Culinary students at Manchester Bidwell Corporation (MBC) enjoyed a rare treat last week when chef Uri “Buri” Jeremias of Akko, Israel, participated in a special program at the Pittsburgh-based educational center.
In town to promote the newly opened Akko Center for Arts & Technology (A-CAT, an Israel-based institution inspired by MBC), Jeremias spent the day working hand-in-hand with MBC’s adults-in-transition culinary arts students.
“I’m very impressed. They all have such a wish to learn, to help and be efficient. These are very important ingredients in the kitchen,” said Jeremias, whose Akko-based eatery Uri Buri was named the Best Fine Dining Restaurant in the Middle East as part of the 2016 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards.
During the morning meet-up, Jeremias partnered with senior students in MBC’s culinary amphitheater. In the afternoon, he worked with junior students in MBC’s kitchen.
Throughout the sessions, the successful chef and restaurateur encouraged those gathered to consider both intention and objective.
“There is a difference between daily cooking and elite cooking,” he said. “Not that one is good or bad, but there are different things for different events.”
Jeremias offered his remarks while moving throughout MBC’s culinary spaces, observing preparations for what would become that evening’s dinner.
“Instead of doing a demonstration, he wanted to cook with them,” explained Mark Frank, founder and chairperson of the board of directors of the Israel nonprofit A-Cat and founder and chairperson of board and president of US/PA 501(c)(3), as he watched the white-bearded Israeli work his way across the room.
In one corner of MBC’s kitchen, Jeremias demonstrated how to fillet a fish and procure the most meat. Several moments later, he offered suggestions on doughnut making techniques.
Such approaches must be coupled with appropriate practice, Jeremias said. Specifically, students should understand that “when people work together and help each other — this is the way to work in the kitchen.”
Jeremias’ tactics afforded not only an introduction to Mediterranean cooking, but an appreciation of what unites different cultures, said Cindy Tuite, executive chef and program director at MBC.
“I’m hoping they understand some cuisines are different, but we all basically use carrots, onions, and peppers, and you can do so many different things with [those elements],” she said.
What Jeremias and the MBC students chose to do with several of the aforementioned ingredients was create a menu that included atun a la plancha (seared tuna with vegetables), majadra rice, vegetable salad, seafood soup, ceviche and eggplant bruschetta with Spanish mackerel.
Several hours later, the dishes were served during a private dinner with Bill Strickland (founder and CEO of MBC), Jeremias, Frank and about 50 friends and benefactors of MBC and A-CAT.
“Uri is a big admirer of Bill’s work,” said Frank.
In Israel, he “takes kids and puts them in the kitchen and teaches them that they can accomplish things. He’s also a firm believer in coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims.”
“This is such a basic human thing, it’s a win-win from all sides,” Jeremias said of MBC and ACAT’s educational model. “People that have no jobs can get jobs and [employers] can get good workers.”
The economic benefits are tremendous, he claimed, as unemployed workers then become jobholders who then become taxpayers. “I’m shocked that the government isn’t building more places like this.
“It has everything that is right to do from my point of view.”
As students squeezed limes, chopped carrots and roasted peppers on an open flame, Jeremias prepared to sample a particular dish. After plucking a puffy ball of fried dough from a sugar covered metal tray, the man responsible for Uri Buri bit into the raspberry filled sufganiya (Israeli doughnut).
“It has too much jam,” Jeremias said, as the purple preserve oozed forth.
“There has to be a surprise inside. If you see a sufganiya and if in the first bite everything is jumping in your mouth it’s too much.”
And though not an archeologist, the Israeli chef — whose restaurant is located in a city founded 3,500 years ago — offered listeners a single sampling of advice.
When it comes to discovering what is inside of a sufganiya, “you have to dig for it.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.