The Worst Jewish Cook in America

Joshie Berger from Food Network's 'Worst Cooks in America' Talks to Heeb

Published: February 17th 2011
in Culture » Television

Joshie Berger

Historically, Jews have stayed away from teaching the public how to cook. Sure there is Joan Nathan, that tiny-nosed bubbe who wrote a vague text about Jewish cooking that was more a study in “Jewish anthropology” and “culture” than it was about how long to soak grated potatoes in salty butter water before frying them up into latkes. There is the Jew-friendly Travel Channel that employs Adam Richman of Man vs. Food and Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods. But those two pudgy punims don’t really teach as they do show off their immense appetites for anything reasonably sized they can shove into their gullets (edible isn’t always a requirement). On the celebrity food industry front, we stick to what we do best, eating everything in sight and describing what it feels like in our mouths loudly so that people sitting comfortably in their homes can hear.


But then, from the depths of Boro Park in Brooklyn came Joshie Berger, a Jew who on national television admitted to being one of the Worst Cooks in America when he joined the Food Network show of the same name. The show, now in its second season, gathers terrible cooks from around the country and separates them into teams led by celebrity chefs/hardasses Anne Burrell and Robert Irvine. They are weeded out in weekly cooking challenges until on person from each team competes in a final challenge in which they cook for a panel of food critics. The grand prize is the equivalent of one semester of Jewish Day School: $25,000.


Berger’s bravery, his ability to take direction, and dedication to the competition (he has cried on camera more than once) got him a slot in the final two. He will soon face off against wide-eyed Madonna-armed mom Georg Coleman, who, sweetly, just wants to be able to make her daughter enjoyable lunches. Berger may not have a kid but he has every Friday night for the rest of his life to become a better cook, and a culture of people who will shun him if he doesn’t learn to love food. That may just be the better motivation.


It all goes down this Sunday at 9 pm on The Food Network. Let’s hope for a brisket related challenge.


You grew up in an Orthodox household in Brooklyn, but tell me a little bit about your upbringing. What was your neighborhood like? Were you friends with non-Jews? Were your parents strict?


I grew up in Boro Park, and my parents were from Israel, so while my father wore a shtreimel and appeared like a regular Hasid, we were a tad more liberal. I think in 5th grade my mom wanted us to get a semi-decent education so she wisely tore us out of our Hasidic school and put is in a less Hasidish yeshiva. As is the norm in these neighborhoods, I had no non-Jewish friends and was even discouraged from hanging out with kids whose yarmulke wasn’t up to par (leather and knitted of course not being materials appreciated by God). I was the oldest child and was showered with love from my parents. I really can’t complain about anything they did, or positions they took and enforced. They are simply the product of a system set in motion hundreds of years ago that hasn’t been checked.


Describe to me the first time you ate something that wasn’t kosher? What was it? How did it feel?


I will never forget, it was a chicken cutlet. I love chicken, it’s my favorite food and especially schnitzel like my mom makes. I was so nervous, I recall asking my friends so many questions, they thought I was crazy; is it a normal chicken? There’s like no pig in it? Is there anything like in between the bread crumbs and the chicken? Then I had my first bite and it was just a damn chicken cutlet. I was surprised, but the transition was fluid. I have tons of ex-frum friends who have mental blocks and feel nauseous when food isn’t kosher, that was never the case for me. I don’t get their disorder.


You’re probably the only Jew in the world who would admit to being a bad cook and a picky eater. Have you faced criticism from other Jews because of this particular quirk?


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