My name is Ashley Farnell, a European trained, accomplished chef and “culinary magician.” Once a month I will fill this space with my experiences, food stories from the many places around the world I have worked or visited and regarding the many famous (and not so famous) people I have been fortunate to feed, along with some of my favorite recipes. To begin, I’ll tell you the story or me…
As a non-Jew, but widely acknowledged and referred to as the best kosher chef (and I mean chef, not cook!!) to serve the Jewish community of Toronto, it was by chance I got into kosher at all.
Born in Leeds, England (hence the boys’ name Ashley!!), a city that boast a large Jewish community, – and actually brought up in what had been an old Jewish area (our house still had the markings on the door frames where the mezuzahs were attached) – I was trained as a chef in my hometown and then traveled extensively in Europe before heading to North America where I worked at the most famous old grand hotel of Toronto, The King Edward.
While there I was offered part-time work with a new kosher caterer in Toronto, who was looking to try to improve the drab and deary kosher scene there by employing and teaching the kosher basics to) good well respected non kosher chefs of Toronto.
I took this up as a new challenge, to better my culinary knowledge. While working in top class hotels, the need to serve Jewish clientele was always around. At that point I had no understanding of what I now know to be the interesting laws of kashrut. At the time I thought they were crazy.
In 1996, after 18 months in business, the company had outgrown its small beginnings, and needed a full time chef on board who could service the growing demand for 100% kosher top class hotel and restaurant food.
I jumped at the opportunity to take this position on, both feet forward. I found the kashrut knowledge I was gaining through reading books and browsing the Internet, so fascinating. It also presented the challenge of preparing the dishes many Gentiles had been eating for years to a special market of well respected who were eager to try new cuisine and broaden their palettes.
For 6 years I enjoyed resounding success, taking the level of kosher dining and my employer’s business to unexpected heights, after which I was approached with a new challenge. Never one to rest on my laurels I accepted a teaching post at The Chef School in Toronto.
Word got out I had left the catering company. The news traveled fast and I was flooded with phone calls and requests to cook privately in people’s homes, for individual dinners and affairs (I did not have a kosher kitchen to produce food in or the necessary supervision, hence I had to do it on location, in the host’s kitchen).
As the calls piled in and I had prepared many a kosher dinner party, I found myself with my very own business. As a personal chef, I plan individual personalized menus with potential customers, do the grocery shopping (following the customer’s Kashrut requirements, glatt meats and all), arriving on the day in question (except Shabbat, of course) and cooking everything personally and fresh, right in front of the customers. As your personal chef I give on the spot cooking lessons, answer food related questions and even entertain the guests if it is necessary!!
I have triumphed in the unique niche I have filled as the sole personal chef for the kosher community in Toronto (thanks to the patronage and support of many well known and highly respected Orthodox and Conservative members of the community). At many a simcha , out of town guests, so impressed with my product, have solicited my services for their communities, and I look forward to serving them as well!
Now that you know a little bit about me, I look forward to telling you more, sharing stories of my escapades feeding the famous, as well as the not so famous. Until next time, I’ll leave you with a recipe that takes you back to my roots, from the Old Country of England, as that’s where my journey began. Below is the famous YORKSHIRE PUDDING, which originated, as the name indicates in the area where I was born.
Best Regards, Ashley
Yorkshire is famous all over the Western World for its classic dish, ROAST BEEF WITH YORKSHIRE PUDDING. The latter is a crisp, light confection of beaten eggs, milk (in our case PARVE OR SOY MILK) and flour, cooked quickly in hot fat and eaten with meat. Originally, it was served with meat gravy before the main course; the meat was hung from a Jack (A device used for turning a spit.) before the fire, a tin positioned below to catch the succulent meat drippings. The batter was then poured into this tin redolent with juices, and cooked until the golden edges were crisp and the centre light and creamy. This was indeed a dish to relish as a first course and, of course, it helped to fill the diners up so not too much meat was necessary for the main! In fact, in Yorkshire it is not served exclusively with beef, and the puddings are flavoured accordingly: some freshly chopped mint in the mint pudding with lamb; sage with roast meat, and often a double quantity of batter is made, half being served with the meat course. The remainder can contain grated apples, currants, cinnamon and sugar, cooked while the main course is eaten and served hot and spicy straight from the over for dessert.
Yorkshire folk think that no one but a native of Yorkshire can make a proper Yorkshire pudding. Yet their recipes vary as well as their methods: Leave it to stand so it can aerate (fill with air); cook it straight away; use only metal spoons to mix; use only wooden spoons, and so on. This very old dish has naturally collected a lot of lore, but basically it is a thin batter poured into very hot fat so that it sizzles when it goes in. To those two essential, I would add: ‘YORKSHIRE PUDDING WAITS FOR NO MAN. LIKE A SOUFFLÉ, MAN MUST WAIT FOR THE PUDDING.’ And now, the recipe.
- 4 rounded Tablespoons plain flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Cold water
- 1 large egg
- 300 ml (½ pint) parve cream or soy milk
- Boiling hot meat drippings
- Sift flour and salt. Add the beaten egg and half the parve cream or soya milk, then mix to a smooth paste. Beat for 5-10 minutes, add remaining “milk”, and beat for 5 minutes more.
- Thin with cold water to the consistency of thick cream. Heat up in the oven about 1 large Tablespoon beef dripping in a tin (ex: muffin tin, oven proof dish, or even a foil pan) so the pan will get very hot. The tin should be about 20 CM (8 IN) square or in individual tins (muffin tins), and should be heated until very hot in a hot oven (200 C, 400 F, gas mark 6).
- Just before pouring the batter into the hot tin, add a few drops of cold water to the batter and stir with a fork. COLD PUDDING TO A HOT OVEN – THAT IS THE SECRET, as it helps the egg to rise (you’re trying to lower the temperature of the pudding by adding the cold water, so when you pour the pudding into the hot oil, it will start to rise and fluff, so it will hold its shape).
- Bake for 30 minutes at the top of the oven.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.