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Behind the Scenes for High Holy Days - Featuring Chef Jeff of our Mitzvah Kitchen

09/01/2022 10:07:57 AM


Blog and Interview by Rose Hornstein

Jeff Kirshbaum, known around Rodef Sholom as Chef Jeff, has been baking challah for the Mitzvah Kitchen for about 15 years. Chef Jeff is a seasoned cook, and he created the Mitzvah Kitchen initially to bake and deliver challah for those in our community in need of extra  love and support, or in celebration of a simcha. A few years later, Chef Jeff and his crew of volunteers expanded to begin cooking food that is delivered to congregants in need.  

Chef Jeff graciously donates his time to shop, prepare, bake and make delicious food. His love of baking is evident, in the time and care he puts into every loaf of bread and every meal. 

Here are some things you might not know about Chef Jeff:

1. What culinary school did you go to?: California Culinary Academy of San Francisco

2. Do you cook a lot for yourself outside of the Mitzvah Kitchen? Yes, I cook at home. I used to own Kirshbaum’s, a Deli on Belden Lane in San Francisco. We baked all of our own breads, we crafted sandwiches, and had a Daily Special, it was a hit. We even flew pastrami in from Brooklyn, New York. 

3.  Who is your favorite celebrity chef? Michael Tusk, he owns Quince, a Michelin 3-star restaurant and Cotogna, in San Francisco.

4. What is your favorite food to eat, and to make during the High Holy Days? Brisket.

5. When you cook, do you play certain kinds of music or podcasts? Generally no, because I need to concentrate, so it is quiet. 

6.  What is the symbolism of the circular challah for the High Holy Days? I think a circle, like a ring, is never-ending. Sephardic Jews eat a different bread on the High Holy Days.* Challah is for the Ashkenazi Jews to eat on certain holidays and Shabbat.  

[*Note: Moroccan Jews typically bake a round bread called kbhoz for Rosh Hashanah, as well as pain petri, which is made with sesame and anise seeds, and served on Shabbat Rosh Hashanah, and other holidays.]

7. How has it been cooking in the JCC Kitchen? It is a well equipped kitchen, and people at the JCC are nice and very helpful.

8. What are you most looking forward to with the new kitchen? It is going to have a much bigger layout, and a huge walk-in refrigerator, which has been needed for a long time.

9. Do you use family recipes or cookbooks? The brisket is my mother's recipe, so I use that. I have an app on my phone with about 3,000 recipes. So, I do not generally look at cookbooks. I watch a lot of cooking shows and videos and get inspiration from there. Previously, I made about 400 pounds of brisket and matzah ball soup for people to eat for the Mitzvah Kitchen. We decided not to do that this year because of the move out of the old building. 

10. What is your schedule when it comes to planning, shopping, prepping, cooking and serving for the Mitzvah Kitchen? Usually on Monday, I go to Smart and Final to get some ingredients. Tuesday is Costco, for the remainder. On Wednesday, I come in and make the dough for the Challah and the artisan bread. On Thursday, the volunteers come in to make the meals and pack them up. Lastly, on On Fridays we deliver the Challah, in time for Shabbat. 

11. What is your culinary dream destination? Rabbi Stacy tells me I need to go back to Israel. I haven't been in a while. I was there so long ago I got to meet David Ben-Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Israel). 

12. What is an easy tip for someone who is new to cooking and baking that you would recommend? The first thing they teach in culinary school, the biggest way to avoid mistakes is a French term and technique called mise-en-place. This means get everything prepped and measure every ingredient out before you start cooking.

Tue, March 28 2023 6 Nisan 5783