While Orthodox Jewish women being relegated to kitchen is an oft-repeated barb, for some religious young ladies, the kitchen is exactly where they want to be – especially when that kitchen is on the Food Network, and they are appearing on their favorite television show!
Last week, 8th grade yeshiva student, Rachel Goldzal, made history becoming Chopped’s first Orthodox Jewish champion. Although the Staten Island native was only 12 when she filmed the episode last spring, she appeared on Chopped, not Chopped Junior as the latter show was not casting when she applied. However, as she was only 12 at the time, the episode was a special “Whiz Kid Cooks” edition of the popular show.
Goldzal always loved food, was referred to as a “foodie” by her parents, and at eight years old, started helping her mom cook. As she got older she got better, and her mom gave her more opportunities. Goldzal has watched The Food Network for as long as she can remember, and one day last year she decided to apply to her favorite show. While the application did not require a video entry, it was optional, and with a friend, Goldzal filmed herself cooking steak tacos. It took months to hear back, and while she was impatiently waiting, Goldzal reached out to another frum Chopped contestant – Eitan Bernath – to find out how long it might take. Goldzal made it through four cuts, and after months of anticipation, she finally got the email she had been waiting for.
As soon as they received the exciting news, Goldzal’s mother called the producers to find out how they might be able to accommodate Rachel’s kosher requirements. The producers asked what it would take for the set up to be completely kosher and Mrs. Goldzal explained. A few days later, the Goldzals heard back that Chopped would be able to meet all of the requirements. So from a kosher oven to all new pots and pans, knives, bowls, cutting boards, and an entire selection of kosher foods clearly marked with a Chof-K, the pre-teen was set to live out her dreams while not having to compromise on her Judaism.
To prepare for the show, Goldzal’s mom hired her a private chef for her daughter who worked on cooking techniques, like how to chop quickly and effectively. On the show, Goldzal was up against two other 12 year olds and a 10 year old and had to compete in three rounds – appetizer, entree and dessert. Each round lasted 30 minutes and had four secret ingredients.
Goldzal’s Judaism and observance came up several times during the episode, perhaps the funniest time during the appetizer section. The contestants were given tahini paste, ground chicken, lemon sorbet and rapini. Goldzal whipped up chicken burgers with hummus and when she presented it to the judges, she pronounced the word hummus like an Israeli with a guttural “ch.” The judges enjoyed trying to sound as authentic as Goldzal and after she won that round, she had the confidence to own the next two rounds where she prepared garlic herbed steak with sprouted cauliflower hash and date sauce, and for dessert, she turned Linzer cookies, baby kiwis, cherry kambucha and Mike and Ikes into a kiwi blueberry compote with a Linzer cookie crumble and an orange vanilla whipped topping.
Goldzal is still on a high from the win, though she thankfully had a few days to take it all in before starting her final year of middle school. This new celebrity has not let the fame get to her. She plans to take things slow – continue to build up her website rachelinthekidchen.com and dreams one day of writing a cookbook and doing food demos.
At only 13 years old, Goldzal has the maturity to see her win as a win for the Jewish people. She feels grateful to live in a time and place where so many people are willing to accept those who are different from them. She doesn’t see kosher cooking as a thing which holds her back, on the contrary, she believes it pushes her to be more creative. Like a math problem, Goldzal has to figure out how she is going to solve a taste “puzzle” and come up with a solution.