Top Secrets Of A Celebrity Chef: Jamie Geller

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Naomi Magazine: I want to congratulate you on all your various achievements. You’re a real role model for many Jewish women. Before you became a Ba’alat Teshuva, you had reached the career success that most people strive for. What compelled you to give it up for a more religious life?

Jamie Geller: I think that while I had this incredible professional success, I didn’t find that a lot of my peers had personal success. The career I had chosen as a TV producer and being in the entertainment industry was really like a twenty-four-seven career. Your life was dedicated to your work to the point that your relationship did not survive it. Many people were on their second,
third, fourth, marriages, or never married at all; The entertainment industry never left any time for anyone to fill their souls and speak to any of their personal needs.

I think it’s really important when you’re assessing your life and your future — where you want to go, what you want to do — to look around you, at the people that are your peers, that you respect, that are mentoring you, that you are aiming to be like; do they represent the life that you would like to have? I always dreamed that
I would have a family, I always dreamed that I would have a chance to be married and raise children. The people around me dreamed of healthy and good relationships and it was not the behavior that I saw modeled around me. I saw extremely professional executives, producers, marketers, but I didn’t see the home life that I wanted, so that’s when I decided to make a change.

NM: What was your most challenging learning experience when becoming more religious?


JG: I think it’s trying to do everything b’simcha, with a smile and with happiness. There are a lot of things that are really trying, whether it’s preparing for the holidays or dealing with the everyday needs of your children, and remembering to smile is really important. It’s an investment in your children’s future love for yiddishkeit. If we’re not cooking, hosting guests, and preparing for the holiday with a smile and b’simcha, then how are the kids going to have a love for Judaism? I think that when you’re stressed and exhausted and pulled in a million directions, it’s so hard to remember to be b’simcha

NM: What is something you wish someone had told you about making an aliyah?

JG: I think people told me a lot, but I wish people would have been more positive. I think people really tried to scare me. It’s obviously such a huge decision and no one wanted to be the one to tell me, “it’s going to be amazing, it’s going to be perfect,” because, bottom line, aliyah — and life — comes with a lot of challenges. Many of the people that I turned to were a little bit more negative than I hoped for. A few times, I decided not to make aliyah because I was too scared and finally, we just decided to go. I wish people would have said, “obviously it will be difficult, obviously there are challenges, that’s life, whether you live in Brooklyn or whether you live in Beit Shemesh.” You need to just close your eyes and jump in with a whole heart. Don’t think about, “I can go back, I can return, I’ll keep my house there, I won’t sell it yet.”
It’s the kind of thing that you just got to go into with both feet and not look back. Because if you want to be successful in something like this, you can’t have a fall-back plan. I know a lot of people who moved, who said they’d try it for a year, not officially make aliyah, who left a home behind just in case — if you want success here, you’ve got to come with your heart and soul dedicated and committed to thriving here

NM: Israelis are tough. How is it for business?


JG: Most of my business is in America. I do have to deal with Israelis a lot, though. I think any culture that’s different than your own is difficult to navigate, and this is not the culture I grew up in. Obvious -ly, I do have interactions with some local partners here; there are a lot of Anglos that are doing amazing things here. But
I can’t say I have the best experience in that question, just because my business is mainly based in chutz la’aretz (overseas)

NM: How do you balance work in the US and living in Israel?


JG: It is very difficult. I really have to say, the last few years have been amazing, simply because the ability to telecommute has changed. Even though I made aliyah seven-and-a-half years ago, some of the technology and the expectation of being in front of people to do business, has changed.
Now, so much of the business world operates online, via Facetime, and video conferences, which has made my life a lot easier. Certainly, the travel is extremely difficult, as a mother.

NM: How did your children acclimate to Israeli culture?


JG: Thank G-d, we made aliyah when they were younger. I think that made a big difference. My oldest child had just turned seven, and nobody else really remembers America, and one child was born here. My oldest child, thank G-d, did really well. And we came to Ramat Beit Shemesh, which is a very American-Anglo community, so it was a very soft landing. It was very familiar, culturally. Even their friends who were born here, are born to parents like us — who made aliyah, maybe before they were born — so they speak, socially and culturally, the same language. I believe it helps that they were younger and that we came to live here.

NM: What sparked you to start JChef — your latest business venture?


