Chef Erik “Egg” Berlin has been making his mark on the world of cooking, eschewing a restaurant-oriented career in favor of teaching the culinary fundamentals. After graduating from culinary school at Anne Arundel Community College and receiving a degree in hospitality and business management from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Chef Egg served various roles as both chef and instructor. These roles prepared him for the future by providing him with an understanding of how he wanted to educate people in a way that brought him both spiritual and financial success.
He grew up appreciating Jewish food as “comfort food,” but the simplicity of some of the cuisine pushed him to try the flavors of other cultures.
“Whether we go to synagogue or not, the food is our culture,” he said. “It’s important to me that my kids know what matzah ball soup is.”
Chef Egg now serves the community by working with both children and adults. Recently, he traveled overseas to do courses with soldiers, and he regularly volunteers at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. This year, he is starting a new curriculum in schools called “Cooking with STEAM Power,” teaching kids about the science, technology, engineering, arts and math behind cooking.
How did you come up with Chef Egg?
It’s a childhood nickname that just stuck. Everyone loves it. I noticed in culinary school that people didn’t know how to cook. The basic cooking fundamentals were seriously lacking. In today’s world, it is an issue compounded by the fact that everyone is a culinary know-it-all and thinks they can judge food with very little understanding of how it’s prepared, and the art or science behind it. We have issues like childhood obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol, and all of these can be conquered by learning basic culinary skills. I do this in a way that is very different. Where somebody might make a quick video for social media, I add what is lacking — “I’d love to make that, but do I need a knife and a cutting board?” Truly bringing it back to the basic skills.
What do you mean by basic culinary skills?
Making your own meal at home will solve many problems. To boil pasta and put some sauce on it, that’s a healthy, nutritious meal to make. But to understand how to make a homemade tomato sauce, and to learn how to cook pasta properly is going to be of rare value to you. With the same amount of time and a little extra work on your part, you can have such a fantastic product. You go to a restaurant in the city and get pasta for $15. A box of pasta is $1.
Is your programming different for children and adults?
I start out everything with, “I am not a doctor or a lawyer or anything other than a cook.” That’s what people want, I come from a place of honesty. It’s just like a band, the energy between the performer and the audience creates the show. How do I differentiate? I don’t. Nobody knows how to set the table properly, or sauté veggies or make a marinara sauce. If they all learn together, that’s the best. It is really important for kids to know that everybody has a job at the table. It is the same lesson, just a little more technical for the adults, a little more color, texture and taste for the kids. With elderly people, I like to talk about how taste brings back memories. Every audience can get something different out of it. From my years at Whole Foods, I have about 200 lessons already planned.
Do you have any specific memories of impacting people with your program?
I work with the Wounded Warrior project at Walter Reed. I have stayed in contact with a lot of the families I have worked with. I get people who I’ll work with for two years. They’ll be fresh out of the operating room with traumatic injuries. At first they won’t want to come to my class, but it grows on them and they don’t want to leave after two years. That’s an indicator that I’m doing a job well done.