URIEL STERN: KIEV’S KING OF KOSHER COOKING

 


Who would figure a jovial observant Jew, to become a Ukrainian reality TV star?

 

But that’s just what Chef Uriel Stern has become… that and more. Known for his appearances on TV food shows, the strictly kosher cook has introduced Jewish cooking to millions of decidedly non-Jewish Ukrainian TV viewers and they’re loving it. The way to a country’s heart may well be through its stomach but the Chef’s personal warmth and humor probably endears him as much to his audience as does his cooking.

We sat down for a conversation with the man who has taken the joys of Jewish cooking and made a wonderful life filled with traditional ingredients that somehow blend just wonderfully in modern day Ukraine.

Tell us about your childhood. How (or how not) religious were you as a kid, as a younger man? Did you attend synagogue regularly? We want to get an idea of what lead up to you changing  your life.

My family had been settled in Odessa since 1908. I was born in this city during Soviet Union rule, to a Jewish family. And the only traditions that were kept were the culinary traditions. My grandmother used to bake matzah – we had such a special hand-crafted device for this: a clock wheel attached to a wooden handle. I guess that most of the Jews, whose life spanned in the Soviet Union, remember such ones in their homes.

We always celebrated Passover and Rosh Hashanah – those are two of my Jewish childhood holidays. At the age of 13, a grand birthday was arranged for me, the bar mitzvah – they just said it is an important date for the Jewish boy, but no more. My granny and mother were fluent at Yiddish, my great grandmother wrote in Yiddish, but they feared to teach me the language and traditions – in the Soviet Union it was unsafe. So, apart from culinary, there were no particular Jewish traditions in the house. My grandmother asked me not to do any business on Saturday, and do things on Sunday.

In Soviet times, of course, it was impossible to think of any Jewish religious life. But in 1989, when I went to Israel, I discovered the sanctity of Yom Kippur. It inspired me, and when I returned to Odessa, I began to attend the Jewish community Synagogue for all holidays. During one of the celebrations, I met the Odessa Chief Rabbi Abraham Wolf. He asked me to come to the synagogue every Sabbath for Torah reading. I came, listened to the Torah, Rabbi Wolf helped me make the decision to join the Testament of Abraham, and I began to follow certain commandments. Then, on moving to the United States, I began to comply with the commandments in full: kosher food, Shabbat… Students of Rabbi Shaya Gisser, also a native of Odessa, took me under their wing and helped me very much at this stage.

My life has changed since then. It has become, in the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a life full of meaning. Any action, even the most mundane, such as, for example, food … Or – here’s a good example – even a trip to the toilet for a Jew carries a special meaning. RaMBaM himself tells about it! Believing people at every second of their life know why one is here, in this world.

When did you know (or began considering) a career as a chef? Did you like to cook as a kid – give us a childhood anecdote about you and food? What training did you receive, what did you learn from your mother or other family members? What were your favorite dishes as a kid and do you still like them and prepare them now?

I have always loved to cook – this is my vocation. My grandmother loved and knew how to cook, since nine years of age she used to cover wedding tables. She hadn’t got a girl grandchild and, probably, that’s why all these talents passed to me. Though – and that’s funny – my granny used to forbid me to cook: she said that if I learn to cook well, my future wife would take advantage of it and not do anything in the kitchen. And, nevertheless, I could cook very well since childhood and had taken over all the principles of traditional Jewish cuisine from my grandma, and have been applying them ever since. My grandmother strictly observed the rules and refused to cook, if there was not at least one, albeit a minor ingredient for future meals. This exactitude, seriousness, in other words – tradition, I absorbed from her: not to compromise in matters of preparing truly delicious dishes.

Since childhood, from my grandmother, I got a very interesting, an amazing treat – all to whom I had presented it, were surprised and delighted. It is called Panzanella – a salad, in which my grandma and I still use Black Sea sprats or anchovies. This is the Odessan variant of Panzanella – with the Black Sea sprats.

Tell us about your family and what foods you prepare for them (do you do the cooking at home?)? Do you help with the dishes?!

I cook at home almost all of the traditional Jewish courses, but I prepare them exclusively on Jewish holidays. For Shabbat meals I cook contemporary kosher food so that my guests can taste and enjoy something new every time. In my family – I have a wife and four children (the eldest daughter has grown up and lives separately, in Chicago, Illinois), – so, in our family there is a rule that special meals are prepared only on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. For the rest of the week we follow a simple healthy diet: lots of vegetables, fruits, dairy products and fish. Once a week, meat. But on Shabbat we are preparing delicacies, because the Jew must detach Saturday from the chain of regular days. For this case, there is a division of responsibilities – I work upon recipes, and my wife and fourteen year old daughter apply them.

You’ve become not only a master chef but also a national celebrity in Ukraine. Tell us about your TV appearances and how you felt about spreading the joy of Jewish cooking to so many viewers who knew little or nothing about it. Do you find any conflict between being devout and being a celebrity or do the two easily reckon?

