Norene Gilletz is the leading author of kosher cookbooks in Canada. She is the author of twelve cookbooks and divides her time between work as a food writer, food manufacturer, consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer, and cookbook editor. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada and her motto is “Food that’s good for you should taste good!” For more information, visit her website at www.gourmania.com or email her at email@example.com
Frequently Asked Questions
I began my culinary training in my late mother’s kitchen, at the age of three. I can still remember watching my mom make stretch dough for strudel and knishes. It was amazing how a small piece of dough could be stretched so thin that you could read the newspaper through it!
My mother and my grandmothers always mixed and kneaded their yeast dough by hand (before food processors were invented)! They prepared my favorite foods: cinnamon twist cookies, chopped herring in a wooden bowl with a hackmesser (chopping blade), kasha & bow ties, chicken schmaltz with gribenehs (cracklings) to shmear on fresh Challah bread . . . mmm! I can still remember the wonderful smells and tastes from their kitchens.
My mother, Belle Rykiss, was an excellent cook and has always been my role model in the kitchen. She made home-made noodles, breads, bagels, cinnamon buns, cottage cheese, kreplach, potato knishes, kugels, chopped herring… oy, the joy of Jewish cooking! Her motto was “If you can read, you can cook!”
Not in the beginning. I went to university and took general courses for a few years. Then I became a secretary to earn some money. I moved from Winnipeg to Montreal when I was 19. I worked, got married and started a family.
I joined Bnai Brith Women (now Jewish Women International) and our chapter members decided to write a cookbook as a fund-raising project. We asked our families and friends to share their recipes. We wanted to know their culinary secrets so that we could duplicate the dishes that were family favorites. I became the editor of Second Helpings Please! when I accidentally discovered that the bean and barley soup had no beans and the tomato rice soup didn’t include rice! This project, which we thought would take 3 months, took us over 3 years! It was a wonderful learning experience and “whetted my appetite” for a culinary career!
When I first started to cook, I used to read other authors’ cookbooks from cover to cover, learning everything I could about food and cooking. I often called my mother long distance (and still do!) with my cooking questions. Friends and relatives also shared their favorite recipes and culinary secrets with me.
When I opened a cooking school in Montreal in 1980, I finally decided it was time to take professional classes. My first cooking course was with Jacques Pepin. I was so excited! I thought it would be important to prepare everything exactly as it was written in his recipes. Jacques set us straight very quickly. He asked us which recipe we had on our recipe sheet. When we replied that it was Duck a l’Orange and read him the ingredients, he said, “That’s a very nice recipe. You can make it that way one day. But today, I feel like doing it differently!”
That class shaped my teaching style in a major way. I learned it was important to be flexible, spontaneous and creative, to have the ability to improvise, and to be responsive to my students’ needs.
I still take cooking classes and attend professional conferences whenever possible to keep up to date on current food trends. There’s so much to learn – food is a never-ending adventure!
When I was 9 or 10 years old, I mixed up some brownies, put them in the oven and started to clean up. Then I discovered the eggs still sitting on the counter! My brownies turned out very crunchy and caramelized, like candy. Wow, I invented my first recipe! I’ve never looked back.
I have an eclectic collection of cookbooks (over 1500 and growing!) on all sorts of topics. I read them for inspiration, information and pleasure. But when I do decide to cook, I don’t bother opening up a cookbook (unless it’s one that I’ve written)! I just open the pantry door and the refrigerator, cooking with the ingredients I have on hand, according to my mood. I cook until I run out of ingredients, time or energy, whichever comes first!
When I’m testing recipes for a book or food article, we eat the evidence! There are other times when my fridge is quite empty because I’m very busy working on various projects. Then I’m very happy to go out for dinner. Sometimes, friends or family take pity and invite us over for a meal! For everyday meals at home, I usually cook chicken, pasta or fish of some kind. (I love salmon and sea bass!) I adore old-fashioned hamburgers with lots of onions and mashed potatoes, but only indulge once in a while. I also enjoy vegetarian dishes such as Tofu in BBQ Sauce or Vegetarian Chili with brown rice. These dishes make me feel very virtuous!
