Food and family go hand in hand. And 57-year-old chef and educator Danny Corsun, founder of the Culinary Judaics Academy (CJA), added Judaism to the equation. He founded CJA, now an online platform, to infuse meaningful Jewish learning into cooking classes for all Jews, regardless of age or skill level.
CJA is about “making Judaism understandable, applicable and transformative in contemporary terms,” Corsun told the Journal.
Food, which has always been the focus of Danny and his wife Andrea Corsun’s Encino home, runs in the family. Daughter Zoey, 19, a sophomore at Berkeley, is Corsun’s co-chef and co-host for CJA. Son Zachary, 21, is a senior at the University of Michigan where he has a challah business (@zachallah on Instagram).
“My house is modeled after the home I grew up in,” Corsun said. “Growing up, we ate dinner together every night … and ‘How was your day?’ was a conversation at the dinner table. And it might seem like very much in the 1950s, but that’s how my kids grew up.”
Zach and Zoey started cooking at a young age. In fourth grade, they started making their own lunches. When their grandparents came to town, the Corsun children started Yum Yum Restaurant, complete with set menus and dinners.
“On Friday night we played ‘Chopped’ Dessert,” Corsun said, referring to the Food Network show. “I would make dinner for Shabbat and then we would play. My wife would compete against me or I would compete against one of the kids and I didn’t draw any punches.
Corsun began working in education in 2000 after spending 13 years in the entertainment industry. After the birth of his first child, he sought a more stable and family-friendly career.
A friend who taught full-time at Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, near where Corsun lived at the time, suggested substitute classes, allowing Corsun to get his eligibility. And since teachers tend to call out their favorite subs, he made a dozen Rugelach (his grandmother’s recipe) for every teacher at the school. As a result, he worked a lot.
His transition to becoming a cooking instructor began when Corsun was asked to take on the special education class, first as a substitute and then to finish the school year and beyond.
“Every Friday I taught a review class that taught math, science, history and the arts of language alongside a cooking class,” he said.
Within two weeks there was a noticeable change. Once the classroom was under control, Corsun invited five general education neurotypical students into the classroom each week. They provided a snack for the students to take back to their classroom at the end of the day.
“My room went from the room you can’t get near to the cool cooking room that every student in the school wanted to be in,” he said. “My students were no longer the kids you don’t talk to, but the cool kids who bring us food.”
As a vehicle, Corsun could have chosen literature, theater or art, but cooking was his thing.
“I grew up in a home where my grandmother was a phenomenal baker, [and] my mom is a fantastic Jewish cook,” said Corsun, who grew up in Queens with Conservadox. “My sister is very good and my brother actually got into the industry as a chef and owner of his own restaurant in Manhattan.”
Corsun’s program, which taught academic disciplines through experiential cooking classes, resulted in better student grades.
In 2005 he moved his culinary classroom outside the school walls and founded the Culinary Kids Academy, which evolved into the Culinary Judaics Academy in 2009. Last year, CJA launched its dynamic online platform to bring its empowering, innovative cooking workshops to the world. It’s a combination of Food Network-quality videos with a high-quality written curriculum for all skill levels. The program is aimed at individuals and families and is also customizable for organizations.
While the move to this platform may have been motivated by the pandemic, Corsun claims it couldn’t be made just for COVID.
“We are in a new landscape of informational, entertainment and educational content consumption,” he said. “So while the pandemic has required a collective transition online, we need to curate transformative content that will nurture, educate and entertain long after Covid is gone.”
In the past two years, Danny and Zoey have shot 45 content in their backyard studio for six different shows: Holidays, Jewish Values, A Jewish Home, Kitchen/Jewish Cornerstones, Jews Around the World and Israel.
In the past two years, Danny and Zoey have shot 45 content in their backyard studio for six different shows: Holidays, Jewish Values, A Jewish Home, Kitchen/Jewish Cornerstones, Jews Around the World and Israel. The videos are 12 to 17 minutes long; Some of them are literal lessons related to holidays, while others promote Jewish values like love and kindness.
The example workshop on the homepage is about How to Make Gd a Verb, and the dish Zoey and Danny are making is yam mac potatoes with cheese.
“The reason I chose this for this particular lesson is because it’s the first recipe I’ve taught [Zoey] to make it herself, so it was hers,” Corsun said. “Hence, [it’s] Make Gd a Verb: Own your Judaism.”
Cooking is a self-sustaining life skill, but it’s so much more.
“It’s wonderful to be able to have that kind of confidence, independence and responsibility [from cooking]’ Korsun said. “Cooking teaches so many amazing things.”
CJA’S HARVEST VEGGIE SOUP
When he was growing up, Corsun’s mother made soup every Shabbat and he has carried on the tradition.
1 large onion
3 sticks of celery
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 large potato
1 11 oz. Can of whole candy corn
(vacuumed in water)
1 28 oz. Can of crushed tomatoes
32 ounces. broth (chicken or vegetable,
homemade or store bought), water canister
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried basil
2 tsp Garlic Seasoning
1 tsp cajun or blackening spice
salt and pepper to taste
*Optional: For protein, you can add beans (white northern, kidney, or black) or a 14 oz. Bricks of soft silken tofu (you need to mix the tofu into the soup)
Dice the onion, carrot and celery and sauté in a saucepan with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and Cajun spices.
Once the onions are translucent, dice and add the parsley and potatoes (with skin) and sauté a minute or two longer and add the mashed tomatoes and chopped tofu.
(FYI, the tofu provides incredible protein, and once it’s fully mixed into the soup, it’s undetectable by sight or taste, so it’s a great (and sneaky) way for parents to make sure kids are getting the right protein in their diet ! It also serves as a thickener for the soup – if you like your soup hearty.)
Mix ingredients and then add broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Once the vegetables are soft, use a blender to blend the soup until it has the desired consistency. Hand/immersion blenders are great for a more rustic texture, but if you want a smoother soup, use a stand mixer – just hold the top with a towel and be careful not to splatter hot liquid!
Once mixed, let the soup simmer for another 5-10 minutes, checking for flavor, then serve with tortilla chips for garnish.