By Stefanie Bailund–Witty
Culinary Student at the CKCA
New York, New York – it's all about the people, and ok, of course the food as well. This story begins while standing at the Port Authority in Manhattan, waiting for a bus to Kosherfest. It is there, on the bus waiting line that we met Stefanie Bailund-Witty, a student at The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts (CKCA). Stefanie was also on her way to Kosherfest. We wondered.. how would it feel to be a culinary student in a kosher focused culinary school? Since that question was too long to explore on a bus line, we asked Stefanie to contact us, and she graciously shared her thoughts. . .
Why did you decide that you would like to enter the culinary field, and to attend culinary school, a kosher one at that?
I grew up in San Diego where there are not many kosher options to eat out, so discovering different kosher products to use at home, was always exciting. I decided to enter the culinary field to incorporate skills in the culinary arts with my passion for nutrition. I believe the two, food and nutrition, go hand in hand. I want to find a job that combines both. I would like to be a personal chef for people with specific dietary needs. The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts is giving me the tools I need to become a personal chef. One of the main reasons why I chose to attend a kosher culinary school, is so that I could actually taste the food. This allows me to really understand how flavors mix and blend together, and how texture plays a big role in certain dishes.
Can you briefly describe a typical day at culinary school?
There is no doubt that culinary school presents a new adventure everyday. On a typical day-- everyone arrives and changes into uniform. Class begins at nine. Chef (Avram Wiseman, head culinary instructor) will usually start with a lecture on the subject we will be cooking in the next few days. Generally we cover two subjects a week. The lecture lasts about an hour, depending on the material and the number of follow-up questions. Then Chef hands out packets with information and recipes for the day. We are all up, washing our hands and getting out cutting boards and knives. We pair off and arrange our Mise en place a French term for "things in place", often used in professional kitchens to organize ingredients in preparation for cooking. With limited space, it gets a little cozy, and a bit of a challenge to work clean and neat; but at the end of the day everyone manages to put out a great looking plate of food.
What do you find most challenging about attending culinary school?
One of the biggest challenges is learning to multitask- properly. Sure people can juggle a couple of things at once, but when you have meat in the oven, potatoes on the stove, and you're prepping vegetables for blanching, things can get out of hand. Another challenge is getting hot food onto the plate; because when the meat is done, the blanched vegetables and potatoes may already be cold.
Are there some special cooking tips and tricks you have learned at the CKCA?
Well, I can't fully divulge all the secrets of the CKCA kitchen, but I can share a few. One great trick to get boiling water fast, is to have a big pot of hot water on a back burner. A personal favorite tip when it comes to plating, is blanching vegetables. When you present a dish with bright, crisp veggies, they really add great color and pop.
What are your favorite kitchen tools? Cookbooks?
One of my favorite cookbooks is "The Around the World Jewish cookbook", a cookbook I inherited from my grandmother. It is geographically divided into countries, states and cities; and gives authentic recipes from the area. I love learning about the different cuisines from around the world. It is fun to see how many similarities there are among the different cuisines.
My favorite kitchen tools would have to be; a mandolin, a spider (special wire strainer/spoon, to take things out of boiling water or oil), and a good chef's knife. Chef Wiseman always says, "your chef's knife is like an extension of you hand".
Would you like to share a favorite personal recipe with us?
I have a mandel bread recipe from my father's mother that I would love to share. It's simple and basic, but the flavor is intensely almond, with the right hint of cinnamon. I first made them last year, for a cultural nutrition class that I was taking in college. I remember my grandmother always having freshly made mandel bread when I would visit.
Where do you see yourself professionally 10 years from now? Describe your dream job.
Ten years from now I imagine myself working mostly in the nutrition world. I would love to combine my new learned skills from CKCA, with my love of nutrition, and work with school aged children. I think it is very important to educate young children about the importance of eating healthy and how much fun it can be. Cooking classes, games, and lectures to parents, are tools I hope to use to educate the next generation about eating right.
Would you like to share anything else with our readers or potential culinary students?
For any potential culinary students, I would say; stay focused on all classes, even if the subject doesn't interest you so much. Down the road you might find you need those skills, or need to use those techniques.
One last personal piece of advice: Keep things simple. Don't over crowd a plate, or over season a dish. Personally I find that simplicity is key.
Stefanie is the daughter of Tony Witty, originally from Boston, and Judy Bailund-Witty, a San Diego native. Her parents still lives in San Diego. Stefanie's older sister Sanda and her husband, Daniel, along with their 4 children live in Zichron Yaacov, Israel, but are in Albany, NY for the year. After this semester of culinary school, Stefanie plans to join them in Albany. Sounds like she will be learning some Israeli cooking skills for a while.
The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts (CKCA) is the worldwide destination for those seeking culinary education in a kosher environment. Students have traveled to study at CKCA from all across the US and from countries as far away as Australia, Panama, Mexico, the UK, Italy, and Canada. It is the only kosher cooking school outside of Israel to offer career training in culinary and pastry arts.