At last, the professional culinary world has risen to the challenge of serving an increasingly sophisticated, demanding – and hungry – Jewish populace. In July 2008, The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts (CKCA) in Brooklyn, NY became the only venue in the United States for “Professional Training in Kosher Culinary Arts”.
Many others have tried and failed to establish such a program. So, what made CKCA different? A bit of history: CKCA Founder, Dr. Elka Jacobs Pinson, a psychologist, saw the opportunity to develop the school from an original base of activity in Happy Home, her husband’s cookware
bakeware store, which had an ongoing program of cake decorating and fruit and vegetable garnishing classes since its opening in 1993. She recruited CKCA Director Jesse Blonder to make her vision a reality. Jesse studied Communications at Cornell University, apprenticed at the New School Culinary Center of New York and later served as kitchen manager, and worked at Macy’s Degustibus Cooking School, Saffron 59 catering company, and as a freelance caterer. Dr. Pinson and Jesse have weathered their first year of operations with success well beyond expectation.
Founded in mid-2007 and initially offering a recreational program (the motto is “We cook and bake, then eat what we make.”), Blonder brought in highly trained chefs each offering a class in their specialty. Classes have included diverse offerings such as Knife Skills; a wide array of ethnic cuisines such as Provincial and Classical French, Rustic Italian, Greek; as well as techniques such as Challah-baking and chocolate-making. Not surprisingly, the exotic Oriental menus (such as Thai and Japanese) have consistently been the most popular. The cake decorating and garnishing programs have expanded, advanced Master Classes added and appearances by international food celebrities and demonstrations by popular cookbook authors rounded out the curriculum.
Initially, the plan was to just expand the recreational program, but the phone rang frequently with calls from people who were searching for kosher professional training. Until now, US culinary students could only attend non-kosher programs; where they were not able to taste the food they prepared and all of their expensive knives and equipment became treif and unusable. Yes – they spent $40,000 or more to attend top-level, prestigious culinary schools and were never able to eat!
Fortuitously, CKCA received a call from Professor Jon Deutsch of the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at Kingsborough Community College of The City University of New York, located in Brooklyn. Himself a trained chef, he proposed a meeting to discuss the development of a kosher version of an existing KBCC culinary arts course. The unique collaboration between public and private institutions has proved fruitful and the first CKCA Pro class graduated in August 2008. Students hailed from as far away as California, Toronto, and Florida to take part in the 6-week program. A part-time night program is now also being offered as well. A “Professional Baking and Pastry” specialization program is slated for later this winter.
CKCA students earn academic credits upon enrollment at KBCC. With a curriculum modeled on those of established culinary schools, students learn skills and techniques used in a professional kitchen. They learn how to obtain important food safety certifications, such as ServSafe (National Restaurant Association) and NYC Food Handler’s Certificate. Upon completion of the program, students can consolidate their skills in the professional world through placement in apprenticeships and job referrals are in the works. Graduates of culinary programs may become professional chefs, choosing to work in restaurants and catering companies, but many become personal chefs, or go into food production, food styling, and other creative culinary fields.
Naturally, the larger part of the Professional Training Program is in actual cooking skills. However, the kosher culinary professional must be trained to maintain kosher integrity in all stages of work: purchasing, preparation, handling, even serving. Not only do ingredients need to be kosher-certified, so do techniques. In addition, kosher chefs must gain experience in running a professional environment that may include non-Jewish workers.
Therefore, another unique collaboration was developed – between CKCA and OK Kosher Certification. Under the direction of Rabbi Chaim Fogelman, Rabbinic Coordinators at the OK and experienced mashgichim lecture culinary students on a variety of topics, such as the general tenets of kashrus, checking fruits and vegetables for infestation, the laws of Cholov Yisroel and Pas Yisroel, and working with a mashgiach. This constitutes the first “kashrus curriculum” developed for kosher chefs. OK Rabbinic Coordinators, Rabbi Marrus, Rabbi Gornish, Rabbi Hanoka as well as Rabbi Fogelman, have participated in this, offering both halachic direction and practical guidelines and advice borne from extensive experience in real-world kitchens.
The CKCA has already become the “go-to” resource in the Jewish world. At Kosherfest, the premier kosher trade show, their exhibit heralded numerous services in addition to the cooking school. They showcased a referral service for personal and professional chefs, as well as a service that provides “kitchen support” personnel for demonstrations and events. Also available from CKCA were privately hosted classes and consultations on program development including developing vocational education programs for Jewish high schools.
Even “gastronomic tourism” plans are in the works. Visits to wineries, trips to local farms to handpick fresh produce, and even vacations focused on various cuisines! With the CKCA’s top-notch culinary curriculum and OK Kosher Certification’s top-notch kosher curriculum, aspiring chefs have found a winning combination at CKCA. B’teavon!
The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts
1407 Coney Island Ave, Brooklyn, NY 718.758.1339