In honor of Father’s Day, who better to host at JFE® than a father who wrote a cookbook? Meet Robert Rosenthal, also known as “Short Order Dad.” Rosenthal learned about different cultures and cuisines through eating at over 3,000 restaurants around the globe, during his international business adventures. While working as an ad exec and performing stand up comedy, he also earned a professional cooking degree from the Institute of Culinary Education.
Rosenthal has hosted hundreds of snack-size cooking segments that have aired in TV markets across the country and produced video programs for clients such as Food & Wine, McCormick Spices and the late Gourmet magazine. He writes about food in the Huffington Post and The Daily Beast, and hosts a weekly video series as the resident “food humorist” at mega-site The Daily Meal. (But does he tell typical “dad jokes”?) With his book Short Order Dad: One Guy’s Guide to Making Food Fun and Hassle-Free, Rosenthal teaches basic techniques and presents a playbook of simple recipes that achieve the most taste with the fewest ingredients and the least effort.
Jewish Food Experience®: What has been a memorable Jewish food experience for you?
Robert Rosenthal: They served smoked whitefish salad at my bris. To this day it pains me to eat whitefish salad. Also, my grandfather was a kosher butcher who brought a big box of meats to our apartment every week. We opened the brown butcher paper as soon as he arrived and scooped up two fingers worth of “chopped meat,” sprinkled it with salt and ate it raw. I had no idea I was eating steak tartare at age two, but I knew I liked it.
JFE®: In all your travels, what was a unique cultural dining experience that had elements of Judaism?
RR: I went to culinary school to study classic French technique, so I was especially excited to travel to Paris, where I’ve been about two dozen times. And no matter how much extraordinary French food there is to take in, I always make a point of going to the Jewish district of Marais for the world-class falafel at L’As du Fallafel.
JFE®: Since you started taking an interest in cooking as a kid, what piece of advice would you give to kids who are interested in becoming chefs?
RR: Five things:
1) Try tasting many different types of foods and various cuisines to develop your palate.
2) Get in the habit of reading books, articles and websites. There is a ton of really good, smart information out there.
3) Take a cooking class.
4) Work in a restaurant.
5) Remember, there’s nothing like practice. So cook. And never be afraid to fail. That’s where so much of the learning comes in.
JFE®: What is your favorite traditional Jewish food to cook and/or eat?
RR: Although I’ve been called “Iron Chef Traif,” I do make a mean brisket. I miss my grandmother’s potato latkes, though. Hot out of the frying fan, dipped in sugar.
JFE®: What has the transition from advertising to the food world (including videos and a book), especially now when food is such a hot topic, been like?
RR: It has been enormous fun and highly creative. Not only to publish the book, but to travel the world reporting on “culinary tourism,” and to host hundreds of programs on stage and on-camera about food and cooking. It is extremely gratifying to inform, to encourage and to make people laugh. The only occupational hazard, on the other hand, is that I’m 20 pounds heavier. Yet well worth it.
JFE®: What are your family’s eating habits like? Are your kids adventurous eaters? Does all your international traveling and eating have an influence on day-to-day family meals?
RR: They appreciate good food, not fancy food. I cook the very kind of meals featured in my book. I wouldn’t characterize my family as adventurous in their eating, but they are open to trying new tastes and flavors. In fact, my international travel had had an obvious impact on my repertoire. I regularly cook with herbs and spices such as berbere (Ethiopia), ras el hanout (North Africa), ancho chile (Mexico), pimentón (Spain) and herbes de Provence (France).