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.

Daniella Cheslow
One of Miri Zorger’s kosher gourmet chocolates.

• 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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