Meet Our New Community Chef: Celeste Hackel

Kosher.com Staff October 20, 2021

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We have thousands of recipes from published cookbooks, magazines, and celebrities, but here at Kosher.com one of our goals is to shine a light on the future rising stars of the kosher foodie world. So we’ve opened up our site to anyone who cooks – whether for a food blog, Instagram, or just for family and friends! We call them our community chefs.

Kosher.com community chefs are a key part of the Kosher.com experience, contributing to what makes our site the most diverse collection of all types of kosher recipes.

Our community chefs have their own page of recipes and or articles with links to their personal platforms; are featured in our email newsletters, Instagram feed, and stories; and their own special article introducing them to our audience.

Do you want to become a community chef? Learn more about the program and how to apply HERE!

Without further ado, meet our newest CC, Celeste Hackel!

1. How did you get into cooking and baking?

My dad comes from a big French Moroccan family, and I grew up watching my grandmother and aunts spend hours in the kitchen making flavorful Mediterranean dishes. They always prided themselves with making everything “from scratch.” Even as a child, I internalized that this was a labor and expression of love that I knew I too wanted to offer my family. My mom is more of an efficient cook and never enjoyed baking, so she always delegated desserts to me, which I loved. I learned through trial and error and mastering some basic recipes. Looking back, I appreciate the value of involving kids in the cooking process. When I started my own family, especially when I had babies, I didn’t have time or energy to make elaborate recipes “from scratch,” so I made an effort to learn some shortcuts that could still produce quality, flavorful meals that everyone loved.

2. What is your favorite kitchen gadget?

I love the mandoline. It makes the slicing and prep process so much easier and more uniform, whether it’s to julienne, make chips, shaved vegetable salads, or even just to decorate desserts. I use it to make air-fried potato, zucchini, beet, and apple chips all the time. They’re a great snack, and the kids get much more excited about them than if I just chopped them in cubes. Mandolines are very sharp, so you have to use them carefully.

3. How do you find the time to work on your recipes?

Cooking and baking are creative outlets for me, so I don’t often start with a planned recipe in mind. I create them in real time based on what I’m making for my family, and note the measurements so I can recreate and/or tweak them. When I was developing the 4:00 cookie, I had a vision and purpose, and literally just pulled out of my pantry nutritious ingredients I wanted to include, and then experimented until I got it right. We had all sorts of cookie variations for snacks for a while. When I was working on my salad dressing line, we had salads for dinner with lots of different dressings for weeks, as I collected feedback. I need my recipe development time to also help me get dinner on the table. So, most days, I tweak my recipes as I’m making my family’s meals. It’s why I try to keep them simple and manageable.

4. How would you describe your cooking style?

I’d say easy going, flexible, and minimalist. I’m not much of a recipe follower. I really start by using the ingredients I have, without feeling pressure to run to the grocery store because I forgot something specific. I’m comfortable substituting, using similar ingredients, or shifting gears and trying something new. I think that really helps take the stress out of cooking and keeps it enjoyable. I don’t use a lot of “extras,” like heavy sauces or fillers. I appreciate minimal ingredients, steps, and I love to let the natural flavors of the food speak for itself.

5. Where do you get inspiration for your recipes?

My recipes are mostly inspired by my childhood favorites, and they definitely have a Mediterranean influence. I’m always inspired to simplify some of our traditional holiday recipes or add a healthy twist. I love recreating some restaurant favorites, too. I’m always experimenting with one bowl or no-bake type desserts. I get ideas from magazines and sites like Kosher.com on ways to use some ingredients I’m not as familiar with, flavor combinations, or just to learn new cooking techniques.

6. Do you have a signature dish?

My signature salad is a grilled vegetable salad, which varies depending on the season. But it’s always a combination of leafy greens, roasted/grilled vegetables (like butternut squash, sweet potatoes, beets), some nuts or seeds, a protein, and usually a fruit. For quick dinners, definitely anything air fried. My air fryer is my favorite kitchen appliance. I love how quickly it cooks, and I use it for everything- chicken, fish, and vegetables. My go-to desserts/treats are my cookies, stuffed dates, and truffles. I love making anything with chocolate.

7. What are your favorite recipes on Kosher.com?

You have so many great ones from so many talented chefs, it’s hard to choose! I love your soup section, especially in the colder months, even if I don’t have the exact ingredients. It always sparks new ideas or ways to include some ingredients I’m not as familiar with. I’m excited to share the roasted chestnut and mushroom one with you! And I loved the Rosh Hashanah in 5 series you did. I think everyone appreciates ways to simplify Yom Tov cooking a bit.

8. What are your favorite cooking videos to watch?

I love cooking videos that teach me something about the process- either about a new ingredient, cooking technique, or something that I can apply in my own kitchen. I always learn something cool when I’m watching Naomi Nachman, Chanie Apfelbaum, and the other pros.

9. What is your favorite cookbook?

There are so many great ones and I appreciate all the work that goes into each of them. I think the ones that had the biggest impact on me were the ones I got when I first started cooking for my family. They gave me the foundations and confidence to feel comfortable in the kitchen- like Kim Kushner’s The Kosher Palette, Jamie Geller’s Quick and Kosher and Susie Fishbein’s Kosher by Design series. Over the years, I’ve made and adapted several recipes from all of them.

10. Do you have a favorite ingredient to cook with?

I always love adding fresh herbs, or even the frozen herb cubes, which I keep stocked in my freezer. They have so many health benefits and add a depth of flavor to any kind of dish. Plus, they’re a simple, but pretty, garnish that add so much to the presentation. Basil is my favorite.

11. What advice can you offer first-time cooks?

Great question. I’d say, start simple. You don’t need to learn tons of new recipes to make delicious meals. Just get comfortable with a few, and you can always add variety or a twist to those later on. I make several one-pan chicken variations with whichever vegetables, potatoes, or grain I have. They always feel like different recipes, but follow the same technique for easy, complete meals with minimal mess. Most vegetables are great when tossed with some olive oil and sea salt and roasted on 400 degrees Fahrenheit. After 20 to 30 minutes, check on them or taste them to gauge how much longer they may need, and take note for next time. Many chicken on the bone dishes can be baked on 350/375 for an hour, and then checked on. Having an understanding of some tips and techniques like those can give you the confidence to try new things and experiment. And know that each time you make something, you get better and more efficient at it. So even if something doesn’t come out exactly as you wanted, you learn what to do differently next time, so be flexible and have fun with it.

View all of Celeste’s delicious recipes HERE!

You can find Celeste on Instagram @healthy.to.the.core

Do you want to become a Kosher.com community chef? Apply by sending three original recipes and images to [email protected].

We can’t wait to meet you!