Published on September 16, 2014 · By benccole
Chef Eric Bolyard’s culinary career has included stints in Michelin-starred kitchens on both sides of the Atlantic, but his latest creative challenge brought him to a new frontier: Yuda Schlass’s loft in Crown Heights.
In 2005, Eric shelved a business management degree on a hunch that he wanted to cook in restaurants, and soon found himself in Europe: first, in Basque country working the grill station at the legendary Asador Etxebarri, then at London’s St. John Bread & Wine, before returning to the U.S. to work at Daniel Humm’s celebrated Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan.
At the end of last year, Eric left the kitchen “to explore different avenues of alternative dining,” including the launch of his supper club Tasting Society, and private gigs with Kitchensurfing. Six months into his restaurant hiatus, Kitchensurfing’s Yuda Schlass contacted Eric about preparing one half of an eight-course, all-Kosher tasting menu. And so began an illuminating culinary adventure that has confirmed many of the principles that define his work as a chef.
“I was bar mitzvahed,” he says, but “had zero experience with kosher cuisine”—a common refrain from those outside of the kosher community. Which brings us to a definition of terms: for the purposes of Kosher by Kitchensurfing, “Kosher” means more than avoiding certain combinations of meat and dairy.
Let’s start in the kitchen. Kosher meals must also be prepared in a kosher kitchen, with Kosher utensils and served only on kosher dishes. What makes a dish or utensil Kosher? The second your salad spoon touches non-kosher food, it is no longer kosher. If a milk spoon is used to mix a hot meat dish, that spoon will no longer be kosher. That’s why kosher households have entire sets of kitchenwares—including dishwashers—for exclusive use in kosher dairy or kosher meat preparation.
In fact, the logistics surrounding equipment and prep time are often the biggest challenge to chefs working in a kosher setting. “I’m very particular about how I store my mise en place, so if they don’t have enough quart containers, I start to freak out,” Eric jokes (he’s since started stocking extra disposable quarts specifically for kosher gigs).
All meats served at Kosher meals are certified “glatt kosher,” meaning they have been slaughtered properly according to kashrut, Jewish dietary law, and have undergone additional examination by a rabbi. Produce requires scrutiny as well. In order to be certified as kosher, all vegetables and grains must be inspected to assure that no insects are present at the time of sale or preparation. All other items—including oils, dairy items, and breads—must contain only kosher ingredients and be marked with a kosher symbol.
For Eric, those rules aren’t an obstacle. “For me, it’s a welcome challenge,” he explains, “It opens up the floor for other new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of without that constraint—I don’t like to use that word “constraint” because it’s not necessarily a constraint, it’s more of an opportunity.”
Eleven Madison Park, renowned as much for its food as its uncompromising approach to hospitality, prepared Eric for his work with kosher clients. “They actually make multiple sauces for almost every dish,” he explains, referencing the daily preparation required just in case a single diner has, for example, a gluten intolerance. “I’ve kind of been brought up with the mindset that you don’t have to sacrifice [the] complexity of a dish just because there’s some sort of alternative dietary restriction.”
The goal of Yuda’s supper club—to introduce New York’s Kosher community to food they’d never tasted before—resonated with Eric. “Having a person say ‘I would have never thought of this’ is very rewarding to me,” he says. “It’s a very rewarding experience. It’s revelatory to see a very strong opinion being swayed in another direction.”
Consider his menu: ocean trout paired with charred white asparagus, pistachio and salmon roe; lamb chops served with modernist flourishes like rhubarb agrodolce and fennel purée; and his take on panzanella, featuring both dark rye and orange blossom “ice.” Each dish adheres the simple principles of Eric’s culinary philosophy—something familiar with something unexpected, essentially—and would also seem right at home on an Eleven Madison Park menu. With confidence that sourcing and preparation conform to kosher requirements, Eric’s attention returns to the plate, where it should be.
Ultimately, kosher cooking is about creatively showcasing ingredients at their best, in a new, unexpected light—a goal that has nothing to do with kitchen equipment, dietary laws, or religious observances. Take Eric’s word for it: “Tradition is equated with limitation, and I don’t think that needs to be the case.”
Rosh Hashanah is less just one week away, and this will be the first New Year for the new Kosher by Kitchensurfing program. Headed by chef-rabbi Yuda Schlass, our kosher program features both chefs with extensive kosher cooking backgrounds alongside chefs who have been trained by our team and who work exclusively with glatt kosher products.