Ray Nottie, executive chef for Touro University at California, knew very little about traditional kosher cuisine when he was hired at the Vallejo, Calif., university in 2013. But his experience cooking for a diverse audience has led him to create globally inspired dishes that fit kosher restrictions.
Q: What advice would you give to those attempting kosher cooking?
I would say before you just jump in, at least get some insight about the culture. You also have to come in with an open mind. It is challenging because when you hit stumbling blocks, it kind of makes you want to say, “I’ll go back to doing whatever I was doing beforehand.” First, figure out the restrictions and then ask yourself, what can you add to it?
Q: How did you deal with those stumbling blocks?
I really worked closely with the rabbi and mashgiach, who told me what I was and wasn’t allowed to do, and it became easier for me. My menu changes every week, and I’m always challenging myself to try different things. It all boils down to: What is your passion? If you love food and you love to get creative, kosher cooking is a great way to challenge yourself.
Q: What recipe modifications did you have to make?
I had to get creative with most recipes, since you can’t combine a lot of the ingredients. For example, I once wanted to make chicken pad thai, and normally you would use a fish sauce, but I couldn’t use it since you can’t mix chicken and fish. I ended up mixing soy sauce with rice wine vinegar, which, when combined, has a similar color and taste to fish sauce.