Joshie Berger from Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America Talks to Heeb

Joshie BergerHistorically, Jews have stayed away from teaching the public how to cook. Sure there is Joan Nathan, that tiny-nosed bubbe who wrote a vague text about Jewish cooking that was more a study in “Jewish anthropology” and “culture” than it was about how long to soak grated potatoes in salty butter water before frying them up into latkes. There is the Jew-friendly Travel Channel that employs Adam Richman of Man vs. Food and Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods. But those two pudgy punims don’t really teach as they do show off their immense appetites for anything reasonably sized they can shove into their gullets (edible isn’t always a requirement). On the celebrity food industry front, we stick to what we do best, eating everything in sight and describing what it feels like in our mouths loudly so that people sitting comfortably in their homes can hear.

But then, from the depths of Boro Park in Brooklyn came Joshie Berger, a Jew who on national television admitted to being one of the Worst Cooks in America when he joined the Food Network show of the same name. The show, now in its second season, gathers terrible cooks from around the country and separates them into teams led by celebrity chefs/hardasses Anne Burrell and Robert Irvine. They are weeded out in weekly cooking challenges until on person from each team competes in a final challenge in which they cook for a panel of food critics. The grand prize is the equivalent of one semester of Jewish Day School: $25,000.

Berger’s bravery, his ability to take direction, and dedication to the competition (he has cried on camera more than once) got him a slot in the final two. He will soon face off against wide-eyed Madonna-armed mom Georg Coleman, who, sweetly, just wants to be able to make her daughter enjoyable lunches. Berger may not have a kid but he has every Friday night for the rest of his life to become a better cook, and a culture of people who will shun him if he doesn’t learn to love food. That may just be the better motivation.

It all goes down this Sunday at 9 pm on The Food Network. Let’s hope for a brisket related challenge.

You grew up in an Orthodox household in Brooklyn, but tell me a little bit about your upbringing. What was your neighborhood like? Were you friends with non-Jews? Were your parents strict?

I grew up in Boro Park, and my parents were from Israel, so while my father wore a shtreimel and appeared like a regular Hasid, we were a tad more liberal. I think in 5th grade my mom wanted us to get a semi-decent education so she wisely tore us out of our Hasidic school and put is in a less Hasidish yeshiva. As is the norm in these neighborhoods, I had no non-Jewish friends and was even discouraged from hanging out with kids whose yarmulke wasn’t up to par (leather and knitted of course not being materials appreciated by God). I was the oldest child and was showered with love from my parents. I really can’t complain about anything they did, or positions they took and enforced. They are simply the product of a system set in motion hundreds of years ago that hasn’t been checked.

Describe to me the first time you ate something that wasn’t kosher? What was it? How did it feel?

I will never forget, it was a chicken cutlet. I love chicken, it’s my favorite food and especially schnitzel like my mom makes. I was so nervous, I recall asking my friends so many questions, they thought I was crazy; is it a normal chicken? There’s like no pig in it? Is there anything like in between the bread crumbs and the chicken? Then I had my first bite and it was just a damn chicken cutlet. I was surprised, but the transition was fluid. I have tons of ex-frum friends who have mental blocks and feel nauseous when food isn’t kosher, that was never the case for me. I don’t get their disorder.

You’re probably the only Jew in the world who would admit to being a bad cook and a picky eater. Have you faced criticism from other Jews because of this particular quirk?

I think this whole Jews being good cooks is a misnomer based on all the holidays and how often cooking takes place. But I don’t think that necessarily translates into someone being a good cook. My mom happens to be a superb cook and every Shabbos we would have a litany of friends come over to join the tail end of our meal and escape their mom’s awful chulent. And to be honest, since starting to eat non-kosher I cannot find a kosher restaurant that I would order a steak in. Sure, there’s a handful of dishes that via trial and error we have perfected over the generations, but for the most part Jewish food simply kills you faster, without improving the living part by that much.

As for being picky, yeah, I guess that isn’t a Jewish trait. But I was a bratty kid and was disgusted by most foods even back then. I hated that nasty jelly thing called galla my brothers would slobber over, I was repulsed by tongue and even hesitated to start putting tahina on my falafel balls cause I hated dips and stuff. So I had a head start on the whole being picky thing. But I am getting much better, I even stopped using 5 different plates when eating cause I don’t want anything to touch anything.

I was excited to see that you have made it this far especially considering your lack of adventurous eating before the show. What do you think you had that the other contestants who were voted off didn’t have?

