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Parshas Bo - The One & Only Chef's Delight    8 Shvat 5781

01/29/2021 08:23:28 AM


One hundred years ago the fast-food industry was introduced in the United States. (Try to guess which one.  Don’t look yet, but the answer can be found at the end of the article) Accompanying the concept of “fast food”, the entire food industry underwent a revolution of canning, food preservation, and offerings of numerous readymade ingredients. By the mid-seventies a variety of pre-packaged ingredients were on supermarket shelves, saving the consumer – or reluctant cook - an enormous amount of time, hence speeding up food preparation, albeit with some sacrifice to quality and freshness. Throughout these decades of fast-food development, companies introduced new shortcut possibilities, including the introduction of several new food preparation machines. While some cooks opted for the new wave of readymade “stuff”, true chefs and a handful of hard-core mom and pop outlets stood by their original recipes and traditions of preparing meals from scratch. 

My mother a”h bridged this transition; she knew how to make everything from scratch (especially for Pesach), but at the same time did not hesitate to dabble with modern technology. Nevertheless, like many other things in the world of inventions, we have gone too far and are losing out on the unique value of the original, old-fashioned food preparation techniques. Today there are numerous tempting shortcut gadgets available for the reluctant cook: the Airfryer, Insta-pot, rice cooker, bread maker, the sous vide, and the list goes on. Modern gadgets and shortcut techniques should be available to assist but not necessarily to substitute the process of fresh food preparation.

I was born in the middle of this period of emerging fast foods and growth of modern food-prep appliances.  Growing up, I was always a momma’s boy. My mother a”h and I spent a lot of quality time together since I did not begin attending school until entering kindergarten. My maternal grandparents came to this country in May of 1939 and opened a dairy restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan which they continued to run for over thirty years. My mother literally grew up in the kitchen. Cooking and baking was the standard side of the kitchen, but she had a knack for re-creating foods, otherwise known in today’s lingo as recycling leftovers. My mother gave me my first exposure to cooking. My experience and culinary ‘career’ were launched from her exceptional skill and love for food preparation. I learned and applied my cooking skills throughout my childhood and adolescent years, peaking as I worked as a mashgiach in some of the fanciest hotels. Thanks to my mother’s ability for creating and preparing something from nothing and from observing superbly trained hotel chefs at work, I received a decent culinary education.

One of the basic tools essential to food preparation is knowing what kind of ‘cooking’ is required for a particular dish. There are many ways to prepare food - braising, grilling, frying, roasting, baking, steaming, poaching, simmering, broiling – each essential to determine the outcome of every dish. For example, just this week I took a piece of meat which I thought I’d just throw onto the grill. Little did I know that this cut of meat (deckle roast) is in the brisket family and should be cooked in the oven with a little liquid, essential for softening the meat. Instead, the deckle roast, now cooking on the grill, toughened up and it was no longer worth the value of what we had paid for it.

Putting aside the knowledge needed to prepare food for the palate, there are also serious ramifications about the laws of keeping kosher, be it mixing of meat and milk or the mixing of kosher and non-kosher foods together. It is also vital to know and understand the methods of food prep with regard to knowing which kashering (kosherizing) method is appropriate for that dish. Not only are the laws of cooking in the Torah, but there are also specific kinds of food prep necessary for fulfilling a mitzva. Before we get to see where these situations are in the Torah, I would like to state an obvious truism related to this topic: There is a cause-and-effect relationship with regard to the taste and method of cooking. My rule: the more human involvement in the cooking process, the better the food will taste. While less time or use of short cuts may be necessary at times, quality of taste will be adversely affected. Put simply, the food will not taste as good.  In my opinion, anything grilled (so long as it does not require slow, moist cooking) has a better taste and flavor than something just placed in an oven. Grilling requires constant involvement and supervision while other foods will do well simply put into the preheated oven until done.

In this week’s Parshas Bo the Torah states in Shmos 12:8 "ואכלו את הבשר בלילה הזה, צלי אש  ומצות על מררים יאכלהו"  “Eat the sacrificial meat during the night, roasted over fire. Eat it with matzah and bitter herbs”. The Torah clearly tells us that the Korban Pesach must be roasted over an open pit, barbecue/grilling style. It is interesting to note that the positive command to roast the meat was not sufficient. In fact, the next verse, Shmos 12:9, administers a negative command on how to prepare. "אל תאכלו ממנו נא ובשל מבשל במים, כי אם צלי אש ראשו על כרעיו ועל קרבו"  “Do not eat it [Korban Pesach] raw or cooked in water, but only roasted over fire, including its head, its legs and its internal organs”. The question is why do we need a positive command to roast and a negative command not to eat it raw or cooked in water? The sefer HaChinuch brings forward two reasons: The first is the Korban Pesach must be roasted because this is the way kings and rulers have their food prepared, in contrast to ordinary folk who do not have the luxury of roasting of meat. The poor need to cook a small amount of meat with other ingredients to make the meal go further. The second answer to the question regarding why specifically meat is roasted on a fire is to demonstrate the need to prepare something quickly by throwing the meat on the grill. When food is cooked in the oven, many more ingredients are necessary to flavor and seep into the meat, so the cooking time is considerably longer.  Therefore, roasting on an open flame demonstrated the quickness with which we had to cook the Korban Pesach and then immediately leave.  Again, additionally, open grilling is a sign of royalty who have the luxury of eating large quantities of grilled meat. A third answer is possibly the most well-known - the aroma of the grilling meat would reach the Egyptian noses, smelling the roasting of their perceived gods with no ability to do anything about it. Clearly, the aroma of roasting meat on an outdoor open fire permeates the air much more pungently than meat cooking in an oven inside the home. This same act, using the open fire, is also a positive commandment in Devarim 7:25    "פסילי אלהיהם תשרפון באש" “You must burn their idolatrous statues in fire”.

When it comes to our Avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty, there are no short cuts. We need to take the original recipe handed down from generations ago and not use some kind of replacement regarding how we perform this service. We should serve God openly, allowing the aroma of the Mitzvos be a sweet smell for all of us who perform the Mitzvos and to our neighbors who will also recognize the sweet smell of how we worship the Master Chef of the world!

Answer -  eltsaC etihW

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782