Photo Credit: YouTube

Rachel Goldzal, 13, is the first Orthodox Jewish champion of Food Network’s “Chopped.”

In the Kids Edition that aired last Tuesday night, Goldzal – an eighth grader at Staten Island’s Jewish Foundational School – told viewers that between cooking for Shabbos and yamim tovim, she was practically made for the competition.

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A foodie since she was a toddler, Rachel used to act as her mother’s sous chef, chopping vegetables for her and decorating her baked goods. Goldzal also frequented the kitchen of her uncle’s restaurant in Brooklyn, Essen NY Deli. “I loved watching them work in there, and seeing how the food was made.”

Rachel’s passion for cooking was further cultivated at Camp Nesher’s culinary program, headed by well-known chefs Naomi Nachman and Suzie Fischbein.

After being accepted to “Chopped,” Goldzal’s mother hired a private chef to come to their home for eight weeks. Rachel received five-hour lessons every Sunday leading up to the show, learning how to cook beyond the basics, creating “the really fancy dishes that look cool,” she said.

But Goldzal anticipated challenges. The show uses non-kosher ingredients, and Goldzal recognized she might not “be able to taste [her] food to make sure it tasted right.” She forged ahead nonetheless. “It was a dream of mine to be on this show, so I wanted to give it a shot.”

Rachel’s mother spent hours negotiating with the producers, and eventually “Chopped” agreed to become “kosher-friendly.” Brand new pots, pans, cooking utensils, and cutlery were bought; Rachel was assured she would not be asked to cook dairy and meat together; the ovens were heated to 500 degrees (and thus kashered) before the show; and the kitchen’s pantries were completely restocked with kosher ingredients.

“In the episode, if you look closely, you can see all the OU, Star K, and other symbols on the ingredients,” Goldzal said.

Goldzal noted that being frum actually gave her an advantage because her creativity is constantly exercised at home as she seeks for kosher substitutes inrecipes. “If I want to make a dish for the Shabbos meal, but the recipe call for butter, I have to be thinking: Okay, what’s another ingredient that can accomplish the same thing? It forces you to get creative on the spot, which is a good skill for the show, because it’s timed.”

Asked what her reaction was to winning, Goldzal said, “I was so happy…because it showed people that eating kosher can be just as exciting and delicious.”

The $10,000 prize, she said, made her happy too. After giving ma’aser, she plans to put the rest away for culinary school someday.

To see Rachel’s cooking, visit www.rachelinthekidchen.com.

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