David Israelow is a market analyst turned chef. He is a graduate of the International Culinary Center and the Tokyo Sushi academy. David has cooked and trained in New York City, Colorado, India and Japan. He recently won the World Washoku Challenge, hosted in Tokyo. Currently, David is working on food and farm related projects in the Hudson Valley and New York City.
What motivated you to enroll in the Professional Culinary Arts program after working in financial industry for some time?
When I was working in finance, I got to the point where I was ready to move on, but wasn’t sure in what direction. I looked around for a new job but didn’t find anything that interested me. I decided instead to enroll at ICC in the evening program.
What did you enjoy learning the most while enrolled in culinary school?
French technique is the reason I enrolled in culinary school. I really enjoyed learning the foundations from knife work to sauce making to potatoes, veg, proteins, etc.
Tell us a little bit about your first culinary job after graduating from ICC.
While I was finishing at ICC I started interning at ABC Kitchen and then at En Japanese Brasserie. After graduating, I had a chance to travel, so I ended up in India for 6 months. When I returned, I wanted to work in fine dining and spent time trailing and volunteering around NYC before starting at Betony. I spent about a year there. It was a very demanding kitchen and environment but I learned a lot.
We know that you served as a volunteer to Chef Hiroko Shimbo’s 5-day Essentials of Japanese Cuisine course at ICC. When did you realize were you inspired by Japanese cuisine and which aspect of the cuisine were you attracted to the most?
I have always been interested in Japanese cuisine. There aren’t many structured programs to study Japanese technique, so when I saw the opportunity to assist Hiroko’s class as a student I was very excited. I actually assisted her twice for essentials and once for ramen and gyoza.
How did working at American and French restaurants help your understanding of Japanese cuisine?
Many American restaurants are founded in French systems and techniques that were explicitly codified and widely adopted. So working in American restaurants its easy to learn a lot of French technique and vocabulary without even realizing it. This is not necessarily the case with Japanese cuisine. Often Japanese vocabulary is borrowed to describe American food that has little to no foundation in Japanese technique.
On the other side of the coin, there are some American restaurants with deep knowledge of Japanese cuisine doing really incredible work developing new methods founded in technique and tradition. But I don’t think it’s very common.
Tell us a little about your experience heading to Japan and enrolling in a Japanese cooking school.
I went to Japan with no plan, no contacts and no idea what I was doing. I was lucky to make some amazing contacts and was able to stagiaire in several kitchens, travel widely and eat amazing food.
When I found out about the program offered in English at the Tokyo Sushi Academy, I decided to enroll. I saw it as an opportunity to round out the experiences I had in kitchens that weren’t always easy to understand or readily translatable. It was a great curriculum at the TSA with dedicated and skillful instructors, I was able to learn a lot very quickly.
While in Japan, did you acquire any apprenticeships? If so, please share your favorite experience.
In Japan I’ve trained in restaurants in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I had a favorite experience, but preparing osechi ryori (Japanese new year food) in Osaka was certainly a highlight. On the final day, all of the cooks spent 24 hours straight finishing all of the jubako (boxes holding the new year food).
Would you recommend that chefs should study Japanese cuisine, even if they are not working full-time with the country’s cuisine?
Japanese cuisine is founded in technique and tradition. Traditional Japanese cuisine, Washoku, has been designated UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. I think it is certainly worthwhile topic of study for any aspiring cook, chef or food related endeavors.
How has life changed after receiving first prize at the Washoku World Competition? Have there been any exciting, new opportunities popping up?
A lot of very interesting opportunities have begun to unfold following the WWC. I met some amazing people and expanded my network both in and outside of Japan during the competition. I look forward to seeing what presents itself.
Aside from the Washoku World Competition, what other goals do you seek to achieve in the upcoming months/years within your career?
I’m currently working on some projects in the Hudson Valley and New York City. I plan to learn more about farming and to continue my culinary training in Japan.