Teaneck, NJ – Orthodox Yeshivah Adds Culinary Class To Its Curriculum For Bocharim

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    TABC’s David Bodner, right, plates his team’s final exam dish. Randi Sherman Teaneck, NJ – These Teaneck yeshiva bochers can braise beef and steam cauliflower to perfection. They can whip up a savory Italian bruschetta, or a Persian khoresh stew from a family recipe handed down from the Old Country, or churn butter from heavy cream.

    And when they’re not hunched over the Talmud, in the centuries-old male tradition, they’re in the chemistry lab-turned-kitchen at the Modern Orthodox Torah Academy of Bergen County breaking through gender walls in what is believed to be the first class of its kind in a mainstream yeshiva.
    As celebrity chefs and cooking shows have inundated American culture, and as kosher food gets ever more sophisticated — helped along by the likes of Pomegranate supermarket and the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts in Brooklyn — perhaps it was only a matter of time before the culinary arts would have a home in the yeshiva world.

    As Chezky Meshchaninov helped prepare a Tunisian schnitzel for the year’s final exam cook-off last week — a puree of sweet and white potatoes was heating up — he took a minute to ponder the ramifications.

    “Before this, I enjoyed cooking but never had a chance to express it,” Meshchaninov said. “This class has helped me understand food. It’s an art. I look at a plate differently now.”
    Did he have any concern that people might see the culinary class as a “girl thing?” No.
    “As we progress [in society], it is ridiculous to assume a man goes to work and a woman stays home in the kitchen,” he said. “The social barriers between genders have crumbled at this point.”

    The groundbreaking class is the brainchild of Alex Bailey, who instructs the course and is also TABC’s Advanced Placement psychology teacher. Curriculum coordinator Nancy Edelman was looking to add a skill-based course to the list of 15 electives offered at the school, and Bailey proposed one of his favorite hobbies, cooking. While other schools may offer cooking clubs or less-structured electives, TABC’s program is the only one in which students learn the skills and context of culinary arts four days every week.

    The course, which attracted a third of the senior class of 72 boys, teaches the aspiring chefs not only how to prepare dishes, but also nutrition, culinary history and the relevant halacha.
    “I have heard of one or two Orthodox high schools focusing on vocational training for boys who don’t fit the Talmud-yeshiva program,” said Marvin Schick, a Jewish educational consultant for the Avi Chai Foundation. “But this is the first time I’ve heard of anything like this in a mainstream Orthodox high school.”

    Before the final cook-off got under way (students had an hour and a half to prepare an appetizer and main dish), Jonathan Herszfeld said, “I knew that I wasn’t so experienced in the kitchen.

    “This class was definitely better than what I expected. We learned knife skills and how to work a good recipe out of what you have… People thought it was going to be a joke but it’s a very serious class.” Then he began carefully chopping garlic and tomatoes for his group’s appetizer, bruschetta.

    The class has pushed him to be more interested in food in general, watching the Food Network and paying more attention to food-related news. “We learn about halacha in class, so when you hear about Agriprocessors [the embattled Postville, Iowa, kosher meat manufacturer that stands accused of, among other crimes, violating immigration laws] in the news, it sticks out.”

    While discussions of Agriprocessors and Hechsher Tzedek (an effort to create ethical seals of approval for kosher foods) and the broader movement to integrate social and environmental concerns into the practice of kashrut weren’t part of this year’s curriculum, students have suggested discussing a wider variety of topics in the halacha section next year.

    The class studied French, Asian and American cuisine, among others, and talked about how to make substitutions for non-kosher ingredients.

    “In today’s culinary world, kosher cooking doesn’t have to compromise,” Bailey said, noting how the class discussed how kashrut-observant Jews can easily use chicken or beef instead of pork in Sichuan cooking, and how soy milk can be was used in some recipes.

    All the food the class prepared throughout the year was meat or pareve, except for the butter they learned to churn from heavy cream.

    Bailey uses the class to teach his students larger messages, such as making choices, and how presentation isn’t only important for the way they plate food but also for how they present themselves to the world.

    Parents have called the school to express their gratitude for everything from their sons’ cleaning expertise — an important skill when their “kitchen” at school turns back into a chemistry lab — to the four-course dinner one student prepared for his parents’ anniversary.

    “We’re producing students who won’t feel impotent in the kitchen,” Bailey said. “Parents are incredibly impressed with the school for having the confidence to give this a shot.”