I believe I was ready to be booted off the show within the first few episodes if I didn’t adjust my entire attitude. There are only two exciting things in the life of a frum kid: Purim and summer camp. While I have Halloween now to more than compensate for Purim I miss summer camp like crazy. I was into everything from sports to acting to drawing to playing drums to just loving the whole vibe of the thing. I think I showed up to boot camp perhaps trying to make up for lost camp time. I was genuinely giddy to meet new people, share stories, engage in activities and be loud. Then along came Chef Anne. All her quirky, fun and bouncy ways in the kitchen aside, she is a very demanding and sincere person when it comes to her craft. She respects what she does and rightfully insists you do as well. I quickly realized that my shtick was not gonna fly with her at all.

I made it a point from then on to undo the damage and gain her respect. I think she realized I had A.D.D., A.D.H.D. and many other letter combinations and was really making an effort to stay focused and adjust to her style and ways. I think she appreciated that and we saw eye to eye. There is no greater motivator to learn than to feel respected and appreciated. I felt she was very fair to me, even when she was most critical and I really embraced the opportunity I was afforded. I’m not sure other people, who didn’t have 18 years of Yeshiva life behind them, where able to evolve so fast from week to week. Thank you Darwin.

What’s next for you? I know you can’t tell us what happens on the show, but what are you doing post-show? Did the show awaken a desire to go on a shrimp boat? Write a cookbook about matzo ball seafood stew?

This entire ordeal was life changing. I am in the kitchen all day, improving my skills and getting rave reviews from people. I love cooking and I will find a path in life that reflects that. I have added twists to traditional heimishe foods and have many of my own creations. I freak out if I’m out of fennel. When I showed up to boot camp I didn’t even recognize it and asked Chef Anne “what’s with the retarded onion?” I think my experience can help others and I will make sure to share this with others. I cannot express to you how grateful I am to Food Network for this opportunity. I have nothing but kind words towards everyone along the way from the people who lived with us to the producers to the camera and sound people. Even though I’m secular and hate the term, I feel blessed to have had this happen to me. L’chaim.

What do you think?

About The Author


The international media conspiracy and/or the new Jew review. Take your pick.

40 Responses

  1. Judy

    What is this thing about taking pride in being the worst at something? There are TV shows about the worst driver, worst handyman, worst cook. Who wants to spend time with people who take joy in being the worst? If the lowest is the new highest, lets find people who are the worst at being bullies, being mean spirited, being nasty.

  2. Esther

    Joshie, I also grew up in BP – Orthodox but not Hadisic. It’s sad to watch you eat shrimp, etc. after growing up with your background. And sad to see you say things such as – Purim and summer camp are the only exciting times for a frum kid; that’s simply not true in my experience and for others that I know in the Orthodox community. For ex, there’s something special about a Passover seder for a frum kid..there are many other examples of special times and fun times as well. It’s sad because you seem to think the Hasidic/Orthodox are the ones who are missing out; but it’s you who must’ve missed out by not ‘getting’ what a frum person’s life is about, the treasure that it is. Why don’t you check it out again as a thinking adult, for ex. check out, A good/fascinating book for you is Just One Jew. Good luck to you..and hope you have a happy Purim! ;)

  3. joshie

    skeptic, some of the greatest accomplishments in history have come from brilliant jewish thinkers who i am extremely proud of, its unfair to label me down on something merely because i take issue with the behavior of a small segment who i feel are acting improperly…

    truth, i no longer practice law, i went through a very trying time in my personal life during the early part of the decade which resulted in many painful memories, i did not attempt to represent anyone in court nor do i feel it is relevant to the show…

    and esther, i hope u can be openminded enough to assume that i am not arriving at my conclusions or lifestyle based on ignorance and am passionate and sincere about my positions and lifestyle…thank u for the well wishes though..

