Top Chef's Eli Kirshtein On Kosher Liquid Nitrogen and Cooking in New York

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You may remember Eli Kirshtein from Top Chef, where he was finally sent packing for crimes perpetuated on a lamb loin--or perhaps a
New Age Pilates curse from Robin. Kirshtein is an Atlanta native who started cooking at 16 and graduated from the CIA. He has worked under fellow Atlantean and Top Cheffer Richard Blais, and Alberto Cabrera at Miami's Karu and Y. Now he's in New York, guest cheffing at Solo, a kosher restaurant in midtown, where he cooks "new American kosher-style." What does that mean, exactly? We asked him.

Check back here tomorrow for the second half of the interview, in which Kirshtein pronounces on his favorite NYC pizza, his feelings for Top Chef's Robin, and the ups and downs of reality television.

Do you have any background in kosher cooking?

It really was just totally from Solo. It's not anything I sought out, not something I foresaw being involved in. But the opportunity was great.

What made Solo appealing to you?

The opportunity to be a chef in New York City is fantastic. My responsibilities boil down to doing my own mini tasting menu every night. I'm not responsible for the a la carte menu, so it's a really comfortable environment for me.

What does New American-Kosher mean exactly?

Well, unfortunately it's hard to come up with great identifying terms for a lot of what I do. People's idea of what "modern American" or "new American" is widespread: Some people think it's Charlie Palmer, some people think it's Bobby Flay. Unfortunately, I don't think my food fits into that genre. It's an amalgamation of all of my experience. It's an all-encompassing sort of thing. It doesn't have a genre it falls into.

The press release your publicist sent called Solo a hotspot--Is it possible for a kosher restaurant to be a hot spot for the general population?

You know, that's what I want. I've given myself that as a goal. I don't want people to come in and say: That was a great kosher meal. I want them to say: That was a great meal. Kosher is a genre shunned by serious gastronomes in the general public, and it would be great if that changed. I don't know if it's possible, but I'd like to make it a more accepted place for the general public. The clientele really is a population that eats kosher. And how often to you find serious eaters going into vegetarian restaurants, really taking it seriously?

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