When Yosef Schwartz enrolled in California Culinary Academy's Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts program, he had something unexpected to tell the Pasadena faculty: he would not be eating the food. The son of Hungarian immigrants, Schwartz is an Orthodox Jew, keeping a kosher kitchen. How the culinary school adapted its heralded educational program to meet Schwartz's unique needs and how, as a graduate, Schwartz helped found a Miami catering company is simply the stuff of legend.
If you're fortunate enough to watch Schwartz working his culinary magic in the kitchens of Miami, you'll undoubtedly think of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Beethoven lost his hearing at just 25 years of age, but composed stunning musical pieces that moved all who listened for years afterward. As an Orthodox Jew, Schwartz, 26, cannot taste his Le Cordon Bleu-influenced concoctions. Still, that doesn't prevent him from plying his culinary artistry to a delighted clientele.
In Search of a Culinary Education
Schwartz knew he wanted to attend culinary school the moment he graduated from Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, a Jewish high school in Los Angeles. The truth is he never even considered other career paths. "I think I even wanted to get into the profession when I was as young as 13 or 14," he says. "My mom always had about 50 guests over for dinner on Friday nights, and I loved helping."
Schwartz did all he could to garner culinary experience. He once took a job as a kosher supervisor "because it got me into great hotel kitchens at an early age." It was a great start, but didn't provide him with the real culinary training he needed to become a master chef. In 2002, he enrolled in the California Culinary Academy's Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts program in nearby Pasadena. He attended the culinary school full time working some freelance catering jobs on the side and graduated in 2004.
Schwartz says that he chose the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school because he longed to hone a wide range of skills in different types of cooking. "That's what I really use today to develop new recipes."
And what about tailoring the Le Cordon Bleu's culinary program to fit Schwartz's kosher practice?
"I had such a positive experience at the school in Pasadena," he says. "They respected my religion. I didn't have any trouble because I was an Orthodox Jew." In fact, Schwartz adds, "I had teachers that I really clicked with, and they became mentors to me."
Ask him about the cornerstone of his culinary arts education, and Schwartz will tell you that it was the faculty that made all the difference. "(They) really cared about me. It was nice to have teachers that are passionate about their jobs."
The Dawn of Culinary Success
The California Culinary Academy's Le Cordon Bleu program in Pasadena required a culinary externship to provide students with real, hands-on experience. Schwartz chose to serve his in Miami, where he met with his old high school friend Zalmi Duchman. It was she who had the idea of taking the famous Zone Diet premise a step beyond traditional practice.
At the time, Zone at Home meals for South Florida residents were shipped frozen from the New York headquarters. Duchman hoped to open a Zone Diet menu and delivery service to provide freshly prepared food to Miami's health conscious clientele, and Schwartz wanted to help.
Together, Schwartz, Duchman, and another high school friend started Zone at Home, a company that today serves complete daily meals to more than 200 regular clients. "I am the executive chef, and even though I am cooking diet food, I learned the foundations at culinary school that help me make great food healthy," Schwartz says.
He creates meals comprised of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent proteins, but has never tasted any of them. The trick is interviewing clients to determine their personal culinary favorites, and then specifically tailoring meals that are fantastic for both their waistlines and their palates.
Schwartz may not be able to taste his culinary masterpieces, but he has tasted the success a quality culinary education can bring. One thing's for certain: there's nothing bland about Yosef Schwartz, his love of cooking, or his meals.