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By LEAH KOENIG | September 24, 2008

Food and television fanatics take note: Earlier this summer, Bravo announced the development of "Top Chef Junior," a teenage-focused spin-off of its reality hit, "Top Chef." Hopeful contestants aged 13 to 16 will face off to prove that they can chop, sautÿand broil beyond their years, and best their competition. The show represents Bravo's latest attempt to cater to America's obsession with all things culinary. It also mirrors the growing acceptance of cooking as a respectable, and even desirable, career path for teenagers. "Teens are much more evolved and independent then they used to be," Jennifer Goren, the director of culinary arts at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, said. "They want to cook at home for their friends and families, and want to turn cooking into a profession." When "Top Chef Junior" eventually airs (an air date is pending), it is likely that a teenager from food-savvy New York City will be among the contestant ranks. For now, though, New York's teenagers have plenty of opportunities to engage in cooking classes at culinary institutes across city, without the heat from the judges' table.

Institute of Culinary Education

Teen courses have long been a central ingredient of ICE's recreational curriculum, which offers over 1,500 public classes each year for amateur home chefs and budding sommeliers. An instructor at ICE, Kathryn Gordon, said that the wide variety in the physical development of teenagers occasionally poses challenges in the kitchen, particularly when students are not tall enough to comfortably reach the instruction table. Still, Ms. Gordon believes in exposing her teenage chefs to the same techniques as ICE's adult students. "Am I going to teach a 12-year-old how to kill a lobster' Yes: They might get a little grossed out at first, but I would not hide anything from them," Ms. Gordon said. This fall, ICE's teenage class list reads like an around-the-world cuisine survey, including Brazilian, Indian, Italian, and Thai-themed courses. They also offer a Harry Potter Kitchen Wizardry class, where 11-14-year-old students can prepare butterbeer, pumpkin shakes, and other magical dishes inspired by J.K. Rowling's popular book series. It is this creative and international approach to cooking that ensures ICE's continued popularity with the teenage set. Prices range from $95-$210.

The JCC in Manhattan
646-505-5708 (class registration)

Ms. Goren attributes the growing interest in cooking among youth to "the almighty television," particularly the rise in popularity of the Food Network and "Top Chef." "Celebrity chefs rank up there with rock stars," she said. Today's teenagers, she said, are also more likely than past generations to have special food requirements (such as food allergies or vegetarianism) that heighten their overall awareness about food. As a result, Ms. Goren said that the JCC, whose kosher kitchen welcomes Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, seeks out instructors who possess that special "rock star quality," and offers classes that tempt the teenage palate.
The students, it seems, appreciate the effort. 14-year-old Weslee Yacker said that the JCC's summer Teen Cooking Camp was so engaging that she "never even looked at the clock." Ms. Yacker particularly enjoyed learning new techniques such as grilling and rolling sushi, and cooking in an all-teenage setting where she could "relax and have fun" with people at her same skill level.
This fall, teenage chefs can stretch their culinary muscles during an intensive cooking course where they will learn how to poach, braise, and broil like a professional, while preparing recipes they can recreate at home. The five-hour course costs $210 for JCC members and $230 for the general public.

Tuesday, December 16th 2008, 3:12 PM

Jennifer Abadi shares recipes from her Sephardic Jewish background in her cooking classes.

Abadi's Israeli Couscous Salad with Basil, Apricots, Dates & Pine Nuts Hanuka may last for just eight special days, but the range of traditional dishes served at this happiest of festivals is practically infinite. For many Jewish families, potato latkes are the signature must-have dish. But for cooks like Jennifer Abadi, whose background is Syrian, Hanuka fare tastes like everything from tiganites (Greek whole wheat pancakes with ouzo and honey syrup) to yoyos (Tunisian doughnuts with orange blossom water) to ijeh b'lahmeh (Syrian meat omelets with allspice and cinnamon).
"Everyone celebrates a little differently," says Abadi, mom of one and a cooking instructor at the JCC in Manhattan. "Here in New York, most Jews have an Ashkenazy background and Sephardic Jews are in the minority. I find that there's a lot of interest among Ashkenazy Jews in the Sephardic culture, so I do a whole class that gives everyone a taste of different cultures."
Abadi, author of "A Fistful of Lentils" (Harvard Common Press), recently taught JCC students how to make a variety of globally-flavored Hanuka dishes, including an Israeli couscous salad with basil, apricots, dates and pine nuts, too.
"There is an old Syrian tradition for Jews from Damascus to eat vegetables, fruits, seeds and sweets, and to drink grape wine on the last day of Hanuka," Abadi says. "In North African Jewish communities like Morocco and Algeria, sweet couscous dishes are popular to serve during the holiday."
Her version incorporates dried fruit, olive oil, nuts, and couscous for a sweet-savory dish for the holiday table. Her Hanuka omelet — which she makes yearround — is nicely spiced and delicious for lunch or dinner. "You can eat it with a wedge of pita and ketchup," she says. For a Hanuka party, either of these would taste amazing and go nicely with some very traditional New York style latkes.
Israeli Couscous Salad with Basil, Apricots, Dates & Pine Nuts
Serves 6-8
4 cups rich canned vegetable broth (should be flavored with some salt already)
3 1/2 cups (Israeli) pearl couscous (use French if unavailable)
For the dressing:
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried mint leaves, ground between palms of hands to make a powder
For the salad:
3/4 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves
10 regular sized dates, diced
10 black Mission figs, diced
12 Turkish apricots, diced
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted for about 5 minutes in a small skillet

Bring the broth to a boil over a high heat in a 3-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in couscous. Lower heat and simmer uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes or until couscous pearls are tender, yet still firm. Cover the saucepan and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients for the couscous. Set aside. Spread the cooked couscous in a single layer on a baking sheet to cool for 15 minutes.

Transfer cooled couscous to a large mixing bowl and add the chopped basil leaves, dates, figs, apricots, and toasted pine nuts. Toss by using your hands, breaking up the couscous lumps that stick together. Pour in the prepared dressing. Toss well with a spoon to coat. Allow salad to remain at room temperature for half an hour to allow flavors to set in. Adjust seasonings with salt.

Ijeh b'Lahmeh (Syrian Meat Omelets with Allspice & Cinnamon)
Serves 4-6
From Jennifer Felicia Abadi
For the Ijeh:
1/4 pound ground chuck or round
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh curly-leaf parsley or celery leaves (parsley is preferable)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons dry plain bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For frying and serving:
4 to 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
One (12-ounce) package pita bread (6 per package), warmed in the toaster oven and cut into quarters Ketchup (optional)
Place the ground meat in a large bowl and mash with a fork for 2 minutes. Add the remaining ijeh ingredients and mix well with the fork. The mixture should be wet.
Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over high heat for 30 to 45 seconds, then reduce the heat to medium and drop 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture at a time into the hot oil. Fry 3 to 4 portions at a time until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Just before removing from the skillet, gently flatten each patty with a metal spatula (they should be about 1/4 inch thick). Transfer to a plate covered with paper towels to drain.
Continue to fry all the ijeh in the same fashion, adding oil to the skillet as needed. (Any type of ijeh may be prepared in advance and set aside at this point. To reheat, place on baking sheet or ovenproof plate, cover with aluminum foil, and place in preheated 350 degree oven until sizzling. Ijeh may also be fried, frozen, and then reheated while still frozen in the same manner.)
Serve hot as a sandwich in a pita pocket with pickles and ketchup on the side. Variation: If you wish to make more patties with the same quantity of meat, fish, or potato, add one or two additional eggs to the mixture before frying. Each egg will make about four or five additional ijeh.

the JCC in Manhattan