Quite often I am asked about whether or not there is a problem that I am both a well-known personality and a religious Jew at the same time. Inside me there is no conflict between these two. Yes, I am the first media personality on the central Ukrainian TV to  appear with a Yamaka (kipa), with a beard, and not just once, but over a whole series of shows. And this is also no problem! I proved everyone that piousness does not set it back completely. When working with Forbes, I was going to wear a chef’s hat on top of yamaka, but they said, ‘No, we want you to be this way in the picture”. In Ukraine there is no problem with that, no one is bothered over my religion. But more than 90% of viewers of my programs are non-Jews. And with that I feel great joy – and responsibility – when talking about kosher Jewish cuisine, to both Jews and non-Jews. The reaction of the audience, by the way, proves that request for such TV shows is not just there – it is huge. People are keen to learn about Jewish cuisine, they are willing to understand the kosher cooking. And we are ready to provide viewers with quality, interesting and honest video product.

We understand that you hold master classes now and share your knowledge with students eager to keep kosher cooking central to the life of the Jews of Ukraine. Talk to us about how not only is it central to Jewish law but to Jewish culture, as well.

Kosher food and, wider, the Jewish cuisine is a part of Jewish culture. Mainly thanks to the culinary tradition Soviet Jews were able to remain Jews in this atheistic country. Generally I did not consider preparation of kosher Jewish dishes as possible profession for quite a long period of life. I cooked at home, as well as for friends in many countries. And people remembered my meals, and remembered them after a long time – in context of Jewish culture. So I moved to Kiev and saw that there is no nice kosher food, no such variety of offer which is available in Israel or the United States. Here the list of kosher foods was limited to minimum, and so I began to invent. To make up the ways one could create tasty and varied kosher treats. We started making kosher whole grain bread, opened a shop, then when the situation has improved, and a restaurant was opened, and my partners invited me to run it. At that time in Kiev, there were two kosher meat restaurants, so we decided to open a dairy restaurant, and it turned out to be one of the best in the world – I travel a lot, believe me – it is one of the coolest dairy restaurants on the planet. Here, in Kiev.

Kashrut is one of the commandments. Shabbat, kashrut and family life are the three pillars of Jewish life. And if we remember, how we came to this world, it turns out that Adam ate the forbidden, non kosher product – and heaven collapsed. Adam had just one commandment – and it was actually kosher: to eat from these trees, and from those not to eat! And it is clear that in Jewish law the most strict rules refer to kosher food: for G-d, not only the soul of a Jew is important, but also the body.

And in the colossal of FJC’s and Chabad work of returning post-Soviet Jews to religious life a significant role belongs to cooks. Their mastership helps transfer people from non-kosher food to kosher. We let understand that kosher food is not too complicated, and there is no kind of infringement. And I am grateful to all those people who, for example, made it possible for the Jews of the post-Soviet to buy inexpensive kosher wine and milk. And I want to emphasize once again: the renaissance of Jewish religious life was possible thanks to the great work of the FJC’s Jewish community rabbis and Chabad emissaries.

Books, TV shows, your catering business … what does the near future hold for you? Plans for a new book, a new show on the horizon? Your work with Forbes, Men’s Health?

Over the past time I worked for the Ukrainian Forbes and Men’s Health magazines. Men’s Health is now closed, and at Forbes is facing big financial problems. So this issue is now over for me. Now I see my main task in spreading kashrut knowledge and, more broadly, awareness about the Jewish law. For this I have online TV, I started filming “The Jews Cook For Saturday” show for Chabad.org, where I talk about Jewish kosher food from more than a hundred countries. By the end of the year I hope I’ll release release a book of recipes.

In the coming weeks I also start an Internet TV – 1kosher.tv. It will feature not just recipes, but also stories about Jewish traditions and interviews with rabbis. This will allow the viewer feel the context and come to the conscious implementation of the rules of kashrut.

Finally, sum up for us about the importance (spiritually, historically, nutritionally) of being “well kosher fed.”

I know that my team can make a quality product, interesting to the viewer. We share Jewish culinary traditions, and with them the spiritual values. Our mission is to bring light into every home with the Jewish Shabbat meal.

 

INSIDE THE PAGES OF “JEWISH WOMAN”

 

A Russian Magazine By, For and About Jewish Mothers, Sisters, Daughters and Wives.

“It is important to show Jewish women that Judaism is for us. That G-d gave the commandments for our benefit, not to make our lives more difficult, but to make our lives better. It is important to show that Judaism affects every aspect of our lives positively.” This, says Chana Gopin, is why she created Jewish Woman – a magazine for Russian speaking Jewish women across the world.

With over 4,000 subscribers  over 15 years and 159 issues, the magazine can only be deemed a success. It’s pages are filled with high quality content, features, articles on women’s health, beauty, news, family life and of course, Judaism.

Chana Gopin (on right) with her community members

The magazine takes a hard look inside the life of Jewish women: the power she has inside and outside of her home.   Each month, two Jewish women are featured: one who lives in Israel and has achieved success in her career in the fields of government, health, economics or business; another who resides in the Former Soviet Union and has achieved success on a more personal level.  