JG: I’ve been wanting to do this for years. Everyone is saying it’s genius. I wish I could take credit for it, but I can’t. It’s a billion-dollar industry that existed before we ever got involved; we just made the kosher version. I’m very involved in the culinary and food space, and I saw this trend take hold of the world with every single diet catered to except for kosher.
We tried for years to make deals with some of the bigger companies because it’s not such a difficult thing. Remember, we’re not cooking — we’re shipping raw ingredients — it’s not so difficult to create a kosher line. I could not make any agreement with them. At that point, we decided that we’re just going to go for it. I was really just watching the industry pass us by, and I just won’t stand for that anymore.

NM: What was the greatest hurdle that you overcame?


JG: I feel like there’s a new one every day. Seriously! Every day we wake up and have to face the day with a smile. Right? How often do we wake up, exhausted, tired, and schlepping ourselves into the day? Some days we know what’s coming, we have a schedule, we know how our day is going to be. Then a lot of days we get thrown curve balls that we could never have expected. I think it’s every day: waking up with a smile, going to bed with a smile, and thinking about how you can improve. That, to me, the daily challenge of our lives.

NM: How do you balance work and family?


JG: It takes a village. Thank G-d, I have an amazing husband — I cannot do it without him. I have my sister-in-law and her family close by, I have friends and neighbors — we help each other. You need a support system.
NM: Any tips for working moms?


JG: Oh, about a hundred. First of all, figure out what your support system is. Put safety nets in place for yourself because you cannot do it alone. We’re not superwomen, we cannot be superwomen, so give up on the idea that you’re going to do everything. Some days, some weeks, some things are going to give — if it’s cereal for dinner, fine; if it’s JChef for dinner, great. You can’t always be doing everything from scratch, whether it’s work, kids, being present for every event or dinner, etc. Another thing is to try to get as much sleep as you can. Obviously, if you’re at the stage where your children are waking up at night, it’s a little bit harder, but I
feel like you need to get sleep, even cat naps. We’re all so much better when we have a little bit more sleep under our belts.

NM: When things get tough, what do you do to focus yourself?


JG: I pray. First of all, I’m a big cryer, I believe in crying. I can’t help myself, so I just do it, but I think that it’s good. I remember my mom telling me, “it’s good to cry, it’s okay to cry.” It releases a little bit of the stress. She’d say to me afterwards, “It was a good cry.” You need to get it out. And then, tefillah. My husband always says, “turn those tears into tefillah. Don’t let them be wasted.” We’re going to cry, we’re going to get stressed, and that’s okay.

NM: What is your favorite part about living in Israel?

JG: Oh my gosh, a million things. I love love, love, Israel. There’s a feeling here — I tell people, it’s like your soul has to be dead if it doesn’t feel alive when you’re here in this country. Something about it — obviously for Jewish people it’s our home — but everyone feels this magical, spiritual thing. It’s so hard to describe — sometimes it’s a smell, sometimes it’s a feeling. It’s the landscape, the geography, the Jerusalem stone, the streets of Yerushalayim — street signs! It’s all an experience and I do not take it for granted. Everyone said it’ll wear off. Seven-and-a-half years later, it still hasn’t. The spiritual recharge I get by looking at a beautiful view or harei Yerushalayim, is like going to the Kotel. We try to make a point to go to the Kotel as a family every Rosh Chodesh. I don’t want to be one
of those families that live here and don’t go to the
Kotel.

NM: What is your favorite dish?


JG: I can’t have a favorite dish because I love food too much. But I can tell you, my favorite thing to eat is dessert. And I am not a baker. Obviously, I have some dessert recipes but that’s not what my expertise is. I have more experience with quick and fast dinners, or some of the classics, like brisket and kugel. But my absolute favorite thing to eat is dessert. I love it. Every time we would go to a restaurant, my mother would order dessert first. She would order chocolate mousse — because she didn’t want to stuff it in at the end of the meal when she wouldn’t have room. If it’s just me and my husband eating out, I’ll order two desserts, at least. He doesn’t like dessert very much, so we put one in front of him, then when no one’s looking, I switch the plates. When it’s my birthday, I order a third dessert for the middle of the table.

NM: Finally, what advice do you have for working women?


JG: Don’t overwork. Make time for your life, your family, your relationships, and your creative, personal, and spiritual pursuits. No bracha comes from overworking. In fact, overworking exemplifies a lack of emunah because all success and mazel come from Hashem. We do our hishtadlus — a measured, normal amount of effort. Do not go overboard at the expense of your life. Women are lucky to live and work in a world where self-care is a trending concept — it prevents burnout and mental stress. Capitalize on this trend and make time for non-work things in your life as well.

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