed with roasted porcini mushrooms? Fried chicken so crisp-tender you’d almost swear it had been soaked in buttermilk?

Not likely. It was probably a burger, a steak or a pizza, and don’t forget that side order of sushi.

Over the past decade, one man, whose name you might not even know, has had perhaps the single-most positive influence on shaping and growing the skills of kosher-keeping culinary students, both men and women, mentoring them with his unique, quirky sense of humor, imbuing them with kitchen “street smarts,” pulling forth their best efforts and then placing them in top kosher restaurants for externships and employment. Kosher gastronomy has never been quite as advanced, or quite as delicious.

Whether you know it or not, if you keep up with kosher culinary trends and have been to a haute cuisine or modern concept restaurant in New York City or another city with a large Jewish population sometime in the past decade, chances are that someone in that restaurant was a student, or a student’s student, of Chef Instructor Avram Wiseman.

Chef Wiseman, a kosher caterer, restaurateur, banquet chef and menu consultant for two decades before turning to teaching in 2000, first at the Art Institute of New York, trained close to 500 students in classic French culinary technique, espousing the methods of Auguste Escoffier, the father of modern French cuisine, and then teaching in 2008 at the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts (CKCA). In its second-floor outpost on Coney Island Avenue in Flatbush in Brooklyn, he worked as the small school’s lead culinary instructor and, by 2010, became its dean of students. He worked tirelessly, from early morning until late evening through its closing in 2015 due to New York state licensing issues, taking only short weekend breaks to go fishing in his beloved Atlantic Ocean.

“Chef Avram is my close friend and professional culinary colleague, my ‘go-to guy’ for industry advice, a gastronomical pirate, with knowledge more than most about navigating the sea and finding fish without GPS,” said Chef David Kolotkin, who was, for 15 years, executive chef of Prime Grill and the Prime Hospitality Group. He now runs Kaptivating Kosher, an exclusive, boutique catering company for upscale and celebrity events, and Chef Avram has sent him many externs over the years. “Avram Wiseman is like a walking iPhone 7, fully charged, on steroids, with every app already downloaded, full of knowledge and fun,” he added.

Wiseman’s technique-focused pedagogy also offered students the freedom both to develop basics and also the tools to learn more about the flavor profiles of virtually every region’s culinary influences. With the classic French techniques of knife skills and beef, poultry and fish butchery providing a strong baseline set of professional-level kitchen skills, he mentored hundreds of students who will, even today, stand as he enters the room, and run to do his bidding, while shouting “Yes, Chef!”

Chef Wiseman’s graduates are now a veritable army of knowledgeable professionals, working in restaurants, synagogues, dormitories, catering, in commercial food production and as personal chefs and entrepreneurs. Still others are food writers or those who work in food-adjacent professions, such as the wine business, and hotel or cooking facility/banquet management.

Hundreds more have been charmed by Chef Wiseman over the years as recreational students, at culinary date nights and couples competitions at CKCA, which sold out almost immediately after they were advertised. He was the longtime emcee for the culinary competitions at Kosherfest, the kosher food industry’s largest tradeshow.

“Chef Avram really taught me the ropes of the culinary field, and he gave me the confidence to go ahead to launch my career as a personal chef,” said Bracha Serle, who works fulltime for a family in Manhattan. She also writes about food and shares recipes on the blog She’s The Chef. “He is not only a great teacher in terms of teaching what he knows, but I did something totally different and he supported me in that as well. He’s always available for questions.

“He told me at graduation, ‘You are going to be on the cover of a magazine a year from now.’ And last week, just about a year later, I was on the cover of Yated,” she said.

Jeremy Brown, who lives and works in New Jersey, said, “Chef Wiseman took my cooking skills from improperly boiling pasta and turned me into a competent cook with a vast knowledge of recipes and skills; he was my teacher and my friend as I struggled and then succeeded in the kitchen. Chef Wiseman showed me that one should master their work skills, become good enough at it to where they can have a sense of humor and a smile, while accomplishing their objectives in earning a livelihood.” While Brown is not working as a chef, he noted he has applied the skills he learned with Chef Wiseman to move into an entirely new field.

Esther Anzaroot, an entrepreneur from Brooklyn who owns and operates a gluten-free bakery business that sells Middle Eastern delicacies, said, “Chef Avram has impacted me by giving me confidence in my abilities, teaching me new techniques and always, always demanding the best out of me. He is a gifted cook and teacher,” she said.

As part of a thank you letter sent to CKCA Director Jesse Blonder after the school’s closing, an individual who funded multiple individuals to take part in its professional training program said the following: “Of the 38, the great majority are currently still working in the field, some with great success, and almost all with a decent and reliable job. You have saved several marriages, made several others possible by allowing the man to earn an honorable living, allowed at least one widow to keep her house, reunited two families that I know of and allowed at least one woman to leave an abusive marriage. You (and of course Chef Avram!) should take great pride in your work, a pride that will last far longer than the pay you get.”

“This is part of my legacy,” Wiseman told The Jewish Link. “To be able to take a student, who hasn’t yet found a career or parnasa (profession), and watch him and help him as he develops marketable, valuable skills, and then to see him rent his own apartment, watch him get married and have children and support all of them by cooking… This is why I do this,” he said.

On May 1, Chef Wiseman will welcome the first cohort of students for the newly formed, three-story state-of-the-art Kosher Culinary Center. It is the first kosher-supervised culinary career training program in America. He will lead the center, along with a partner, Perline Dayan, one of Chef Wiseman’s former students. Teaching initially along with Chef Wiseman will be Chef David Ritter, a culinary instructor who has worked at The New York Restaurant School, CKCA and CityTech College, as well as Chef Naomi Ross, a cookbook author, recipe developer, personal chef and instructor.

The Kosher Culinary Center will be overseen by Rav Zushe Yosef Blech of Monsey, New York, who will serve as the rav hamachshir (kashrut administrator/posek).

Chef Wiseman has also partnered with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev as its certificate-granting institution. Ben-Gurion will be the optional five-month destination for culinary students after they complete the 216-hour culinary program in Brooklyn, and will also be one of many choices of location for student externship experiences.

“Once students arrive in Israel, they will have a five-day ‘Birthright’-style tour of Israel, with an emphasis on Bedouin and Mediterranean flavors, and then go to the university in Eilat where they will live in dormitories with a three-meal-a-day cafeteria. At the end of their time in Israel, the students will have certificates from Ben-Gurion and also the Marriott, Hyatt or wherever their externship location has been,” Wiseman said.

Located in Marine Park, Brooklyn, the culinary training center (currently awaiting state licensing) will also have ample room for teaching and demonstration. It will also be open for bridal showers, culinary competitions, gala events, date night events, “Family Feud”-style team culinary competitions, and special events such as chocolate work, truffle making, cupcake decorating lessons and more.

The Kosher Culinary Center is located at 2359 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11234, located on the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Avenue S. This area is considered the Marine Park/Mill Basin section, two blocks away from Kings Plaza Shopping Mall right off Exit 11 on the Belt Parkway. The area is serviced by the following buses: B41, B46, B47, B100 and Q35. There is ample parking on the adjacent streets. Learn more at http://www.koshercul.com.

By Elizabeth Kratz


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