  4. David

    Why foes it say shuki has no kids he has
    3 for sure
    He is a nice fellow but very troubled since a young say that Purim and camp is the only things that orthodox
    People look forewRd to is sick.
    Since I remember he always hated chasidim .
    I think you should realize that almost all your classmates made something out of themselves and they stayed frum, what have you accomplished? Nothing how dare you sY these things?! Should we put a timeline of your life on the web? I don’t thing you will be too happy

  5. joshie

    firstly, the article says may not..

    secondly, i can have 9 kids, again, not relevant…

    lastly, u considering staying frum as an accomplishment defines our differences…thank u for saying im a nice fellow though, have a great day

  6. David

    My point is that a guy like you who has led such a tumoltuos life after deciding not to be frum has no right to talk that way about frum Jews . You left and what ? This is no life, you know that all the other things that you went through are also an indication of your inner turmoil.
    You used to be a very popular guy nobody ever mistreated you it’s a personal battle you are going through not judaisim

  7. joshie

    ur stepping all over urself tryin to make several contradictory points…on the one hand u attribute what u consider to be tumultuous life to being a troubled kid from youth, then demand i conform to standards u clearly wouldnt expect from someone with the inner turmoil u profess to have knowledge of…i just ask that u should perhaps take a step back and consider that perhaps u dont know everything about me, u arent aware of everything, and perhaps give me the benefit of the doubt only slightly, despite feeling i insulted ur ilk…after all, isnt that the credo of decent frum people? or does respect, consideration and compassion only exist when people conform to ur world viewpoint and keep their mouth shut? seems to me the greater challenge to being civil and understanding would come from sharing that with people we disagree with or even dislike…i know i have no interest in personally attacking u or discussing aspects of ur life that are of no concern to others or relevant to conversation…maybe u can see why i have very few decent things to say about a culture that has very lil tolerance for people they think are out of line or not conforming…regardless, a great day to u, and i hope u find the humility to perhaps realize that u may be wrong about many things…layla tov

  8. David

    I really can’t complain about anything they did, or positions they took and enforced. They are simply the product of a system set in motion hundreds of years ago that hasn’t been checked.”
    Ahh is that quote tolerance? wow ! How times have changed !

  9. joshie

    if u wish to have sincere dialog about anything i said i would be more than delighted to engage u or anyone else in it, regardless of forum…however all i have seen since espousing my views is people resorting to ad hominem attacks…aside from saying so much about them it generally is very telling of how secure they are in defending their position…had u come on here civilly and asked me how can i possibly believe the things i said, it may have actually resulted in constructive conversation, but u, and others have opted for the smear tactic…sad, yet expected

  10. David

    Ok listen up I know you forever
    The neighborhood, shul, school, camp,etc..
    I will take off the gloves and tell it like it is
    YOU HAVE NO VIEWS!! your heart is filled with hatred against anything frum
    Since you were little you would always make fun of chasidim or yeshivish people
    Anyone who looked to frum would be made fun of , you hardly ever davened , always hanging out in the back , coming late etc.. You never knew what reaL judiasim is about, you always hated it. I cN go on and on about your days as a”frum guy” but there is no point. The nerve that you have to belittle a religion you hAted from a very young age when you never gave it a chance!
    Your friends have a ” disorder” because they feel guilty eating traife? Shame on you and all your garbage about tolerance .
    You have zero tolerance for anything Jewish .

  11. Yid Vicious

    David, get a life. Joshie already said he was a bratty kid. What more do you want? Him to kiss the feet of the rebbe’s corpse? Eat an effing cheeseburger and shut the eff up.

  12. David

    Bratty is not the same as hateful.
    Let everyone know that his views are not views just pure hate.

  13. Clark

    “HE may not have a kid,” he has 3 wonderful, fully torah observant children, whom he has had little involvment in their lives. It’s amazing that his kids have turned out the way they have with him as their father.

  14. David

    I know that’d what I’m saying, how dare he preach to the frum people when his basic responsibility he cannot fulfill.
    Trust me I know he hardly ever sees his kids.
    This guy has some chutzpah to preach
    Everyone has to know he is just a hateful person.

  15. joshie

    so if a non religious parent gets involved in a childs life and therefore affects their level of religiosity, then he is damned, and if he respects their upbringing and has less interaction with them then he is damned for having little involvement…its always a win win with u guys;)

    i hope everyone reading recognizes how much love and compassion u guys show for people who arent in ur herd…ur making my point for me…i only wish i wasnt edited and was more forthright about ur behavior…thankfully i presumed some zealots would make my case for me and display the love u have towards different viewpoints and people who dare speak out against the cult…


  16. David

    Cut the garbage already! All you talk about is love acceptance what a croc of bull! You attacked us first making fun of our kids , food and everything religious .
    First actually love a religious Jew and then talk. You will never convince those thT know you from shul camp and yeshiva. Your heart is filled with hatred and I think you are the zealot , since your anti frum sentiments are extreme and well known.

