When food-obsessed eight-year-old Eitan Bernath asked his mother to experiment more with her traditional cooking, she told him to try it out himself. Together, they began to explore cooking, leading him to make one of his first solo meals, “A can of beans, tomato sauce, heated up with some tortillas [and] cheese…I started very basic.” Little did anyone know that this maker of “basic meals” would go on to appear on the reality TV show “Chopped” when he was just eleven. Now fourteen, this high school freshman is a professional food blogger, specializing in “Elevated Comfort Food with an Ethnic Twist,” according to Eitan.
Four years ago, Eitan’s father found out that “Chopped” was looking for young people to appear on the show. “We filled out the application kind of as a joke. But it has always been my dream to be on the Food Network.” However, as time went on it became more real. There were interviews both on the phone and in person, as well as screen tests before the practicing began. On “Chopped,” four contestants are given a basket containing five unknown ingredients. There are three rounds: Appetizer, Entrée, and Dessert. At each level a contestant is eliminated, leaving the winner who receives $10,000 dollars. The basket can contain anything, which posed a slight problem for a young orthodox Jewish boy: what if they included something that was not kosher? While cooking most foods wouldn’t be a problem (he simply couldn’t eat it), he had no experience cooking it. To get around this, Eitan came up with a unique plan. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos, of how to cook [these] things.” Armed with this, and practice mystery baskets provided to him by his mother, Chef Eitan prepared for his TV debut. On September 30th, 2014, Eitan appeared in the episode “Short Order Cooks,” with other ten and eleven-year-olds. Though he did not win, it was the catalyst he needed to take his passion and turn it into a career. It also inspired the spinoff show “Chopped Junior.”
Eitan did not get inspired to write until he attended the Kosher Food Blogger Conference in 2015. “Seeing all these food bloggers, it really inspired me to do something every week.” After that experience, he moved “Cook with Chef Eitan” to a WordPress platform and became proficient in food photography. For over a year he has successfully posted a new recipe every Sunday. When he started High School, he was nervous about the increased workload and being able to keep up with his blog, but has found that planning is the key. Over the summer, he planned out 20 recipes that he was going to try out, but he is happy that he still has time to come up with things spontaneously. He gets his inspiration by taking into account time of year, what’s popular, what’s in season, and then tries to do his own unique twist on it. Recently his photography has gained notice and he is getting additional work as a food photographer.
So does Eitan help with Shabbos? “No. I like to eat food right away! I don’t like making the food and then eating it a day later, and by the end of the week I’m exhausted.” He cooks a few times a week for his family when he is practicing meals for his blog, but Friday when he comes home from school, he likes to take a break. He does make dessert for Shabbos occasionally, though he admits that he is not as interested in baking. Chef Eitan’s most recent recipe was Matzo Ball Tortilla Soup, and this week was a guest post by a fellow blogger: Roasted Chickpea Pita Sandwich with Green Tahini and Pickled Olives. He recently collaborated on a Food Science video with Manischewitz and more collaborative opportunities await.
When asked what the future holds, Eitan takes a wait-and-see approach. “There are so many opportunities in the world of food. I’d like to open a chain of cooking schools all over the country…there’s not enough. Most of what I learned was self-taught. For now, I’m sticking with my food blogging and plan on doing more videos soon. I really enjoy being on set and styling the food, props and surfaces. I would love to attend culinary school after high school. I’m gonna see where it takes me.”
For other teens and children who aspire to do big things, Eitan has the best advice of all: “Age doesn’t define what you’ve accomplished but how long you’ve had to accomplish it…just because you’re fourteen doesn’t mean you can’t do it…You can do anything that you put your mind to.”