…no matter how hard your life (personal or professional) may seem you always have something to be thankful for. And usually not something, but many, many, many things. Break down your thanks to the smallest details and your list will be endless, truly never-ending. The action of thanking, on a regular basis, engenders a sense of gratitude, contentedness and happiness all of which fight depression, jealousy, sadness and anger. The latter of which, and other similar traits are such a blockage to your overall well-being and (personal and professional) success.
As part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jamie Geller. Jamie is a Jewish food and lifestyle expert and author of six best- selling cookbooks, is famous for sharing Jewish comfort food with fans worldwide. Jamie’s global media brand includes her website JamieGeller.com, which features over 10,000 recipes, and the viral @JewlishbyJamie how-to videos with over 500 MILLION views. Jamie also hosts the Chanukah Cooking Special with Jamie Geller on PBS and Create TV, is a regular on the TODAY Show and has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, Martha Stewart Living Radio, Forbes, Family Circle, Cosmopolitan and the Chicago Tribune. Jamie and her husband live in Israel with their six children. Jamie loves nothing more than sharing Jewish comfort food with friends, family and a worldwide community of food enthusiasts.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a chef (or restauranteur)?
I actually don’t consider myself a “chef” I just “play one on TV” — because truth be told, I am not professionally trained, I learned on the job. I consider myself first and foremost an entrepreneur with a love of food and family. Let me explain how I got here.
I am a professionally trained TV producer who learned to cook, on the job, only after I was married and then became a mom. My first book, Quick & Kosher Recipes From The Bride Who Knew Nothing, became something of a cult classic now in its 6th printing and translated into Hebrew. In a time when kosher cooking by cookbook was anything but quick, I felt compelled to share what I had discovered with other home chefs as passionate as I was about great food … and about getting out of the kitchen quickly. I have always been the kind of person beyond eager to share favorite finds, tips and ideas that have enhanced my daily life. I love it when what works for me resonates with others as well. So, untrained as I was… I wrote and published a cookbook. One day, just after the book was published, I woke up to read The New York Times had dubbed me “The Jewish Rachael Ray” and the Miami Herald decided to crown me “The Queen of Kosher” which is a moniker that somehow got stuck on repeat. What felt like overnight, I became the face of Jewish food and honestly haven’t looked back. While most of what I do is beyond fun (hands dipped in batter, 12 hour days of pudding tastings and crumb toppings) — it is also a ‘role’ I take seriously. A decade ago, kosher food was seen as gefilte fish and matzah (still is if you look at many retail ethnic food aisles) and I see it as my privilege and responsibility to give kosher food the positive representation it deserves within the expansive world of cultural cuisine we are beginning to appreciate as a society. There is so much rich territory to explore globally, we’re really just getting started. Three years ago I launched Kosher Network International (KNi) the first and #1 global Jewish Food Network — home to JamieGeller.com, @JewlishbyJamie and @JamieGeller.
Do you have a specialty?
Jewish comfort food from around the world — made fast, fresh, quick & easy. I am passionate about ensuring all of our cultural recipes are accessible and fun to recreate. In addition to the 10,000 recipes on JamieGeller.com our viral, minute-long @jewlishbyjamie videos have over 500M views, both entertaining and educating these videos show step-by-step how to recreate the classics. On staff, we have a registered dietician. Making delicious food accessible includes understanding how to make sure you can embrace it regardless of food preferences or dietary restrictions and we work to ensure we are addressing gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, FODMAP diets and beyond. We often do healthy twists on the classics.
What drew you to that type of food?
My insatiable hunger! My love for food, and the food of our people. The fact the no one else was doing this… which made it all about timing.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef?
I love how these recipes have crossed over, beyond a Jewish audience. When we began we assumed we were creating content and a service for a very specific niche audience whose food and cultural had, to date, been largely underrepresented. What we found is that the world has embraced Jewish traditional cuisine as well. When I receive messages about our Challah recipe being devoured at church gatherings or see that our Matbucha video has 67M+ views it makes my heart melt. This shows the unique power of food to unify and bring people together. It’s truly heartwarming and proof that we are all more alike, than we are different.
