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In the Joy of Kosher Kitchen with Chef Laura Frankel

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We are very excited to invite Chef Laura Frankel into our joyofkosher kitchen.  Chef Frankel is the Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering at the Spertus Institute for Jewish studies in Chicago.  She is the author of Jewish Cooking For All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.  Chef Frankel is an avid farmer’s market supporter, giving demos and teaching classes all over the country featuring market produce.

Chef Frankel is the former chef and founder of the Shallots restaurants.  She opened her first restaurant in 1998, offering kosher fine dining with a produce-driven menu.  Frankel opened Shallots NY in 2000 in midtown Manhattan. In 2004, she moved her Chicago restaurant to Skokie, (a suburb with a large Jewish population outside of Chicago) and created Shallots Bistro.

You can learn more about Chef Laura Frankel by visiting her website at and follow her on Twitter @cheflaura1.

1     How would you describe your cooking philosophy?

I go with the Cucina Povera philosophy. The Italian philosophy (which means “poor kitchen”) uses local ingredients, food that is in season and as local as possible - not schlepped from half-way around the world.  Though I am not necessarily poor, I like to use what is in season, naturally available and prefer for it to be right outside my front door, I also buy my food in whole ingredients.  I am not purchasing pre-made mixes, faux food or laboratory food.  If a dish cannot be made without losing the integrity of the dish, then rethink the menu.  This is how all chefs think.  Somehow, kosher chefs have a disconnect and try to “mirror” foods that are not necessarily kosher/pareve or whatever.  They lose the whole point of the dish, not even mentioning nuance from subtle combinations.

2     You avoid non-dairy substitutes like soy milk and margarine that many kosher chef’s use to recreate traditionally dairy recipes.  Were you once terrorized by a pareve chocolate soufflé?  Please explain…

A chocolate Soufflé is all about the chocolate. Margarine does not taste good and neither does soy milk.  No amount of cooking time or added ingredients can and should be used to cover up inferior ingredients.  You can make a great soufflé with great chocolate, eggs, coffee, vanilla and the starch of your choice.  No need to add margarine or soy milk.  That is only added by someone who doesn’t understand ingredient function and how a recipe really works.  Reflexively adding margarine for butter and soy milk for milk or cream means you have no idea what you are doing.  Study, my friends!  Practice and learn what makes a soufflé a soufflé.  A soufflé is comprised of 3 things.  A custard base, a flavorful liquid and air.

The point really is that a cook needs to understand what each ingredient brings to the party, then decide if it will work to make it pareve.  I can make a faux crème brulee.  But why would I?  Cream is amazing!  What did cream ever do to me?  Faux crème brulee only brings about apologies that sound like WELL IT ISN’T BAD FOR PAREVE... well, it is bad.  Cream melts at body temperature and brings the flavors of the dessert around your palate.  Margarine, soy milk and Rich's whip do not.  I have been terrorized by customers asking for faux béarnaise sauce.  Hello!?  The main ingredient is butter.  Butter is butter, there is no substitute.

3     What do you see as the next big trend in kosher food?

As the kosher market changes, I see people becoming more aware of organic food, the environment and modern ingredients.  People ask about wild fish, organic produce and are looking for modern flavors.  I hope to see that philosophy increase.

4     Describe your best cooking moment as a chef?

I have a lot of moments.  I am happy when people get it.  I am thrilled when they come to us, specifically for me. I have a great job and really get to have many “ta-dah” moments.  Most people never have that in their jobs. I am a lucky ducky!

5     What have you learned from Wolfgang Puck?  What do you think he has learned from you?

Chef Wolfgang has a long history of insisting on ethically raised food.  When the whole Agriprocessors debacle went down, I was knee deep in events.  We had a hard time finding products.  Chef Wolfgang had a long time ago shifted his purchasing to products that were more expensive, but better.  He is incredibly aware of the marketplace.

I have a no compromises approach to kosher food.  I do not think that is common anywhere and certainly not in kosher.  I never want to say, "it is good, for kosher."

6     What are some of your favorite dishes?

I love Lamb Tagine.  I started making the Lamb Tagine when I opened my first restaurant, Shallots in Chicago, in 1998.  It has gotten so many positive reviews in Chicago, New York and in my books.  The recipe has evolved over the years and become very modern and interpretative.

7     What is your earliest memory of cooking?

Pulling a chair to the counter and watching my mother.  I have always been fascinated by cooking.  I always knew what I wanted to do.

8     When you are not wearing an apron and standing behind the stove, what do you like to eat?

My husband, who is also a chef, makes killer French pastries.  He uses teas, litchi, other exotic fruits, chocolates, nuts, vanilla beans and sea salts.  Oh yeah, and tons of butter.  These recipes cannot be made pareve!

9     You did not grow up in a kosher home.  What inspired you to adopt a kosher lifestyle?

Simple, I had kids and wanted them to know who they were and where they came from.  Kashrut is the logical place to start.

10     Describe your worst kitchen disaster as a chef?

My pastry chef in New York used too much almond extract in a recipe.     The people eating the cake thought they had been poisoned.  It was a disaster.  Taste your food, folks... before serving it!

11     What advice would you give the busy home cook?

First, learn and plan ahead.  Half of cooking is planning. Second, learn a couple of recipes inside and out.  Then try riffing on them!

12     With summer approaching our thoughts turn to barbeque, picnics at the park and lazy days at the beach.  Can you share with us a few recipes for a perfect summer menu?

These recipes appeared in my first book,

Jewish Cooking For All Seasons


Tomato Gazpacho


Roasted Lamb Chops with Fava Beans and Minted Risotto

, and

Roasted Pineapple with Pineapple Sorbet