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Dec. 3, 2022

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Food star Eitan Bernath leans into world culture

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NEW YORK — As a kid, Eitan Bernath didn’t collect baseball cards, comic books or coins like his peers did. He collected kitchen tools. “My fondest memories from my life are always around food,” he says.

Mind you, that life is still young. Bernath is just 20, but he’s managed to harness his love of cooking to become a social media influencer and TV personality. This spring, he’s released his first cookbook, “Eitan Eats the World,” published by Clarkson Potter.

The book contains 85 comfort food recipes from across the globe, from a Sweet & Smoky Guac Burger to Turkish Red Lentil Soup and a Kurdish Shamburak or an Israeli-Style Sesame Schnitzel.

“Knowledge is power and knowledge is so important,” Bernath says. “The more you learn about the world around you, the better you can be an informed and kind citizen for the world.”

Bernath is part of a wave of young food stars who got their springboard from social media, in his case a strong TikTok following. He has 350 million people viewing his content in 150-plus countries, and has a production and entertainment company that employs six people.

He made his first TV appearance on Food Network’s “Chopped” at age 11 — also appearing on “Guy’s Grocery Games” with restaurateur Guy Fieri a few years later — and started creating content when he was 12. He viewed it as a job, monetizing his blog after his third post.

“I was excited about doing it before anyone was watching,” he says. “I was truly just as excited when I was getting 100 views when I was 12 to now and I’m getting millions.”

He is the principal culinary contributor for “The Drew Barrymore Show” and was recently named to the Forbes list of “30 Under 30” for Food and Drink.

Raised in Teaneck, N.J., Bernath says both his parents were educators, and they used food as a vehicle to teach him and his brother about the world around them.

“Growing up in a Jewish household, food is such a central part of community and culture, as it is for many different other communities,” he said. “It’s such a great way to enjoy delicious food, but then also learn about the world around you.”

The recipes in “Eitan Eats the World” take readers from the Middle East to Spain, from Italy to India. Bernath makes sure he gives each cuisine credit and is “appreciative, not appropriative.”

“I take the perspective of, I’m a learner who’s sharing with my followers what I’ve learned. Of course, I am no expert on Indian cuisine or on Mexican cuisine or Italian cuisine, because I’m not Mexican, Italian or Indian, but I am someone who loves to learn about them.”

Growing up, he could often be found in his room glued to culinary documentaries, carefully watching elders in India, Mexico or Italy cook, and filling his notebooks. Then he’d get into his kitchen and try to recreate what he watched.

To get the book ready, he also turned to the internet. But he found he had to be extra creative because it is hard to create something that no one else has done.

“A lot of times as a recipe developer, you come up with an idea and think, ‘Oh, this sounds so good! I love this idea.’ And then I will go Google and I wonder if anyone has done that yet, and I would say 99.9% of the time the answer is yes, someone’s done it.”

Hence, Bernath came up with some startling combos hiding in plain sight, like Bruschetta Avocado Toast, which is the melding of two favorite bread toppings. “It’s just like pairing where I’m like, ‘Why have I not done this a million times?’ It’s delicious.”

Lightning struck twice when Bernath took the classic tuna melt and elevated it by giving it a French croque monsieur treatment. The traditional ham of the latter is replaced by tuna, and a Mornay sauce is added. This one he calls “sinfully delicious.”

Bernath is an evangelist about food and says there are many more career paths in food than most people realize. He also pushes back against some who sniff that he needs to work in a restaurant to call himself a chef.

“I think a chef is someone who earns money cooking, who works in the kitchen,” he says. “I think at the end of the day, whatever you want to call what I do, whether chef or not, the world is changing.”

Herby Tomato Cucumber Salad

Serves: 4. From Eitan Bernath’s “Eitan Eats the World.”

1 English cucumber, chopped

2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

½ cup chopped red onion

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until ready to serve.

Sesame Schnitzel

Serves: 4. From Eitan Bernath’s “Eitan Eats the World.”

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

¾ cup panko bread crumbs

¾ cup plain bread crumbs

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

Vegetable oil, for frying

Ground sumac, for sprinkling

Well-stirred tahini and lemon wedges, for serving

Place one of the chicken breasts into a large plastic bag. Pound with the flat side of a meat mallet or rolling pin to ¼-inch thickness. Remove the flattened chicken breast from the bag, set aside, and repeat with the remaining breasts.

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a wide bowl. In a separate wide bowl, lightly beat the eggs. In a third wide bowl, mix both the panko and plain bread crumbs, and the sesame seeds. Working with one chicken breast at a time, dredge it in flour so that it is lightly coated all over and tap off any excess. Dip the coated breast into the beaten eggs, letting the extra drip off, then carefully place it in the bowl with the bread crumbs and press until thoroughly coated on both sides. Set the chicken on a sheet pan and repeat with the remaining breasts.

In a large cast-iron skillet or nonstick pan, heat ½-inch of vegetable oil to 350 degrees over medium heat. Line a sheet pan with paper towels and set it nearby. Working in batches to not crowd the skillet, carefully place the chicken breasts in the skillet, dropping the chicken, one at a time, away from you to avoid any oil splatters, and fry until golden brown on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to the lined sheet pan and repeat with the remaining chicken. Season to taste with salt and sumac.

Place one schnitzel on each plate and add some of the salad on the side. Drizzle tahini over the top and serve with lemon wedges.

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