Staten Island, NY - After airing more than 450 episodes, the popular Food Network cooking show Chopped finally crowned its first kosher champion this week, with the honors going to a Staten Island girl.
Rachel Goldzal, currently an eighth grader at the Jewish Foundation School and the oldest of four, beat out two 12 year olds and a ten year old in the episode that aired on September 4th, walking away with the $10,000 grand prize. Goldzal was 12 years old when the show was filmed last spring.
Now in its 36th season, Chopped is a cable television reality show that has aspiring chefs attempting to wow a panel of chefs with their culinary skills by creating original, tasty and well-presented dishes during a timed round, each one working with the same basket of mandatory mystery ingredients which can sometimes contain unusual items.
Contestants begin with a 20 minute appetizer round, followed by an entrée and a dessert round, with one competitor eliminated after each course until a winner is finally declared.
Goldzal is not the first Jewish contestant to compete on Chopped, but her experience was vastly different from that of Teaneck resident Eitan Bernath who competed in 2014 on the hit show.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2Ct3LdZ), the show’s producers worked with the then 12 year old Bernath to make sure that no round would involve mystery ingredients that would include both milk and meat, but since none of the food or kitchen items were kosher, Bernath was unable to taste his creations.
For Goldzal’s Chopped appearance, producers worked with her to ensure kashrus standards, providing her with all new pots, pans and utensils. Strictly kosher items were brought in for the show’s filming, with meat products purchased from Grow and Behold and many closeups shots shown during the episode displaying visible kashrus symbols on ingredients being used.
Goldzal’s passion for cooking first began when she was eight, starting with the basics under the watchful eye of her mother and her grandmother and picking up tips from her uncle, Yitzy Jacobowitz, owner of Essen NY Deli in Flatbush. She further honed her skills during summers at Camp Nesher where she took part in their culinary program run by prolific cookbook author Susie Fishbein.
“I learned a lot there and when I went home I started cooking a lot, lot more, and developing my own recipes,” Goldzal told VIN News.
Like so many others with a passion for cooking, Goldzal had always dreamed of a Chopped appearance, finally deciding to fill out an application for one of the show’s segments that would feature kid cooks and submitting a video of herself preparing steak wraps with a friend.
“I didn’t think anything would come of it,” admitted Goldzal who said that it took months of nail biting to hear back from producers. During that time she reached out to Bernath to find out how long it could take to get a response, the only time she spoke to him about the show.
Bernath who was eliminated in the first round during his Chopped experience is now a 16 year old high schooler who is a food blogger and photographer, has over 110,000 Instagram followers and a YouTube cooking channel with over 8,000 subscribers.
After the initial response from producers, things moved along quickly, with more interviews and a request from Goldzal’s mom, Michelle, to try to accommodate Rachel’s kashrus observance. Once accepted as a contestant, Goldzal spent eight weeks training with a private chef in order to be able to do her best once the cameras started rolling.
Goldzal knew that keeping kosher would put her at somewhat of a disadvantage because not all of the items in the Chopped pantry were kosher and the judges were accustomed to eating food with no dietary restrictions.
Tasting the sauce she served with her flank steak during the entrée round, judge Geoffrey Zakarian informed Goldzal that the addition of butter would have yielded better results, but he was quickly reminded by fellow judge Amanda Freitag that mixing butter and steak in a kosher kitchen was a major taboo.
“The three other chefs were able to use so many more ingredients,” observed Goldzal. “I was just hoping for the best.”
Openly sharing her religious commitment with viewers, Goldzal proudly informed judges that she was an Orthodox Jew, noting that between Shabbos and yomim tovim she cooks “all the time.” She was likely the only contestant who had worked with tahini, one of the first round mystery ingredients that also included ground chicken, rapini and lemon sorbet, creating Israeli style chicken sliders with chumus and a cabbage rapini slaw.
Offering his opinion on the dish, Zakarian deadpanned “I didn’t like it,” with the camera panning down to his plate showing that he was joking and had eaten every last crumb, a rarity on the show.
In the second round, contestants faced a basket containing flat iron steak, sprouting cauliflower, waffle fries and dates, something Goldzal laughingly described as “old people fruit.” She won accolades for her perfectly prepared garlic and herb steak that she served with a cauliflower potato hash and a date-based sauce, prompting Freitag to comment “If you can cook like this at 12, I can’t wait to see what happens to you in your twenties.”
The final round saw Goldzal squaring off against 12 year old Californian Pipa Hardin with a dessert basket that contained linzer tarts, baby kiwis, cherry kombucha and a small candy machine filled with Mike and Ike candies.
Goldzal crushed her cookies and used them in a crumble topping for a berry-kiwi-candy compote that she dolloped with pareve whipped topping, a lemon slice and fresh basil strips. Goldzal displayed her sunny personality throughout the competition, smiling as she created her dishes and running after Hardin as she left the kitchen after being eliminated in order to give her a parting hug.
Unlike many other Chopped competitors, Goldzal has no interest in opening a restaurant one day. Instead she hopes to become a private chef in a kosher kitchen.
Now 13, Goldzal is back in school, where her favorite subject is science.
She has her own website, www.RachelInTheKidchen.com and over a thousand followers on Instagram and is thrilled finally able to share her Chopped win with the world now that the show has aired.
“Winning Chopped was like a dream come true for me,” said Goldzal.
Goldzal’s father Jeremy said that he and his wife were both impressed with Rachel’s attitude and performance throughout the high pressure experience, showing respect to the judges and the other contestants.
“We are super proud of what she has accomplished and we are even more proud of how she handled herself and the kiddush Hashem that she made,” said Goldzal.