For Rabbi Josh Steele, aliyah had turned out to be a bit of nightmare.
He swapped north-west London suburbia for Israel to find a wife, settle down and raise a family. Five years on, still single and pushing 30, he was on the verge of giving up and heading back to Edgware.
But then he received the phone call that has changed his life. Now Rabbi Steele, a recent graduate of a Charedi yeshivah in Jerusalem, is the star of Israel’s version of Masterchef, the television cooking show, and his fame has made him one of the country’s most eligible bachelors.
The transformation came after his 14-year-old cousin Galit secretly entered him as a contestant on the programme as a last-ditch effort to stop him returning to the UK.
It worked. Rabbi Steele was called to the audition and the producers immediately picked up on his comic personality, his cooking ability, and his propensity to break-dance while preparing dishes.
I’ve had 100 offers since being on the show. Girls keep asking me out
“I learned to cook when I was seven because I didn’t like my mother’s food,” he told the JC. “I learned to break-dance online. Some people like fishing or playing golf — I like to dance.”
He arrived at the audition, he said, “wearing the apron my 78-year-old aunt had bought me, and my own kosher pots, pans and ingredients”.
Even more striking was the dish he made for the first show — blue cheese and chocolate ravioli — a choice which prompted one of the judges, chef Chaim Cohen, to brand him meshuganah.
But it was that streak of madness that secured his place in the next round. “You are so strange that I would be betraying myself if I didn’t vote to get you through,” said top chef Eyal Shani.
That opening episode was watched by 40 per cent of the nation’s viewers, a record for Israeli TV.
Fame has made the previously lovelorn cook an object of compelling interest for the country’s young women.
“Since last week’s episode women walk up to me on the street, girls ask me out, people keep messaging the producer’s office for shidduchim. I’ve had over 100 offers since being on the show,” he said.
On screen, he blew kisses to the Master Chef judge, Michal Ansky, to get around the halachic prohibition of hugging women.
The rabbi is aware that not everyone would welcome a strictly Orthodox presence on the show. He said: “I was worried the Charedi community would find it difficulty with me being on TV or that chilonim — the secular — would criticise me for being Charedi. But I’ve just had love from everyone.”
Indeed, it is his religious beliefs that fuel his desire to do well on Masterchef. “I want people to understand that kosher can be exciting. I realised that saying brachot over our food is the one time we connect to God in a very tangible way. So why don’t I make the food amazing to make the brachot amazing?” he said:
“There are more things to taste than just chicken. It’s God saying taste goose with juniper berries because God made those kosher and for us to too.”
Wherever Rabbi Steele’s Masterchef experience takes him, his intention is still to marry and settle down, but add to that an ambition to open a fun glatt-kosher gastro pub where, he said, “kosher food meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.