    Arthur Poleyeff, principal of general studies at TABC, had no reservations about adding culinary arts to the offerings. “We take suggestions from the faculty and the students to diversify our curriculum, and this one really caught on quickly,” he said. “I expected it to be a course students would think was easy, but it was really challenging, and they really learned how to cook.”

    He’s also proud to bring the course back for a second year. While next year’s senior class has only 37 students, 15 have signed up for the culinary arts elective, he said.

    As they prepared their final exam, an “Iron Chef”-style cook-off, many students said they started the class able to make only simple foods like eggs or hamburgers. Then one group proceeded to prepare honey-mustard chicken fingers; steak marinated in red wine vinegar, soy sauce, oil and honey; rice and a salad topped with balsamic dressing and strawberries.

    Yair Klyman’s group used his great-grandmother’s recipe for khoresh, a Persian stew of beef cubes, apricots, yellow split peas, onions and marinara sauce. They accompanied it with rice and a salad of grilled portabella mushrooms. Group member Justin Wexler cut up onions and beef to be added to the pan. “I knew how to make grilled cheese before this, and now I help my mother with Shabbos meals,” he said.

    At least one student, Zvi Rapps, is looking to the culinary world for a possible career. “The class definitely encouraged me to think about cooking professionally,” he said. “I could make eggs before the class, and now I’m making sautéed turkey with prunes, and salmon croquettes. Maybe I’ll work in a restaurant or as a caterer.”

    As the minutes ticked away, Bailey became more excited to taste what his students had created. “Normally I wait six hours between milk and meat, so I didn’t get to eat their stuff all year. This morning, I’m fleishig for this.”

    Most Orthodox Jews wait only an hour, if that, between eating milk and meat.

    The “judges” included Bailey, Edelman and her daughter, “a young foodie,” and TABC alum-turned-restaurateur, Seth Warshaw, who opened ETC Steakhouse in Teaneck in February. The groups paraded their meals to the judging table, actually the chemistry instructor’s demonstration desk, one by one, and even though it wasn’t yet 11 a.m., the judges eagerly dug into the meat dishes.
    First up was the bruschetta, served with lamb nuggets, pasta with spinach and asparagus and tri-color cauliflower. All were expertly plated by David Bodner, whose father is a caterer. Next came the honey-mustard chicken fingers, served with three dipping sauces and followed by a salad and steak. As the plates were set down, Rabbi Yosef Adler, TABC’s rosh yeshiva, appeared, taking a tasting plate with him out the door.

    The third group to finish produced a corn, red pepper and string bean salad, couscous and fried salmon and cauliflower. The judges noted that it’s unusual to see salmon breaded and fried, but it resulted in a moist, tasty fish. Then came Klyman’s group, the portabella salad preceded by the khoresh, piled high atop a mound of Persian rice, all but spilling over the sides of the serving dish.
    “A stew usually reserved for Persian royalty, now at TABC,” Klyman announced.

    A turkey salad and a mixed vegetable stir-fry with ground turkey in a sesame soy sauce came next, followed by the final group’s dish, the Tunisian schnitzel.

    After observing the groups and tasting their work, Warshaw was all praise. “These guys are in high school and they did an amazing job,” he said. “I wish they had something like this when I was in high school … The level of skill, the way they hold their knives and their technique was impressive. I expected it to be good but not this level.”

    Any chance these guys have a future at his restaurant? “I’m sure if any of them had an interest, they could get to that level.”

    Warshaw was a big fan of the winning dish, the khoresh, noting its unusual combination of flavors. He might even consider offering it on his menu, with a few changes, possibly even serving it with the sweet-and-white-potato puree. “The spiciness and sweetness would work together beautifully.”

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    65 COMMENTS

    1. What an awsome idea! Perhaps some of the more ‘yeshivish’ yeshivas should do this too. Cooking or simple culinary arts in general is a good thing to have in a marriage. In addition, this would be a practical application or certain halachos not necessarily found in Baba Metzia.

        • Such as?

          Oh, it’s you again, with your made-up “gadolim” and made-up stories about them. This time you were too lazy to make up any names for our entertainment?

        • Before people get too excited, let me just point out that this is not a yeshivah and these are not yeshivah bochurim. It’s a HIGH SCHOOL and these are STUDENTS. I know it’s become fashionable to call high schools yeshivos, but there is a difference.

          • You are so wrong, TABC is a Yeshiva, and I would pit their talmidim in learning against any frumme kid their age that you want. Before you shoot your face off without having visited the institution and meeting the rebbeim and the rosh yeshiva.

