Photo: Aline Frisch/Joy of Kosher
Kosher food tends to get a bad rap. Some people who adhere to the Jewish dietary laws called “kashrut,” which banishes pork and shellfish from the plate and forbids the mixing of milk and meat (among other rules), think that the kosher food they get out in the world tends to be sub-par. Think: airline-quality boxed meals and stale-tasting processed snacks. But Jamie Geller, the force behind kosher empire Joy of Kosher (which spans a blog, three cookbooks, and a bimonthly magazine), seeks to change that misconception, with inventive recipes that prove it’s possible for food to be both kosher and tasty.
The former New York City resident, who moved to the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh a few years ago, believes the key is starting with fresh, quality ingredients. “Everyone’s on a diet, whether it’s Paleo or raw food,” she told us. “This is just another one.”
Here are a few more things to know about Jamie Geller:
1. She wasn’t kosher until adulthood.
"I have fond memories of bacon, pepperoni pizza. and crab legs dipped in butter. I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia with astrong Jewish identity, but I didn’t keep kosher or practice the religion. The truth is I sort of just became more interested [in kosher food] in 2000, when I started to become religious.”
2. She worked as a TV producer and marketing executive for HBO before Joy of Kosher.
"I did the promotions for all the shows: Sex and the City, The Wire, The Sopranos. I was totally kosher, and they brought kosher food in for me everywhere. It’s not hard in a place like New York City, where there are tons of kosher restaurants.”
Geller’s grilled steak with chimichurri sauce. Photo: Joy of Kosher
3. Her parents are from Transylvania.
“They moved from Transylvania to Pennsylvania in 1964. From a food perspective, it affected mevery much. My grandparents were all from the old country. These people don’t follow recipes. It’s in their blood. They’re catching the fish and they’re cooking it.
4. Her mom wasn’t much of a cook.
“When my mother came to America, her dream was to [not be] a pregnant woman in the kitchen with no career, so she literally rebelled against the kitchen and anything domestic. She wanted to build a house, and build it without a kitchen. Her dream was for me to be the first Jewish woman president of the United States.”
Geller with her children. Photo: Joy of Kosher
5. Geller was completely clueless in the kitchen as a newlywed.
"My oven was used for storage in Manhattan. I never turned it on! My husband, though, was super comfortable in the kitchen. Both his parents cooked, and in high school he worked double and triple shifts as a waiter and maître d. He literally held my hands and walked me through touching my first raw chicken. I love that he opened my eyes to the fact that you don’t have to be a trained chef, and you don’t have to use equipment with names that you can’t pronounce. After a year, my husband literally was like, ‘You should write a cookbook.’”
Geller’s citrus-glazed roasted carrots. Photo: Joy of Kosher
6. Geller doesn’t think her mother approves of her domestically oriented career.
"She hates to see me cooking in the kitchen. She finished high school, but she never made it to college—she didn’t get to realize those dreams for herself, so that’s why she wanted it for me. She is proud and she is happy, but the fact that [my success is] based on cooking and food? That’s hard for her to grasp. If I was doing this all from an office on Park Avenue, she’d totally get it."
The current issue of Joy of Kosher magazine.
7. Classic cuisine reigns supreme in the Geller household.
"I make a creamy baked ziti that we love, a split pea barley beef soup called ‘beef porridge.’ Chicken soup. Rakott krumpli, which is a Hungarian dish with layers of sour cream and sliced hard-cooked eggs and potatoes and butter. Potato kugel. (I guess I really like indulgent stuff.)”
8. Although Hanukkah is traditionally a minor holiday in Judaism, it has special meaning for Geller.
"My son was born on the 5th night of Hanukkah, so that was the best Hanukkah present I ever got. So we always host a big Geller family Hanukkah. We do lots of latkes and donuts and a big dessert table. And then we always do something dairy, since dairy is a tradition for the holiday. We do a spinach fettuccine Alfredo, or a goat cheese and walnut salad with a mustard vinaigrette. Then, of course, a latke topping bar."
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