Jewish Woman is about bringing Jewish women together through common goals, desires, and mutual support.

 

Jewish Refugees taken in across Ukraine

 

A Jewish child in midst of war, reeving a hot meal at the FJC’s soup kitchen

For now it seems that a tentative peace treaty is holding Ukraine. The future of Eastern Ukraine, however, still looks grim.

Over the last year and half, over 65 thousand Jews from eastern Ukraine have been forced to flee their homes due to the fighting near their homes. Two entire FJC communities,  Lugansk and Donetsk, were resettled. At first, they moved into our summer camp facilities in the rural areas,  then relocated to different Jewish communities across the country.

Jewish Refuges in Eastern Ukraine, entering the FJC’s Soup Kitchen

 

From Kiev to Odessa, fellow Jews were welcomed with open arms. The community of Rostov in Russia has also helped absorbed most of the refugees. The FJC has created directorship positions in each city specifically tasked with helping the refugees acclimate and settle into their new cities. Our team places families in necessary therapies to assist them in coping with their new reality and to try and reverse the trauma they have endured. Refugee youth are assisted with placement in schools and adults with job placement.

We are doing our utmost – thanks to the support of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and individual donors from across the globe –  to make a very difficult and painful situation as bearable a possible. It is our hope that with support and assistance, those who have had to flee can build new lives.

>> Press here to learn more and take action << 

 

Pizza Marinara

 

Pizza Marina
Pizza Marinara by Chef Lambiase

 Ingredients:

    • 1 cup lukewarm water
    • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 -3 cups unbleached flour or 2 -3 cups bread flour
    • 1 teaspoon cornmeal
    • fresh tomatoes or pizza sauce
    • oregano
    • shredded mozzarella cheese
    • pizza toppings (optional)   

 

Directions: 

  1. Pour water into bowl.
  2. Sprinkle with yeast and leave for five minutes.
  3. Stir and add sugar, salt, and olive oil. Beat well.
  4. Stir in half of flour.
  5. Beat until smooth.
  6. Add as much of the rest of the flour as needed to make the dough just firm enough to manage.
  7. Knead for five minutes.
  8. Roll it into a ball and flatten.
  9. Sprinkle corn meal over pan and stretch dough over it. Make ridges at the edges.
  10. Let rise for fifteen minutes.
  11. Lightly brush or spray the dough with some oil.
  12. Add your choice of toppings. Heat for 20-30 minutes at 425°F.

 

Chef Yochanan Lambiase heralds from five generations of chefs from Southern Italy. He trained under some of the most famous Michelin Star Chefs in the world. He was the founder of the Jerusalem Culinary Institute Chef Yochanan appears regularly on radio and television as well as contributing cooking articles. Chef Yochanan will guide you through a tantalizing and trendy gourmet kosher experience Contact Chef Yochanan at koshergonewild@gmail.com for information about his exciting culinary and wine tasting tours, cooking classes, culinary happenings and out of the box culinary events. Don’t forget to visit Yochanan’s Facebook at Kosher Gone Wild  for more tricks and recipes!

 

 

Words of Wisdom:

The secret to focus in two simple steps

 

By: Shloime Zacks 

Shalom Friends,

We often find that we have so many things to do that it is hard not to lose focus or even forget why we are doing it. So allow me to offer a few words about how we can stay focused and in turn validate the meaning of our daily activities and occupation.

Have you ever heard of Viktor Frankel? He developed the theory in psychology known as; Logotherapy.

He argues that the greatest motivator in life is; Meaning. He developed his theory and therapy style based on his experiences in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. He observed that those prisoners that had a strong sense of meaning in their life were more likely to strive to survive. He identified his own “meanings” as being reunited with his wife and publishing his papers.

Now, according to Frankel the more meaning you ascribe to a task you are working on the more likely you are to complete it. Say for example you are working on a report or new project and are feeling a lack of motivation or incentive. You just can’t seem to buckle down and invest the time or necessary attention to it. What can you do?

This is where logotherapy works really well. Make it meaningful.

The work is a means to an end to an eventual goal right? When one loses sight of the goal then the means to get there becomes a massive drag and meaningless. To counteract this loss of sight one has to reconnect the means to the end and set them both back in focus.

HOW? Try these two very easy steps. You will amazed at how well it works.

1. Spend a few minutes each morning reminding yourself verbally of your goal. “I want to be……this work is my means of getting there.” Visualize your goal coming true in your mind’s eye.  All of a sudden the work/task becomes very meaningful in your eyes. “This work is my ticket to achieving my goal.” You will feel the motivation to achieve and put your whole self into the work/assignment.

2. Manage yourself – Write an action plan. Create a work schedule that is realistic and stick to it. Take control, tell yourself “This is my priority.” Remove all distractions away from you or move away from them. Take yourself seriously and be your own hero. You’ve got this!!