Norene Gilletz, sometimes referred to as the Canadian queen of kosher cuisine, was a trailblazer, according to her rabbi and personal friend Rabbi Jarrod Grover, spiritual leader of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto.
Rabbi Grover officiated at Gilletz’s funeral in Montreal, where the cookbook author died on Feb. 23, surrounded by her family, following a long illness. She was 79.
Rabbi Grover said he and his wife, Carmela, met Gilletz when they moved to her neighbourhood. But he had an earlier connection: his mother went into labour with him while attending a cooking lesson with Gilletz.
He said her success 50 years ago set a milestone for “creative and innovative” kosher cooking.
“Norene cleared the way and served as a role model for many of today’s top culinary authors and chefs….That gave her so much pride and such a sense of accomplishment, purpose and fulfilment,” he said.
Gilletz, the author of 12 kosher cookbooks, and a longtime contributor to The CJN, did not initially plan a career in food.
The Winnipeg native actually won a scholarship to study German – she was fluent in Yiddish – at the University of Manitoba. Ultimately, she attended secretarial college. At age 19, she moved to Montreal and found an office job.
A year later, she was married, but she had no cooking skills, her sister Rhonda (Cookie) Matias, later recalled. “She learned to cook long-distance through phone calls with our mother, Belle Rykiss.”
By her mid-20s, Gilletz, then a young mother, was an accomplished cook, but she “yearned for more,” Rabbi Grover explained. “She yearned to be someone and achieve something.”
At that time, she joined B’nai Brith Women. Gilletz’s chapter was creating a cookbook and she became the editor by virtue of her writing skills.
Her daughter, Jodi Sprackman, said Gilletz had a love of grammar and punctuation. “A poorly composed sentence irked her as much as a recipe that flopped,” said Sprackman.
The B’nai Brith cookbook, first published in 1968, became the iconic bestseller Second Helpings, Please! and kicked off Gilletz’s culinary career.
“Second Helpings was Norene’s beginning,” Rabbi Grover said. “What she became, all the achievements and prominence, followed naturally from there.”
He recounted how people started to ask Gilletz for cooking advice, which led her to start a home-based cookware store and cooking school. The business grew into Norene’s Cuisine, a catering and kitchenware shop with a cooking school on the premises.
Rabbi Grover noted that Gilletz began selling food processors because she had a knack for predicting trends. Her involvement with home appliance brand Cuisinart led her to self-publish The Pleasures of Your Food Processor, which was later republished as The Food Processor Bible.
After moving to Toronto in 1998, Gilletz published Meal Lean I Yumm! She was soon in demand for cooking demos across the country and more recipe books followed.
She also launched Norene Gilletz Kitchen, her kosher food line, and a Facebook group called Norene’s Kitchen!, which had more than 10,000 members at the time of her death.
Rabbi Grover described Gilletz as “a perfectionist who did not back down from a challenge,” adding that she never retired. “Her best cookbook,… The Brain Boosting Diet, is just reaching the market now,” and despite her illness, Gilletz took great pleasure in “staying in touch with her fans.”
He spoke of Gilletz’s humour and humility, her warmth and kindness. “Norene was remarkable because she connected so easily with people….She enjoyed talking to anyone from anywhere,” adding that there was no rushing a conversation, “even though it would certainly make her late.”
Gilletz is survived by her brother and sister, three children and their spouses, and five grandchildren.