(Courtesy of Yeshivat Frisch) Yeshivat Frisch sophomore Eitan Bernath wowed television audiences across the country—not to mention a panel of celebrity chef judges—when he appeared on a superfan episode of the Food Network show “Guy’s Grocery Games” with Guy Fieri on Sunday, September 24. After tasting Bernath’s fish tacos, one judge hailed the teen as a “kosher culinary Batman.”
As a religious Jew who keeps kosher, Bernath had two key limitations: He could not cook meat and milk together, nor taste the food he prepared in the studio’s non-kosher kitchen. The same was the case when he appeared on the first-ever kids’ version of “Chopped” at age 11, after a friend of a friend forwarded a casting call to Bernath’s father. (He won Chabad’s 2015 Tzivos Hashem “Power of Jewish Children” award for his Jewish pride on “Chopped.”)
“The way I approach it is that I try not to think of it as a limitation,” said Bernath, who wore his kippah on the show as he explained kashrut to the camera. “I think of it as a challenge. One thing I really love doing is reworking recipes that are not typically kosher and making them kosher.” For example, greek beef kabobs, typically served with tzatziki sauce. “I used pareve yogurt,” he said. For fleishig Indian recipes that also call for milk or yogurt, coconut milk does the trick.
Bernath described the people he worked with at the Food Network as extremely supportive. “More people than you’d think either know about [kashrut], or once they find out about it, totally respect it,” he said.
For Bernath, cooking began as a hobby when he was eight or nine years old. After visiting restaurants with his family and watching the Food Network, he would ask his mother to make him all sorts of non-standard dishes. “I would see all types of food and say, ‘Mom, can you make me this? Or mom, can you make me that?’” he recounted. “One day she said, ‘Why don’t you try making it?’” Bernath insisted in no uncertain terms that his mother, Sabrina Bernath, is a great cook and that her style is simply more traditional than his; Eitan’s penchant is for Mexican, Indian and Italian cuisine. “Except for chicken soup with matzo balls; I could eat that at any time of the day.”
Over the last few years, food has turned into a full-fledged career for Bernath, who recently signed on with an agent. When he’s not in class or doing homework, he can be found developing new recipes for his food blog, cookwithchefeitan.com, as well as pursuing professional food photography. (His Instagram account has 18.5 thousand followers, and is growing by 500 a week.) This past summer, he worked on a photography project with Manischewitz, as well as interned with a professional food photographer in Los Angeles.
“Everyone I told thought I was crazy,” Bernath said about when he started. “They said, ‘You go to yeshiva, how are you going to balance this?’ But I really wanted to do the blog, so I started doing it, and I haven’t missed a week since, unless it was for a yom tov.” (Yom tov may interrupt his blog schedule, but Bernath says he loves these days because they afford an opportunity to cook!)
“My goals keep changing as I learn more,” continued Bernath, who said that he, like many others, didn’t even realize beforehand how many food jobs there were—from photographers and recipe developers to food styling assistants and “all different careers that you’d never think of.”
As for balancing schoolwork with the pursuit of his professional passion? “It’s definitely been an adjustment, figuring out how to balance school with the ‘Chef Eitan things’ in my life and friends, family, things like that,” he said. But Bernath has learned to plan ahead to accomplish his goals. “One thing I did last year, going into school, was that over the summer I did a ton of blog posts in advance, so it was all done, and I could figure out the adjustments later on.”
“I’m very, very motivated and this is what I love to do,” said Bernath, who won the 2016 “Rising Star” award at Kosherfeast, an industry-only kosher foodie event held that year at Le Marais. “Luckily, I have very supportive parents—they probably go to the supermarket at least four to five times a week. I do what I can; there are hundreds of other projects I’d want to do. Luckily, all my teachers and administrators at Frisch are really supportive as well.”
As for Bernath’s favorite recipe as of late? Blueberry cardamom hand pies, which are on his blog.