Dubbed “one of the wackiest contestants we’ve ever seen” on the latest series of Israel’s MasterChef, Charedi rabbi and ex-Londoner Josh Steele has quickly become an Israeli celebrity.
As the only contestant cooking strictly kosher, Josh wowed judges with his blue cheese & chocolate ravioli and tendency to burst into break dancing in the kitchen.
On Monday 10th March Josh is coming to London for a Purim cookery demonstration at Hampstead Synagogue, in support of UK Meir Panim. Sophie Eastaugh caught up with Josh to get the low-down on love, kosher and his rise to fame.
“I proposed in New York’s Time Square after getting a message posted on the Hershey’s billboard. Woohoo!”
Jewish News: What’s it been like competing on Israel’s MasterChef?
Josh Steele: The competition itself was immensely intense. I didn’t really understand the challenges as I was told them in Hebrew and I wasn’t as practiced in cooking as usual as I’ve been in Yeshivah making only really cholent for the last five years. But being with the other contestants, production crew and judges was amazing though – I’ve had an experience I will never forget.
Jewish News: How would you inspire people who think keeping kosher is too restrictive?
Josh Steele: In part, it is of course restrictive. You can no longer just go into any restaurant and eat anything!
However, you can make food just as good as non kosher food and maybe even better. Why? If you have to use your creativity to find substitutes you can end up trying recipes and food you wouldn’t ordinarily.
Kosher also helps us work on self discipline and connect easier with our beautiful community. Anyone who wants to can email me about what they’re going to miss and I’ll help them find substitutes that are fabulous.
Jewish News: I’ve heard you once made blue cheese and chocolate ravioli. Where did you learn to cook with such unusual combinations?
Josh Steele: I’ve always liked trying different foods but for cooking, once I discovered the genius of Heston Blumenthal I no longer wanted to make anything normal again.
I try and push the boundaries of kosher food like he has done. I’m nowhere near him as a chef but everyone needs a dream!
Jewish News: How is living in Jerusalem compared to Edgware – do you miss London life?
Josh Steele: There is actually less of selection of kosher products in Israel than in London. Other than this, obviously the people and bureaucracy are the biggest differences – London wins on bureaucracy by far. I miss the politeness and order of British society but Israel is like your family – everyone shouts at each other like they’re family members and still loves you! You’ve got to love it!
Jewish News: What’s been the impact of being on the show for you – I’ve heard you’ve had a few dating offers?
Josh Steele: (Laughing) Well, walking down the street takes a bit longer than it used to with all the selfies and autographs. I’ve even been followed into the toilets a few times! I’ve had a few hundred messages from potential Mrs Steeles. However, I have already found her since the show started as I’ve just got engaged to the love of my life!
Wow! How did you meet your fiancé?
Josh Steele: My friends in New York had been telling me for years I had to meet their friend Elana. However, she would only date someone who wanted to live in Israel and I was only studying there temporarily.
Thanks to my cousin applying to MasterChef for me and me getting on the show, I have decided I could potentially now live there. When Elana came to Israel on holiday we dated and the rest is history!
I proposed in New York’s Time Square after getting a message posted on the Hershey’s billboard. Woohoo!
Jewish News: Has it been tricky reconciling being a Charedi rabbi with being a TV star?
Josh Steele: Not really – as everyone in Israel knows I’m religious they are largely very respectful of me not touching girls and things. At parties people go to efforts to tell me the kashrut level without me even having to ask. It has been fun and I’m going to enjoy it whilst it lasts and just try to be a Kiddush Hashem as much as possible.
Jewish News: What are your plans for the future with regards to cooking?
Josh Steele: I’d like to open Glatt kosher gourmet restaurants that are affordable. There is only one restaurant like this that I like in Israel but is expensive, as are the few truly delicious ones in the rest of the world. I have been offered jobs as a food critic, helping with product development in restaurants, a possible book and there are talks of a TV show, but nothing is set in stone yet. For starters I want to work in a professional kitchen for a bit and learn the business.
Jewish News: Why are you doing this event in London for Meir Panim? Have you been heavily involved with them in Jerusalem?
Josh Steele: I got a call from them asking if I would help them out and after hearing about all the amazing stuff they do, I jumped at the opportunity. I have always loved charity work and I really want to use this magnificent opportunity in my life to make as much of a positive impact as possible. I cooked for them as a guest celebrity chef in their soup kitchen in Jerusalem last week.
It was a moving and exhausting experience. In typical Josh style, my first time cooking for 200 people I made a crazy menu. Risotto for 200? Worth a shot!
Watch Josh on MasterChef:
In partnership with Hampstead Synagogue and Israeli House, Josh’s Purim cookery demonstration is on Monday, 10th March at 8pm, Hampstead Synagogue. Tickets are £18 at www.meirpanim.org.uk.