Orthodox Israeli chef says kosher can be gourmet

Miri Zorger, who trained at a secular culinary school and couldn't taste the food in class, is setting out to prove that it's possible to keep kosher and still be gourmet.

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    One of Miri Zorger’s kosher gourmet chocolates.
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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Miri Zorger spent a year studying at the Israeli Institute of Culinary Arts, but she didn’t taste a thing. Ms. Zorger, who is ultra-Orthodox, only eats food approved by Jewish dietary law. So she would re-create a kosher version of every lesson’s dish at home.

“I developed a strong sense of smell,” Zorger says. Now she is a leader in a culinary awakening among Israel’s most religiously conservative Jews. In a kitchen fitted with a huge stainless-steel freezer, Zorger prepares her signature tiny chocolates flecked with gold and festooned with coffee beans. For three years Zorger has hosted a weekly radio cooking show. She is culinary adviser to a women’s gourmet kosher food exposition. Zorger hopes to open a restaurant, and in September, she released her first cookbook.

“When I make food, I look for the artistic perspective,” she says. “To me it’s important to show kosher food can be gourmet.”

Israelis have seen a blossoming of their local cheese and bread industries. But few of the offerings were kosher, so the ultra-Orthodox clung to tradition. This is changing as rabbis approve such ingredients as chili strings and kosher gelatin.

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