When Jamie Mendelovici Geller was in the fourth grade, her mom, Goldie, contemplated building a new family home in Philadelphia — one without a kitchen. Luckily, Goldie came to her senses and instead instructed the architect to place the kitchen off to the side of the house, near the garage, so she would never have to walk through it if she didn’t have to.
Given her intense dislike for the kitchen, Goldie probably couldn’t have guessed that years later, her daughter would gain a following as the “kosher Rachael Ray.” Equally unlikely was the idea that Jamie would become observant, marry, and plop a couch into her Monsey, N.Y., kitchen, which has since morphed into a happening hub of family life. There, her three children hang out and play — while Jamie cooks the extravagant yet easy seven-course meals she used to ogle in amazement.
This didn’t happen overnight, admits Geller, whose best-selling cookbook “Quick and Kosher: Recipes From the Bride Who Knew Nothing” is on its second printing. In fact, she still can’t bear to call herself a chef.
Cooking certainly wasn’t a favored pastime growing up. “My mother never cooked,” she says. “We would order in and put everything on a platter.”
Geller still laughs when recalling an unfortunate incident from her high school days, when she put a bagel into the microwave for five minutes and it began smoking.
When she went off to New York University for college, Geller continued the family tradition of takeout. Despite being bogged down by coursework, she landed an internship with CNN’s “Showbiz Today,” which she hightailed into a full-time assistant producer gig upon graduation.
“I wanted to be Barbara Walters,” she says. “I got swept up in Hollywood, premieres and red-carpet interviews with celebrities.”
Soon, Geller was working 14-hour days and thought little about cooking when she regularly returned home from work at 3 a.m.
“My friends thought I was the coolest person in the world,” she says. She went to after-parties and shoved a microphone in front of top-tier celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Around this time, she began attending Torah lectures disguised as Jewish singles events, and occasionally showing up to classes with rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.
Yet it was Shabbat meals with observant families that got her hooked on Judaism — and, later, on cooking. “I never before saw a husband announce to the table of guests, ‘Thank you to my amazing wife who cooked this delicious meal,’ ” she says.
Geller eventually decided to become shomer Shabbat. She quit her job and, after spending three weeks learning about Jewish law and philosophy at a seminary in Israel, she joined HBO. There she produced promo campaigns gearing up to the new season for TV shows “The Wire” and others.
At the same time, she began dating with an eye on marriage. By the time she was 25, she had gone out with more than 60 men. Then a matchmaker set her up with Nachum Geller. They were engaged after six dates, and married two months later, in March 2004.
Soon after they married, she experienced the “chicken soup incident.”
“I didn’t cut any of the vegetables,” she says. “I had whole parsnips the size of my forearm. The carrots still had their green leaves. There was so much parsley, you couldn’t see the broth.”
Thankfully, her husband, a financial adviser whose family is in catering, came to the rescue. “We cooked together for the first year of marriage,” she says. “It was a great bonding experience.”
After much practice, and many tips from her husband, Geller began to grow more comfortable in the kitchen. While on maternity leave, she decided to write the cookbook she sorely needed when she had just gotten married — the one with the quick recipes, where quick means 15 minutes, not an hour. She describes “Quick and Kosher” as a “chicklit/autobiographical/self-help kosher cookbook.”
Geller hopes to broaden the “Quick and Kosher” brand by creating a Web site devoted to her style of cooking.
She also created a cooking show, “Simply Kosher With Jamie Geller,” for the Orthodox Union’s Web site.
And yet, despite her popularity, Geller is honest enough to admit that she’s no Martha Stewart. Which is part of her appeal.
“I’m exactly like you and your next-door neighbor,” she says. “I still get nervous in the kitchen. I’m allergic to measuring. I just dip, taste, mix, and swirl.”