I sauté my vegetables in a heavy-bottomed non-stick skillet or wok, using just a bit of oil to promote browning and add flavor. I “oven-fry” vegetables, fish and poultry by roasting them uncovered at a high temperature. I also grill foods on my non-stick grill pan and find that the microwave is helpful for quick, fat-free cooking of soups, sauces, fish, vegetables and fruit crisps.
Marinating foods before cooking helps add flavor and tenderness. I usually remove the skin from poultry before cooking, then cook it covered to prevent it from drying out. I try to cook it in advance, then refrigerate it overnight so that I can discard the congealed fat from the surface. I also use this technique for soups, sauces and many meat dishes.
When baking traditional recipes, I replace part of the fat with fruit purees such as applesauce, prune puree or non-fat yogurt. I also replace some, but not all, of the eggs in recipes, using two egg whites for each egg.
I become inspired in many ways. Sometimes I’ve tasted a dish at a restaurant or a dinner party, which I modify to fit my personal tastes and guidelines. At other times, a trip to the supermarket inspires me to combine a variety of ingredients in a certain way. I may see a picture in a food magazine, cookbook or TV commercial that sparks an idea. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a concept for a dish. Also, people love to share their recipes and ideas with me, so this “feedback” often becomes the springboard for a new recipe.
I usually like to create recipes which use ingredients that are on hand in my kitchen. I hate using difficult-to-find ingredients! Also, the recipes I create must be quick to prepare or require minimal attention during cooking. I also like to develop recipes that can be prepared in advance and refrigerated or frozen until needed. I have limited time to spend in the kitchen, so it’s frustrating to spend two or three hours preparing a dish that disappears in two or three minutes!
It makes it easier for me to find the information or recipes that I need! When I gather recipes together to create a cookbook, then I don’t have to depend on my memory for every detail, or have to sift through a million scraps of paper!
I also love to collect recipes from other people. When I capture a recipe and put it in print, that person becomes immortalized. Their memory will live on long after they’re gone, and future generations will be able to enjoy the recipes.
It’s very gratifying to know that so many people use and enjoy my cookbooks. I am delighted when people tell me that they learned to cook from my books. I’m often told they can hear my “voice” – they say it’s like having a good friend beside them in the kitchen while they’re cooking!
Learn the basics, because once you know the rules, you’ll know which ones can be broken! Read lots of cookbooks. Watch your grandmother, mother, or other family members and friends when they’re cooking. (And don’t forget about the men in your life who love to cook!) Offer to help. That’s how I learned.
Experiment in the kitchen. Baking is more precise, whereas cooking is usually more creative once you master the basics. Watch cooking programs on TV or cooking videos. Take some cooking classes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The internet has become an excellent resource for recipes and information. Don’t limit yourself to the food section in your local newspaper – it’s easy to access the food section of newspapers from all over the world when you go online!
Get a job working in a restaurant kitchen, even if it’s just prepping or washing dishes. I’ve trained many chefs who started out working as dishwashers!
Join a culinary association. (I belong to several, including the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the Toronto Women’s Culinary Network.) Hang out in food markets. Plant a garden of some sort, even if it’s just a few herbs. The best foods come from nature, not from a package!
I believe in people helping people – it makes me feel good! Charity (Tzedakah) is a very important part of Jewish tradition. Although I market my cookbooks through traditional bookstores, I really love to work with charitable groups.
It gives me great pleasure when my books and/or cooking classes are used as a means of generating revenues for charitable projects. Many organizations have been successful using my books as ongoing fund-raisers. It’s very gratifying to help raise money for so many worthwhile causes. An added bonus is the many friends I’ve made along the way, all over the world!