            • It’s a school. It has how many hours of limudei chol? And sports teams? And cooking clubs and who knows what else? Those are not the hallmarks of a yeshivah. A kindergarten is not a yeshivah, a cheder is not a yeshivah, a high school is not a yeshivah.

          • Millhouse,

            Granted this is not a right leaning “yeshivish” yeshiva. This is a makom torah for high school boys many of whom BH go on to more mainstream yeshivas.

            Hence, Chanoch L’naar Al Pi Darko applies!

            • Of course it does. If a boy doesn’t belong in a yeshivah, don’t send him to one. But don’t pretend that where he does go is a yeshivah. The American fashion for calling every religious school a yeshivah — even a girl’s elementary school! — is not correct. A school is a school, and a yeshivah is a yeshivah. When we talk about the yeshivos of Europe or EY we don’t mean chadorim and we don’t mean schools.

              Here’s a hint: if it employs “rebbes” (let alone “melamdim” or “teachers”) it’s not a yeshivah.

          • I would like to respond to 33 and I emphatically agree with 36 as a proud parent of a TABC YESHIVA student who is graduating this year. My son got a wonderful yeshiva education and will I”YH be spending next year or two learning in a yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel. He has received a wonderful yeshiva education and secular education.

            The Rosh Yeshiva and the Rebbeim at the school are wonderful role models for our children. They are Talmedei Chachamim who teach learning not only by giving shiurim but also by acting as role models. Even the English teachers are amazing role models. Where else do you find a science teacher and a math teacher who learned bchavrusah and made a siyum hashas? Where do you find a math teacher who every Friday send students home with a gematria related dvar torah?

            For anybody who questions if TABC is a yeshiva, you’re invited to come visit and experience what a wonderful yeshiva it is. Kol Hakavod to TABC, an amazing, awesome yeshiva. I am proud to call myself a parent of two TABC boys.

            • “Where else do you find a science teacher and a math teacher who learned bchavrusah and made a siyum hashas? Where do you find a math teacher who every Friday send students home with a gematria related dvar torah?”

              I’ll tell you where you DON’T find such things — at a yeshivah. They are wonderful things to have — at a high school. But they fit at a yeshivah the way a delicious steak fits in a cheese shop.

          • With all due respect …stop. TABC is the TORAH Academy of Bergen County. It is an institution of serious Torah learning for talmidim who strive for excellence in limudei kodesh as well as limudei chol. We may not be a yeshiva like the Mir or Punovich, but our Torah is the same and our learning is just as chashuv. Do not put down our talmidim, and do not put down our yeshiva.

      • Are you CRAZY, Most of the best Chefs in the world are MEN and only in recent times have women gained recognition in the culinary arts and have taken their place amongst the great chefs

      • and when these young men are out living on their own, who’s going to do their cooking for them? Mom from long distance? Cooking is a survival skill, plain & simple.

      • Anonymous Says: Says:

        “ Cooking is the exclusive domain of woman. Yeshiva Buchirim should not engage in such feminine activities least it lead to immoral behavior. ”
        Perhaps you can’t watch your children either.

      • LOL, and I guess as you’re writing this your female relatives are out working hard…..But wait, isn’t that the exclusive domain of the man??

      • Just in case you are indeed serious, let me point out the following.

        We are supposed to learn from the Avos. We know from the Chumash that Yaakov Aveenu knew how to cook, because Eisav came home and found him preparing some sort of porridge. Yaakov was, of course, a yeshiva bochur and he cooked!

        So from here I derive that all yeshiva bochrim should know how to cook!!!

    2. WOW! Finally someone has gotten their head on straight and realized that not every bochur grows up to be a gadol.

      Giving these bochurim “real world” skills so they can go out and make a living is fantastic! More yeshivos need to be looking down this path. Hopefully cooking will just be the beginning. There are many other skills that can be taught in this kind of setting… Computer skills, project management skills, and “trade” skills can help our community stay off welfare and food stamps and give our young men a chance at a satisfying career. Wouldn’t it be great to see certification classes for “heating and air conditioning”, plumbing, electrical, hotel/restaurant management, IT certifications, etc…. all in a yeshivish setting.

      Congratulations to this yeshiva and its bochurim for opening a door that has been closed for far too long.

      • Seems like you are starting to get right on target PMO, This is a fantastic program, I hope that it will prosper. Perhaps you should offer this idea to Rav Zweig to incorporate in his Yesheiva in Miami Beach.

