When Chabad Rabbi Hanoch Hecht announced that he would compete in an upcoming Chopped episode, his congregation thought it was a joke.
And yet Hecht, who lives in the town of Rhinebeck in the Hudson Valley, will face off for the title of best chef against a priest, a pastor and a nun-in-training in a June 21 Chopped episode.
“Everybody thought that it was a joke that the rabbi was making on the Saturday sermon,” said Hecht. “They really didn’t think it was coming true.”
Hecht, who teaches Kosher classes at the Culinary Institute of America and maintains a home fruit and vegetable garden, is passionate about food. Nominated by professors at the Culinary Institute, Hecht went into the show because he wanted to raise awareness about Kosher cooking to the masses.
“I know that the food market is changing, but Kosher is also changing,” said Hecht. “I felt that I had the opportunity to bring awareness to Kosher in a very different approach.”
He went through several auditions for the show but didn’t get confirmation until a week before filming, when one of the writers approached about putting together a bio for the show.
Hecht admits that he was nervous about almost every aspect of the show. As he does not own a television, Hecht only learned about the specifics of Chopped by catching up on past episodes while he was going through the interview process.
“You’re going into a very heated competition,” said Hecht. “When the clock sets, that’s real. Everything is real about it.”
While Hecht could not reveal the details of what he cooked or the results of the show, he said the producers were very accommodating to his needs as a Kosher chef. The show’s description said that salmon was in the cooking basket for the four clerics.
“I went through all the details of what I prefer to cook and what I prefer not to cook and they were very, very sensitive to that,” he said.
But for Hecht, the most positive aspect of participating in the show was still the ability to break stereotypes and raise excitement for Kosher cooking among young Jewish people. Hecht, who regularly prepares some of his signature dishes for Shabbat dinner, said that he’s been seeing significant changes in the approach to Kosher cooking over the last 10 years.
“The preparation of Shabbat is not just some woman sitting in a kitchen slaving while her husband comes to the table Friday night,” he said.
Now that the episode is finally ripe to be released on television, Hecht is hosting two screening parties — one in NYC and one in Rhinebeck. Also known for his Six Minute Rabbi speed sessions on Judaism, Hecht is looking forward to watching the show with his friends, family and congregants.
“I think my son is more excited than anybody else,” he said.