Actually, my life is a 4-letter word – FOOD! I like almost everything, but I really love comfort foods. A bowl of chicken soup with noodles or matzo balls soothes the soul. I enjoy a simple salad, grilled veggies, starchy foods like rice, pasta, potatoes, bow ties & kasha. There’s nothing like my mother’s potato knishes, and her chopped herring is the best!
I can always find room for pizza (vegetarian with sun-dried tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic). I really love good quality bread, and I never refuse ice cream!
Because I struggle to control my weight, I eat healthy, low-fat foods (chicken, fish, soups, salads, vegetarian dishes) most of the time, aiming for as much variety and color as possible. I’m always fighting the battle of the bulge because my world revolves around food so much. When I’m very tired, I reach for an orange, some crunchy veggies or a smoothie, although I can be “a cookie monster” on occasion!
I actually have two kitchens! The main kitchen is average in size, functional and busy. I also have a teaching/test kitchen, which holds up to 20 students for my cooking classes. I’ve been collecting “stuff” for over 40 years. I have a dishwasher (thank goodness), 3 fridges, 3 microwaves, several top-quality food processors, both Cuisinart and KitchenAid, a heavy-duty mixer and a bread machine. I have a conventional electric stove, but the oven has a tendency to burn things if I’m not careful. I have lots of good knives (especially small utility knives), several cutting boards, lots of baking pans and dishes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I have measuring equipment in several sizes, 2 garlic presses, 3 potato peelers, lots of rubber and metal spatulas, mixing bowls, several strainers….the list goes on and on. My freezer is usually (but not always) filled with a yummy assortment of low-fat baked goods for my book signings.
I love my food processor and microwave oven. “Machine cuisine” has inspired me to write a book on each of these appliances – they’re such terrific time- savers! I’m always using my “Good Grips” potato peeler and Zyliss garlic press. I adore all kinds of spatulas. (I have rubber and metal ones in various sizes and shapes.) A bread machine is pretty handy to mix up bread dough in just minutes, but I usually bake my yeast breads in the oven instead of in the bread machine. I prefer the final results. My grill pan, non-stick skillet and wok are also favorites. I enjoy grilling appetizers, main dishes, vegetables, even desserts, on my Weber gas grill for family, friends and the students who attend my cooking classes. And I love my Kitchen Grips extra-long grilling mitts (www.kitchengrips.com) which help protect me from burns – they’re fantastic!. They come in red and blue, which is helpful for people who keep Kosher.
Not fancy ones, unless I’m on vacation. That’s because I hate to dress up! When I’m too tired to cook, I love to be served in a restaurant. My tastes are actually quite eclectic. I love Italian, Chinese, French, Middle-Eastern, Jewish, vegetarian and continental foods. (That doesn’t exclude much, does it?) I usually try to check what other people are eating when I pass by their tables (although it embarrasses my family!) to see if something tempts me. I also love to read restaurant menus because it inspires me to create new recipes for future books.
My children and their spouses all cook very well, each talented in their own way. (As my late grandmother used to say “All my children are wonderful, and I love them all the same!”) I never criticize them when they cook something. I’m so happy to be served! My son Douglas, who has a flare for food, is an excellent cook. I know he will be extremely successful in his culinary career.
When I teach, I feel energized. It’s a wonderful feeling to inspire my students. If you cook a meal for someone, you feed them for a day. When you teach them HOW to cook, you feed them for a lifetime! And sometimes I’m even lucky enough to get an invitation for dinner from a grateful student!
If the price is right! Actually, my schedule is extremely busy at the moment, and a TV cooking show takes a lot of time to do properly. However, it is an option for the future. I find it fun to do TV interviews – and you never know who’s watching!
Hopefully not! I love when people invite me over for a meal. I tell them to keep it simple, because the focus is on enjoying each other’s company, not impressing me with food that’s so fancy that I can’t relax and enjoy it. I’m very happy with a sandwich or salad and a cup of tea, just catching up on what’s happening with the special people in my life who care enough to give me a break from the kitchen!