Can you share with us a story about your grit and resilience? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
My first book, a 3-year labor of love, hit the shelves November 13, 2007, on the same day I was blessed with my 3rd child, our first son. As a postpartum mom on the eve of my baby’s bris I was emotionally fragile to say the (very) least and I was incessantly refreshing Amazon that sleepless night as the reviews started rolling in… and boy were there some bad ones. I got “screamed” at for including a recipe for Corn on the Cob (hey! when I got married I didn’t know if it should be boiled for 3 minutes or 30 minutes! — turns out you should boil the water, drop in the corn, turn off the heat and cover for 3–5 minutes, allowing your corn to stay warm in the pot not more than 10!), Duck Sauce Chicken (which with only 2 ingredients is still one of my most popular, most recreated recipes) and one reviewer went so far as to say that the book was not worth the paper it was printed on. I was devastated. Ready to quit, crawl up into a ball and cry. Even so the book managed to sell out of its first printing immediately with not a copy left on the shelf for Chanukah gifting. But that bumpy start wasn’t the only hurdle we faced along the way, just the first one. I always say overnight success is often the culmination of a lifetime of hard work. I am sure there is an actual saying out there to this effect that way more powerful and succinct (brevity has never been my strong suit!)
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My faith for sure. As an orthodox Jew(ish woman) I know that no success happens because of my hard work, but rather only because it is ordained by the one and only G-d above. And likewise my failures or what I perceive to be failures come from the same place. My belief and faith in G-d and these principles is daily work, and will be a lifetime of spiritual work and growth. But in the meantime my faith is what brings me a lot of peace as I go about my day and professional career. That is not to say I/we do not have to put in our best efforts to work and conduct business with strategy, ethics, honesty and passion but ultimately success or failure comes from the one above.
So how did grit lead to your eventual success? How did grit turn things around?
The principles I discussed above, in the previous question, are really predicated on the concept of getting up every day and doing your job. Success or failure. No matter what happened yesterday you just keep going forward and pushing forward. In fact that’s really your job — to get up every day and do your best.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
YES!!! Truth be told, I am ALWAYS working on something new. That’s how I keep the excitement and passion for my work alive and burning. My newest project is almost 3 years in the making. Something I have put down and picked up a few times over the course of the last few years and you can bet your bottom dollar I was frustrated each time it didn’t come to fruition, thinking it was dead forever. And then in a flash the project was resuscitated. Drum roll…
We are excited to finally introduce Kosher Meal Kits. With the meal kit industry boom, every single diet has been catered to Organic, Whole 30, Vegetarian, Vegan, Plant-Based, Liquid, Raw, Local, Farm-to-Table, Gluten Free, Dairy-Free and on and on the list goes. But there has never been a national service catering to the kosher diet, featuring Jewish comfort foods from around the world and other globally inspired kosher dishes. It is really an honor to bring this service to the market and address this neglected audience. We have partnered with JChef.com to bring a selection of seasonal favorites throughout the continental U.S. The Jamie Geller Capsule Menu is on limited run through December 3st, 2019.
In your experience, what is the key to creating the perfect dish?
Simplicity. Freshest (and usually the fewest) ingredients make for perfect food. Because in my mind, and in my world, a recipe is only perfect if it’s accessible to everyone and anyone can recreate it. That is how I judge my “success”.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. You will never please everyone. That’s a life lesson, not a “chef” lesson. If someone likes vanilla, you can’t convince them to eat chocolate — no matter how heavenly the dessert. I havehad people (my family included) refuse to taste something because they have an aversion to a certain ingredient or dish.
2. Everyone has (and is entitled to) an “off” day. I have been to the finest restaurants lead by chefs with the best reputation, who I personally know to create impeccable food and sometimes even they have an “off” service. Same goes for us home cooks.
3. Don’t apologize for your food. When I first started hosting and entertaining, I would serve while making a hundred apologies like “the recipe called for x but I only had y.” The bottom line is NOBODY knows which ingredients the original recipe called for. I now take the fact that I don’t have “x” in my cabinet as a fun challenge and an opportunity to make a recipe my own.
4. Experiment with cooking NOT with baking. Cooking is an expression of love and an opportunity to be creative and free flowing in the kitchen, even a novice should feel free to customize a recipe, deviate from the ingredient list or directions and put their own spin on a dish (see #3). But baking, not so much, it’s a science. Experimenting with baking, unless you are an expert can have disastrous results not great for fragile egos.
5. Taste, taste, taste & season as you go (even if you are simply seasoning with salt!). This is the only way to ensure your finished dish will have layers of flavor and a complexity that can only be derived from seasoning in stages vs waiting to salt and adjust seasoning at the end, when it is often too late.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We must be thankful to G-d for the blessings we have. Because no matter how hard your life (personal or professional) may seem you always have something to be thankful for. And usually not something, but many, many, many things. Break down your thanks to the smallest details and your list will be endless, truly never-ending. The action of thanking, on a regular basis, engenders a sense of gratitude, contentedness and happiness all of which fight depression, jealousy, sadness and anger. The latter of which, and other similar traits are such a blockage to your overall well-being and (personal and professional) success.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!