Written by: Jo Ann L.B. Duggins
Photos provided by: Shaya Klechevsky
Full Name: Shaya Klechevsky
Currently Residing: New York
Currently Listening to: The radio
Shaya Klechevsky is quite an interesting character. He uses a lot of big words and tells a story at a mile a minute. When he spoke to me about going to culinary school, I was ecstatic to think he had finally found his calling.
Shaya is a man with impeccable tastes and it comes through in his cooking. I didn't know much about Kosher cuisine and the Kosher foods I've had haven't been that appetizing....well until Shaya cooked for me. He has a way of refining his creations and his flavors are vibrant and rich. He is a big fan of nutrition and health and he incorporates that abundantly in his dishes. I sat down with Chef Klechevsky one day and started to pick his brain on his newfound career.
AM: Well do we begin? Let's see....let's talk about how you began your cooking interests.
SK: Well, I've always had an interest in food and cooking. i remember as a kid always being in the kitchen with my mom watching her cook and trying to get involved.
AM: Do you recall the moment you wanted to be a chef?
SK: Well ...I don't think it was a moment, I think it was a series of events that lead me to believe that it's something I want to do.
AM: Such as?
SK: I've always enjoyed hosting dinner parties and in college I hosted many
New Years, holidays, events ...eventually, when I moved out of my parents' house into my own place, I really had a chance to flourish with having my own kitchen at my disposal and I think it was really then when I started to really develop my passion for it.
AM: : Cooking in new york I feel is unheard of!
SK: LOL! I think that's mostly true of people who live in Manhattan with small kitchens, but if you look throughout the Jewish communities, even in Manhattan, people are cooking.
AM: How did you go about pursuing this passion?
SK: Eventually my cooking at home reached a new level I was taking on more complex recipes and even making up some of my own. I think it was all those years in my mother's kitchen that helped me develop an instinct for the basics and physics of cooking. Reading a recipe seemed very natural to me, and executing it didn't feel like a daunting task. In fact, I would read an interesting recipe and then not being able to wait to cook it.
AM: Do you only specialize in Jewish cooking or do you like to venture outside of that?
SK: I've ventured across a very wide spectrum of culinary and cultural cuisines.
I've played through many different Asian influences such as Japanese, Chinese and Thai. I've ventured into Mexican and South American/Latin cuisine. The majority of my background is actually in Middle Eastern dishes, hailing from my background and since my mother was very fond of the Eastern European foods as well, she would prepare many of those dishes for my father who's from Poland
I had a very rich food background! It just seemed natural for me to venture into French cooking.
AM: When eating out what cuisine do you prefer and what restaurants are your favorites?
SK: Oh! I really have no ONE favorite cuisine or restaurant - I really do love so many different dishes. I'm always amazed and educated by Asian cuisine since it's the most foreign to me - so I always take those opportunities to try something new and foreign. Truthfully, I do avoid Middle Eastern restaurants since I am SO familiar with those foods, that I don't see it as a culinary adventure. I find that often times I want to try a restaurant mostly because it touts something different or interesting that I've never had before.
Although, if I do hear of a place that makes a dish that's simply UNBELIEVABLE, I'm inclined to try it too even if it's not something new. I'm also really fascinated by vegan restaurants. I find that being vegan presents so many cooking challenges, so if a place is successful enough in keeping themselves running strictly through a vegan offering, I think that's great and that there must be something to it.
AM: What's your favorite dish to prepare?
SK: I don't have any one dish that I favor over another...it's like asking me which finger is my favorite...I love them all!
I see...I can't say the same I have specific dishes that are my favorite to prepare
and I have dishes that I like to eat but don't like to prepare
AM: What do you like to prepare the most?
SK: I find that depending on my mood - I like really bold and intense flavors - but I keep them simple because too many bold flavors fight with each other. Other times, i'm looking for subtle and delicate weaving of flavors - so I play with more ingredients
AM: Can you be more specific and what are flavors you don't care for?
SK: I really enjoy a very wide selection of flavors and spices, although I find that I use cumin, black pepper, garlic, onion, ground sage, thyme, and rosemary the most
oh yeah, and paprika. For years, I've DETESTED the flavor of bell peppers
the green being the most offensive!
SK: However, I've learned that my aunt Rena also hated peppers until her early 30's at which point she has started to develop a taste for it. Now, I'm finding that a roasted red pepper has a lot of pleasant tastes to it, so I'm not so against them anymore. The verdict is still out on the other varieties of bell pepper though, but i DO LOVE the Poblano pepper! It just has a delicious, meaty, smoky flavor to it that I quite like. I also like the chipotle pepper and I use a lot of ground chipotle as an alternative to cayenne actually i find that it's slightly less spicy, but the complex flavors it adds is SO worth it!
AM: What do you think about the molecular gastro craze?
SK: Well, I don't know if I'd call it a craze per se...but it's certainly a novelty
whether it will ever develop as anything more than that, i'm not certain, and I'm inclined to say no. I think it's biggest downfall is that it resembles a chem lab more than a kitchen and most people don't have much of the equipment and ingredients you would need to pull it off.
AM: Ao you've never really experienced this type of cooking with lasers and liquid nitrogen?
SK: I've experienced it, but on a much smaller scale. I think it's really cool but a novelty no less. I do find the cost to be somewhat prohibitive.
While I do believe in much of fine dining, especially in NYC, to be more than just satiating your hunger, but rather a full experience from service and ambience, to enjoying delicious flavors - it's an experience no less and that's what you pay for
and I think a lot of people are put off by the smaller portions they usually find in multi-course establishments, it's not an exercise in gluttony, but a culinary experience....it really is art.
AM: What are your goals with your cooking?
SK: I'm finding that my goals now with cooking are largely educational. I've had the wonderful privilege of having experienced food out in "the real world" and I feel that the Kosher-keeping communities are being kept in the dark.
Many of my endeavors are actually focused on re-creating classic dishes from their very not kosher originals to very good kosher alternatives. Especially with the latest developments in food technology, many of the older dishes are now attainable.
Of course, there are just some dishes we can't recreate at all, like sea-food dishes
I mean, there are some acceptable forms of kosher shrimp and crab, but they're not exactly the same.
AM: Why not work in a Kosher restaurant?
SK: I would like to - but unfortunately, Kosher restaurants are not immune from the plight that all restaurants suffer from - poor pay, poor work conditions, lengthy work shifts, and most places don't offer any kinds of benefits. In today's world, especially in today's economic climate, it's just a difficult means of supporting oneself without having to make many large sacrifices. Most restaurants don't even offer paid vacations and when they do, it's usually only 5 or 7 days.
AM: Ok so if you could sum up your food in three words, what would they be?
SK: Healthy, Kosher, Gourmet!
If you would like to contact Shaya for your event:
Visit his website or you can EMAIL or CALL: 646.961.3834
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