  17. joshie

    i believe i did not mention any of the things u claim i did (not that i dont espouse them personally) im merely pointing out the hypocrisy of someone who purports to live a more moral lifestyle than i yet stops at nothing to deliver attacks of a very personal nature, even if they were true, simply because he feels justified in doing so…i believe thats how the chofetz chaim would have preferred it…dont recall where but im sure i remember him saying that its ur duty (as u often repeated) to let the world know how bad a human being is if they start with u first…keep the ad hominems coming, ur making a great case for orthodoxy

  18. David

    If you read your interveiw you will see it in there
    We have to tell the world about you since that will show your credibility is zero.

  19. joshie

    im sure thats precisely ur intentions and in no way do u get satisfaction from hurting others;)

    not to mention, the world really relies on me to get the inside scoop on orthodoxy and the problems inherent within…keep doin gods work bro;)

  20. Judy

    At what point will someone other than me say,”Shoin Ginik! Enough is enough!” Just be glad you are well and able to debate, but now your two minute time allowance is up.

  21. Clark

    Joshie- whatever happened that turned you off from yidishkeit must have had a real profound affect on you. It has completely turned you off from the religion of you your forefathers. May G-D have mercy on your soul. Just know that we live on this world for a short period of time and it’s not worth throwing everything away for the fleeting temptations and enjoyments of the secular world. I pray that one day soon you will realize this and return.

  22. Yid Vicious
    Yid Vicious

    Clark, you self-righteous, sanctimonious twit. “May G-D have mercy on your soul.” You think God appreciates your passive-aggressive invocation of his name? You’re spending time in the comments section of the silliest Jewish website on the planet earth and you lecture about the “fleeting temptations and enjoyments of the secular world.” Get an effing life you pathetic loser.

  23. Judy

    Clark, if the afterlife is forever and the earthly existence brief, why not enjoy it while you can? You and David sound like christian evangelists.

  24. joshie

    ur lucky cause he was about to go on a rant about how she doesnt brush her teeth or wipe properly…

    yid, u cant reason or talk logic to people who havent arrived at their positions via such methods…

    at least i give clark credit for not feeling the need to fling mud and get into personal attacks…

    so thank u for that, and if there is a god im sure he knows a tad better than david about my decisions, my life and the integrity behind my secular stance and values, so im not concerned, although thank u for the (presumed) well wishes

  25. Robin

    There is so much bitterness here. Maybe with the open-minded secularity you’ve escaped to, Joshie, you can consider that there are is equally great variety in the quality of frum people as there is among the people of any other group. Don’t waste your time fending off vicious personal attacks. If you’re going to be communicating with frum Jews, why not find the ones who would embrace you? You need to find yourself a new website.

  26. Robin

    You seem to be more concerned about his hatred toward your group than you are toward his feelings toward G-d. Do you profess to know how he feels inside?

  27. joshie

    he has made it clear that he knows me, my inner thoughts/feelings and can therefore pass judgment on me and publicly display the venom he passes off as defense of his faith…robin, sadly, since leaving the faith in 2000, i have had far fewer compassionate people as urself show genuine interest or care than i have vile and vicious pseudo religious people malign and smear me…thus im convinced that its not an anomaly but an institutionalized method of dealing with people who dare leave the faith…i dont doubt that people leaving wahabi sects of islam get treated the same way by the taliban…im sure i would have attended far more shabbas dinners and family events if there was more robin/less david in this world…clearly though his response is ‘good, we dont want ur type at the shabbas table or at family bar mitzvahs, etc.’…hey, at least i give him credit, he is consistent in his hatred and insensitivity to anything he deems worthy of scorn…thank u though for what appeared to be heartfelt and genuine, gut shabbos

  28. David

    You are so full of garbage
    You never ever showed compassion towards judiasm in your life how dare you preach compAssion

  29. David

    YOu are missing the point
    Nobody is judging you for not being religious , we are saying how dare you mock & degrade a religion of which you have contempt since you were a little child. If you don’t like judiasim then don’t practice it but how dare you put all frum Jews down

  30. Judy

    Isn’t it time HEEB Magazine stepped in and put an end to all this hatred? It is possible to CLOSE COMMENTS on topics. This one is getting old.

  31. The Heretic Amongst Us | Heeb

    […] off a surprise victory, transforming himself from culinary schlamazel into celebrity chef. Heeb interviewed him last year regarding his exploits in reality TV land. Back for a return interview, we caught up with Joshie to […]


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