      • I just have to make a comment although I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by what you said. I know some if not all of the young men mentioned in this article and truthfully any one of them could grow up to be a “gadol” in one way or another. They didn’t need this course to prove that they could do something; they are all already quite accomplished. They are just a good group of boys who took an interesting and relevant class. Kudos to TABC!

    3. This is a wonderful program and provides these bochurim some useful skills–somthing they will never get sitting in kolel and learning. If it enhances their ability to find a kallah or even a more radical idea–finding a real job–it will have shown itself to be a great idea.

    4. I think this is great. They’re learning cooking, they’re learning halacha and they’re “away” from their desks.
      One thing mentioned was that people usually wait an hour between milk and meat. That is incorrect. Halachically, the time is ZERO minutes, just a rinse and wash.

      • How does that make it incorrect? The halacha doesn’t require any wait, but it’s perfectly true that most people DO wait.

        In any case, I assume that this whole thing is a reporter’s error; I doubt that Ms Bailey waits six hours after normal milk, so I assume the real story is that she normally eats hard cheese for breakfast. In that case, most people do wait six hours (though it’s not a halacha, just a strong minhag Ashkenaz).

    5. Why does kosher cooking place so much emphasis on flesheks? Why isn’t more emphasis placed on vegan, or vegetarian cooking? Perhaps if less emphasis was placed on meat, keeping kosher wouldn’t be so much more expensive and difficult than not keeping kosher, and more Jews might keep kosher? Keeping kosher is so much easier if one keeps a meat free home.

        • ““ Because no one likes VEGAN or Vegetarian. Perhaps if I was a Beheima I would like to eat GRASS! And I enjoy eating well prepared food.”

          LOL! Vegetarian food isn’t grass. There are many vegetables, grains and fruits that can be eaten. If one is vegetarian and not just vegan, then they can also use eggs and dairy as protein sources. Those who are vegan can use tofu, wheat gluten, and nuts and seeds as highly concentrated protein sources. Someone can decide to keep a meat free home but not a vegetarian one and also eat low mercury fish(salmon, sardines, etc.) .

          Vegetarian food can be well prepared. The proper use of spices is what is important. There are also prepared kosher vegetarian artificial meats available made from soy or what gluten that can directly replace beef or chicken in recipes. Being a vegetarian just requires one to have a different mindset. It will also help those who are kosher to save plenty of money. Other reasons to be a vegetarianare a concern for the suffering of animals, and eliminating waste and minimizing starvation in lesser developed countries(it takes around 15 pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat, and raising livestock consumes huge amounts of water and creates plenty of sewage and carbon dioxide, methane, etc.). Rasing livestock bids up grain prices, which makes grains much less affordable for those in lesser developed nations.

      • Actually, from both a halachic and practical viewpoint vegetables present serious halachic difficulties. Bugs, being that they are whole (beryah) cannot be halachically dissolved, and there are a number of prohibitions against their consumption. While some people out there think of this whole bug checking idea as some sort of fad, and ponder why their grandparents never had lightboxes in the shtetl – as a mashgiach I can tell you the problem is real. The other day I checked 3 heads of green leaf lettuce, and found over 50 bugs – and of more than one species. Since the discovery of DDTs health risks, and the general trend leaning away from pesticide use, many vegetables chazaka status as being bug free has changed.

        I didnt post this to be contrary, only to inform. If only I could post pictures of all the creepy crawlies I’ve found in almost every type of lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, basil and other herbs, even sushi wrappers (thats a whole other ball of wax) I feel my argument would be a little more convincing.

        Good Luck!

      • 1. Because it tastes good!

        2. Because its probably assur to be a veggie!

        3. Because HKBH gave us animals to eat after the mabul.

      • when I was in (public) high school, it was called Home Economics. Unfortunately, Home Ec courses were dropped from most schools due to budget cuts & the higher priority of academic subjects

    6. In response to #7, cooking is not the exclusive domain of the woman. Look at the caterers and their cooks, they are all men. #7’s statement is ridiculous.

    7. For the recored, DRS Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere, a school that I attended, has had a cooking class for five years. TABC’s is not the first to do this.

    8. Thank you for sharing this wonderful news!!! Now if only other schools will follow suit the religious world would be a better place! Kol Hakavod!

    9. It could be a great way for Yeshivas to save money and letting the Buchrim learn a tangible skill at the same time. The Yeshivos could trim their kitchen staffs filled with illegal immigrants and just hire 1 or 2 head cooks to both oversee and teach the bochrim.

