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July 08, 2010 - Image 13

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2010-07-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Lori Weiss
Special To The Jewish News

because we were more than up for the
challenge:'
It wasn't long before they were com-
peting for events with New York's top
catering firms — including Michelin
Award-winning Chef Daniel Boulud's
Feast and Fetes — and winning.

A

t 24, Zack Sklar has come
full circle, returning home to
Michigan and the synagogue
where he had his bar mitzvah. Only this
time, he's in command of the kitchen,
where he brings the culinary expertise
he learned at the Culinary Institute of
America and practiced in New York.
Sklar's energy and passion for con-
temporary foods is tempered with the
wisdom to know that not everyone is
ready to trade in the traditional wed-
ding and bar mitzvah fare of brisket and
matzah ball soup.
Yet, in the two years he's been home,
fare from Sklar's Cutting Edge Cuisine
catering business based at Temple Shir
Shalom in West Bloomfield definitely
has people talking — from parents of
b'nai mitzvah kids to wedding planners
to those staging high-end corporate
events.
While his formal training and degree
come from the prestigious Culinary
Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.,
Sklar got his start where many of us do,
at our mother's elbows.
"Dinner was always a two-hourdisl -
cussion in our house he recalled. "We
couldn't figure out what to have for din-
ner without a long debate. My mother
would always say, `This isn't your last
meal:"
Yet, in an effort to please everyone,
mom Sherry Sklar often prepared two or
three entrees, along with a bevy of des-
serts, to make sure everyone in her fam-
ily of five, including husband, Larry, and
Zack, Michelle and Ryan, were happy.
"From the time Zack was old enough
to climb up on the countertop, he was
helping me in the kitchen:' said the
Farmington Hills parent. "By the time he
was 7, he'd mastered breakfast, making
us matzah brie and omelets:'
But it was that Thanksgiving Day
when Zack was merely 15 that Sherry
realized she may as well give up the keys
to her kitchen.
"I had 25 people coming and Zack
'decided he wanted to be in charge she
said. "He wanted to brine a turkey. I'd
never heard of a brine in my life. He
kept saying, `You have to trust me: But
when he told me that the turkey would
only need two and a half hours to cook,
I was sure we'd be eating at midnight.
Two and a half hours later, the turkey
was on the table and it was the best we'd

Cutting Edge Cuisine chefs Zack Sklar and Justin Kurtz

"Television shows like 'Top Chef' have made
going to culinary school the thing to do over
the last year or two."

- Chef Zack Sklar

ever had. From that point on, Zack took
over Thifiksgiving."
That turkey dinner led to extravagant
meals for family and friends in their
home, each presented with a formal
menu. After one of those meals, Zack's
path began to fall into place. A family
friend told restaurateur Rick Halberg
about the young chef and it wasn't long
before Halberg offered him a job at
Emily's, his Northville restaurant.
"Zack came to work for me when he
was 15:' Halberg said. "He was a cocky
kid with a love for cooking and he knew
exactly what he wanted to do. He was
absolutely determined to get into this
business and I know his determination
will take him far."
While Sklar's classmates at North
Farmington High School raced to the
football field after class, he was work-
ing side by side with some of the city's
greatest chefs — even before he had a
driver's license. After a suggestion from
Halberg, also a Culinary Institute grad,
Sklar followed his passion to New York
and enrolled in the esteemed program.
"Television shows like Top Chef have
made going to culinary school the thing
to do over the last year or two," Sklar
said. "They make it look very glamor-
ous. But let me tell you, working 70- to
80-hour weeks and mopping floors at 2

a.m. is not all that glamorous:'
He laughed as he thought back on his
culinary school days, which were not
so different from the schedule he keeps
now.
"You have to be passionate about
food:' he said. "For every 30 students
that enter the program, there are far
fewer that graduate?'

Starting To Cater
Sklar's passion for food not only kept
him in the program, but also led him
to start a catering business on the side.
Between mid-terms, finals and a work/
study program that landed him at the
Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Dearborn, he and
pastry chef Justin Kurtz (who trained
under pastry chef Francisco Migoy, for-
merly of Napa Valley's French Laundry
restaurant) launched Cutting Edge
Cuisine in a 500-square-foot apartment
in Hyde Park, N.Y., they shared with
another roommate and fellow chef.
"We started doing house parties
and graduations in New York and
Connecticut:' Sklar said. "We had a pool
of 200 classmates who were innovative
and excited and willing to try anything,
and our clients loved it! The people
we were catering to dined in the city, at
places like Nobu and Per Se and they
had high expectations, which was great,

Coming Home
So what would bring this young chef
back to Michigan at a time when his
peers are leaving? In part, it was a con-
versation he had at his cousin's bat mitz-
vah with Shir Shalom's Rabbis Dannel
Schwartz and Michael Moskowitz.
"I'd thought about returning to
Michigan or, at the very least, split-
ting my time between here and New
York:' Sklar recalled. "I'm very family
oriented and this is home. I wanted to
bring something back. Rabbi Moskowitz
mentioned Shir Shalom was looking
for a new caterer [non-kosher] and
that if things worked out, we could use
the kitchen for the base of our catering
operation as well.
"I grew up at Shir Shalom and there
was something very appealing about
the idea. Shir Shalom is all about doing
things differently, and that's what we
do. We aren't going to ask you to pick
from set menu A, B or C. We're going
to sit down with you and ask what you
like and what you don't like and create a
one-of-a-kind experience
And that's exactly what Sklar did
when he created a tasting for the
temple's board of directors. Shir Shalom
president Pam Kornfeld was looking
for simple elegance, so the chefs cre-
ated a menu of grilled standing caesar
salad, seared New York strip loin with
cauliflower and black truffle puree and
ended the evening with a perfect coco-
nut trifle with banana bread croutons.
So despite Michigan's economic
slump, Sklar came home and Cutting
Edge Cuisine set up its base of opera-
tions in the temple where Sklar had had
his bar mitzvah.
"For me to be a chef in New York or
L.A. is so cliche he says. "It was always
about being the odd ball. So for me to
start in Michigan was a challenge I was
ready to face. I know it sounds corny,
but it is true all of my chef friends are
in big cities struggling to find jobs and
pay their bills. They have no idea how
we're making it in Michigan.
"But I had both personal and busi-

Cutting Edge on page 14

July 8 • 2010

13

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