By Amy Schmidt, Young Judaea Year Course, Los Angeles, CA
Shalom from Israel! My name is Amy and I’m a Year Course participant from Southern California. I decided to do the Culinary Track because, as a long-time lover of food, I wanted to learn as much about it as I possibly could, and after only a few weeks, I can say I’ve absolutely made the right choice!
The Culinary Track began in the way that I personally believe that everything should begin: with a good meal and good conversation with people who share similar interests. Though we were told immediately of the delicious adventures in store for us, I don’t think any of us could have foreseen them. I can’t really describe the feeling of excitement that seized me when we first arrived at the famous Machane Yehuda shuk (open-air market) for our first lesson. We’d been told that we’d be learning from the renowned chef of a nearby restaurant, but I didn’t realize that we’d actually be doing so within the enormous market where Jerusalem’s best groceries are bought from a street full of screaming vendors.
As we were led through the market’s maze of alleys, I turned to my friend Dani and saw my excitement mirrored on her face. We rushed through a small, nondescript door in one of the alleys and found ourselves in a beautiful, open kitchen with an enormous table overlooking the market.
As soon as we entered the room, our noses were greeted by an incredible array of smells emanating from a few pots on the stove and proceeded to meet Tali, our new teacher. Tali told us about her background, namely that she’d been a chef for fifteen years and used to teach culinary courses. Now? She runs a business where she guides tourists through the shuk, shows them how to shop, and then brings them into her own kitchen to cook!
After meeting Tali, we then introduced ourselves to her, telling her why we had chosen to embark on this food journey, what we wanted to learn, what we loved about food, and what we wanted to take away from the course. It was pretty incredible to hear that while we were all united by a love of food, everyone in the group had completely diverse views on cooking and diet.
Enough talking-let’s get to work! Taking our places around the huge table, we learned our first lesson: knife skills and cutting vegetables for an enormous Thai stir-fry. Tali presented us with a huge bowl of assorted vegetables (carrots, bell peppers, and onions) and showed us the proper way to hold our knives so that we could “julienne” the vegetables without cutting ourselves.
After we finished cutting our vegetables, we gathered around the stove with Tali, who showed us the proper way to handle a wok and exactly how to stir fry vegetables. Let it be known that this is not the easiest way of cooking. Simple and delicious, but not easy. It takes an great amount of wrist strength and good coordination in order to bring the pan down and then up again in the right trajectory.
Much effort and spilled vegetables later, we had ourselves an inordinately delicious and flavorful vegetarian stir-fry, which we promptly sat down at the table and enjoyed. I was thrilled with the class and am incredibly excited for the next ones. I’d like to toast the culinary track and state a wish from the outset: that every class and adventure will be more flavorful than the last, and that all my fellow cooks have as good a time as I do.