My relationship to Kosher food is sort of like my relationship to water. It’s essential, I need it to survive, and I would never deny its importance or necessity. But I hate swimming in it, and sometimes I feel like it doesn’t quite let me breathe.
That’s not to say I would stop following its laws. I am, after all, Orthodox and Jewish and all those lovely titles that imply everything from Rabbi Akiva to denim skirts. But more interestingly than that (for the purposes of this article, at least), I have also just begun Culinary School. And by that, read KOSHER culinary school.
I chose to try the path of the kitchen sink for several reasons: first, because I thought it would be fun and useful, even though I have no plans to become a chef or a caterer. Second, because when else will I ever have the chance to take a three month program focusing only on food? Certainly not once I’ve started Graduate School, and definitely not when I’m old. It’s now or never (at 22, I seem to be thinking that about a lot of things). And third, because I wanted to see if correctly-made Kosher food could ever live up to the standards of gourmet boasted by non-Kosher chefs (for my thoughts on that subject, click here).
So far it's been interesting and fun and exhausting, and much harder than I thought it would be. The first two days consisted of knife skills. How to hold it, slice this way, chop that way...between all the juliennes at school and my papercut art at home, one of my friends started joking that I had officially enrolled to become a ninja. There's a visual I shamelessly enjoyed.
(FYI, that was supposed to be to the tune of the Spider-Man theme song. I know. Jack Kirby is plugging his ears up in Heaven right now.)
So last week on my first day of THE CULINARY EXPERIENCE, I took the two hour commute to Brooklyn for the first time since high school (this itself a step toward delegitimizing the whole process) and stumbled in one minute late to my first impression of what it would be like.
Imagine my relief when I discovered that there were three other girls in the program, even if one hadn't arrived yet and the other two were obscured from view by the six-foot-plus Rambo impersonator standing in front of them. Uniforms and aprons were promptly distributed.
The pants (despite being the smallest size available) were about a foot too long for me, as were the sleeves. The shoulders hung off me like an overcoat on a wall hook, while the chest and waist were so tight the buttons wouldn't stay closed. Clearly, this was not made to fit me, or any female for that matter (or any guy lacking Superman shoulders, really). I was beginning to notice a pattern, and suddenly recalled the stereotype I had heard repeatedly about the world of culinary professionalism (apologies to Mel Brooks):
I don't know what it is about culinary school that makes dumb parodies of already silly songs pop into my head, but both Men in Whites and Ninja Chef came to me suddenly in the middle of class. I shudder to think how many of these I'll have by the end of the program.
Anyway, after all this Chef went around the table and asked about our backgrounds, and about our favorite cuisine, which renewed my sense of purpose and excitement by bringing up my favorite sensitive issue: Food Nationalism, the unspoken race card.
Man, I love Food Nationalism; that ingrained instinct of every human to KNOW FOR A FACT that their own background’s cuisine is better than all the others, and to take offense at any suggestion to the contrary. I myself have had many a spirited debate on the subject, being both a food snob and Hungarian.
I confess: there are few things I find funnier than two people with wonderful culinary backgrounds going at it over whose is the slightly more prestigious of the two:
At other times, like in Culinary School, the tendency of people to get insulted over other people’s food tastes can be taken to almost laughable extremes:
Oh boy, do I have culinary school cut out for me. I'm short, I'm female, and I’m Ashkenazi. I don’t eat veal, and I’ve discovered that I hate cilantro. This is going to be fun.