    10. If G-D thought that women made better chefs, then they would’ve gotten the job of roasting the meat in the Beis Hamikdosh.
      Disclaimer: my mother is the best chef (ouch honey why’d you hit me, i meant my wife)

      • ““ does anyone know of a good yeshiva that also has vocational training i.e. mechanic etc.”

        How about Bramson ORT? I don’t have experience with them, but found this when I search for ORT(I knew that ORT is a Jewish organization that has offered vocational training for many years. The yeshiva joint program appears to be new).

        “Starting in fall 2008, the school will offer boys aged 16-20 a curriculum of yeshiva studies in the morning and vocational training in the afternoon, in a joint program with Chabad aimed at students at risk of dropping out of a traditional yeshiva program. Upon completion of the program, students will receive a GED (for those without a high school diploma), as well as an Associate of Arts degree in their chosen area of study.[3]”

        en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bramson_ORT_College
        http://www.bramsonort.edu/

      • Lancaster has a yeshiva under Rabbi Sackett’s guidance that does vocational training. They have done various construction projects, giving the boys hands-on training.

    11. breaking through gender walls in what is believed to be the first class of its kind in a mainstream yeshiva.
      The best chefs are males, (since the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach) Avraham served and choose the best of the food for his hachnasas orchim chesed program. Check out the BBQ’s in summer camps and on shabbatons and the boys can tell you the best sauces, dips, ingredients for an outstanding burger, steak, and honey-mustarded frank. Give men the skills to cook but not the credit card to buy the food.

      • LOL!

        Most mainstream yeshiva bochrim know or at least have an idea how to make a decent cholent!

        WITS (Chofetz Chaim Milwaukee) encourages bochrim to cooking cholent in the lab.

    12. g-d bless the yeshiva for taking a corageous step for their charges and giving them a wholesome experience with lots of pride!!!

      much hatzlacha and gaavah!

    13. its been 9 years since i was a freshman TABC and happy to hear the “cooking club” has gone from strength to strength. we’ve certainly come a long way from making sloppy joes, tacos or cookies in the old G.O. room and i couldnt be more proud!

    14. #33, you obviously write these comments just to anger people, because noone in their right mind would say these things seriously! and do the boys want to come to monsey and pick up a cow head to cook????

    15. Back in my days at the Academy, our Cooking Club operated out of the “kitchen” across from the vending machines. Now we have a whole team of Iron Chefs! This is a marvelous thing, those young men have truly done an incredible job. TABC was always a food-school, but they’ve taken this game to a whole new level. I wonder if those spiffy white hats come in blue and yellow? If so I want one! LETS GO STORM!

    16. I hope that this will begin a trend so that elementary and high school Bais Yaakovs as well seminaries will introduce similar courses.

      I am an advocate for everyone, men, women and children, knowing at least the basics of cooking. Some years ago the wife of someone who lived on my block passed away at a relatively young age, and the husband was left with taking care of his two young daughters. He had absolutely no knowledge of how to do anything in his home, and it turned out to be problem.

      Home skills are survival skills!

    17. We never had Home Economics in our Crown Heights Mesifta. I just remember one line from our rosh yeshiva on why he was letting guys out early on Friday afternoons (to help at home)–Quote: ” A mother on the floor, cleaning the floor is life a sefer torah on the floor.” He was releasing us from torah studies so that this chore could be done by his talmidim.
      –larry

      • Nice! As the mother of boys, I try to instill respect for women and ‘train’ them to be helpful husbands. And, my son was one of the chefs in the article!

    18. Great to hear more about this program. It is all upside. Some boys will learn and skill and the rest will have some fun and get a good meal! This is a wonderful channeling of teenage energy!!

      Kol Hakavod TABC!

    19. It’s not Ms. Bailey, it’s Mr. Bailey, who lives in Teaneck and davebs at Rinat, Rabbi Adler’s shul.

      I think the cooking course is a wonderful idea.

    20. Post #61 knows me well…a little creepy – except he failed to mention that I am actually Dr. Bailey, I am a clinical psychologist who, when not teaching Yeshiva boys how to cook, maintains a private practice in Teaneck for Adolescents and young adults.

      • Actually the Or Hachayim says he was trying to copy the ways of Esav. In any case, we see that he knew how to make a simple lentil stew – just put lentils and water in a pot, and boil until done. But when it came to meat, he relied on his mother.

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