It sounds like a Jewish “Top Chef” challenge: Prepare a five-course kosher tasting menu using cutting-edge cooking techniques, pair with kosher wines and serve to 135 diners ranging from 20-something New York hipsters to 60-year-old women wearing sheitels.
That was former “Top Chef” contestant Eli Kirshtein’s task January 23 at New York’s Solo Restaurant — where he is currently a guest chef — in an event that was sponsored by the Kosher Wine Society.
Kirshtein, who nearly made it to the finals of the Last Vegas season of the hit show on Bravo, cooked up a tasting menu inspired by molecular gastronomy, which he described as “taking food down to its essential components and reconstructing it.”
Though this was likely the first kosher foray into the cuisine, which uses chemicals and powders to manipulate properties of foods, and precision cooking in scientifically controlled temperatures to affect the flavor and texture of foods like meat and eggs, Kirshtein wasn’t intimidated. “It’s incidental that [the food’s] kosher. But it’s my food,” he said.
To start off the evening, Kirshtein served up persimmon salad with cocoa bits and almonds, followed by black bass tartar and then slices of rich cow tongue with slow-cooked egg yolk, and finally a smoked Jerusalem artichoke soup. For dessert, a pistachio sponge cake atop a citrus zabaglione.
While the concept of modern or “molecular” cooking appeals to the mind, it can present challenges in appealing to the palate if not executed nearly perfectly. Kirshtein’s luscious soup and intriguing preparation of tongue were followed by a dessert that missed the mark. The cake (which was cooked in a microwave) was bland, its sauce overly citrusy.
While kosher may be going the way of gourmet food shows, it doesn’t seem ready to say goodbye to its past. As Kirshtein spoke at the event, a tray of spring rolls (a mainstay of kosher catering) came out of the kitchen and diners swarmed it.
Kirshtein commented, “It’s like watching piranhas over there.”