Lifetime’s all-new docu-sitcom “Kosher Soul” follows the lives of Los Angeles stylist Miriam Sternoff, who is Jewish, and her fiancé, southern and African-American comedian O’Neal McKnight.
Premiering Wednesday, February 25, at 10p ET/PT, divergent worlds will clash as Miriam and O’Neal’s friends and family prepare for the couple’s nuptials, including O’Neal’s conversion to Judaism and their future as husband and wife. On Friday, O’Neal’s friends Russell Simmons, Cedric The Entertainer and J.B. Smoove hosted a buffet style Shabbat Dinner to celebrate the show at The Garden Patio at Factor’s Deli. Guests left the event with a Blue & Cream Kosher Beats For Your Soul Mixtape. A beautiful moment was when O’neal led the group in prayer, reciting Hebrew perfectly.
We spoke with Russell Simmons at the event.
O’Neal McKnight: I came up with the title “Kosher Soul” three years ago, literally just sitting in my apartment when I was living in New York City. And the title “Kosher Soul” to me is basically – my wife is Jewish and I’m black, so we can be a little more soulful.
The show tackles topics like sex and religion with such bluntness. Were any topics or aspects of your life that were off limits?
O’Neal McKnight: No. To be honest with you, there were no topics that were off limits. We wanted the show and the authenticity of the show to be honest. There were certain things that I was really sensitive about like I lost my mom 15 years ago. The way my mom was gonna be handled and talked about in the show and the same thing with Miriam’s father. She lost her father almost 6 years ago. And we were very protective over that, but we wanted the viewers and people who would tune in to the show to see a genuine couple who are from two totally different worlds who fell in love, but at the same time as different as we are, we are very similar.
Can you speak about the catfish scene and the role food has played in your conversion?
O’Neal McKnight: Obviously, my wife is white and she’s from Seattle and she’s Jewish. And I’m black and I’m from South Carolina. And South Carolina is known for several things. And one of them is soul food. So, I have a very soul food background. My mom she cooked Monday through Sunday and so did my grandmother and we had the ham hocks, we had your fried chicken, we had the fried catfish, we had all the southern delicacies that people who like soul food like. So, when you watch the episode, as I’m walking towards Judaism, I don’t wanna leave certain things behind. After converting, I’ve learned that catfish is actually not Kosher because they’re bottom feeders. And there are other kinds of fish that we can eat, that we can fry. Catfish for me right now is off limits. But I just wanna make sure that as I’m transitioning into a faith and a place that I’m very comfortable and positive about, I don’t wanna lose my connection to my roots.
Miriam Sternoff: I grew up kosher and not eating certain food. And he’s obviously accustomed to eating certain food. It’s how do we meet in the middle? How do I make a fried fish that isn’t catfish and what are some of the sides that I can make for him that are obviously not a ham hock, but how can I make that not even more of a Jewish dish or kosher dish, but just something that I can equally make in the house and eat?
Will there be anymore types of cooking scenarios in future episodes?
O’Neal McKnight: Yeah. Absolutely, because when Miriam and one of my co-stars made an attempt to make catfish, it was so horrible, we had to fly in one of my cousins from South Carolina, who is known for cooking gumbo and southern dishes like that. As the show goes on, you’ll definitely see me interject my culture into her culture and fuse this Kosher Soul thing. But yeah, we definitely had to reach out to one of my cousins. And I was like listen, “I need you to get on a plane. I need you to come out here and help my wife.”
Another hilarious moment was when you you had to persuade Miriam to get a gold grill, so she could have her dream honeymoon and wedding. And so, I wanted to know from you, O’Neal, what age were you when you got your first grill, what was that experience like?
O’Neal McKnight: Man, I killed two birds with one stone because I got my ears pierced when I was 14 and I got my first gold tooth cap when I was 14. So I did it with a real big bang. And I’m from the South. I’m not gonna sugar coat it. We like flashy ish. We like gold. And my dad has a gold tooth. My grandmother has a gold tooth. My daddy’s girlfriend has a gold tooth. My brother’s got a gold tooth. It’s part of my culture. It might be a little vanity driven. But I wanna make sure that she got her grill, too. We’re riding this out together.
If you could name a southern artist or any artist who has been known to have gold grills, who would you say has the best?
O’Neal McKnight: I gotta give it to Paul Wall. Paul Wall is a southern Caucasian rapper. And he’s known for actually making a lot of peoples’ grills. And Paul Wall has a shop where he can finish your mold and buy your grill and he’d ice it out for you. But I really feel like the gold grill was southern bred and it has spread out across the hip hop community and the pop culture community. Madonna, to Miley Cyrus, to Kesha, to Fergie, to Kanye, to Diddy, a lot of people rocked the gold grill. And I think now it has become really commercialized because you see a lot of the pop singers and the pop artists like the Madonnas and the Miley Cyruses wearing this gold grill. Now, it’s pretty much like an accessory. It’s a fashion statement.
Also there are cameos from different celebrities like Russell Simmons and Fonzworth Bentley, how easy or difficult was it to get them to appear on the show?
O’Neal McKnight: It wasn’t difficult at all. I’ve known Russell now probably going on 20 years. I’ve known Fonzworth for probably 15 years. And we’re all really good friends. And people will show up for quality things. And we have a quality show. It’s a funny show. It’s a bit controversial at the same time, but it’s thought provoking. It’s entertaining. So when I called Russell, I told Russell the concept of the show, he was like the show is a very now show. He goes, “we need this show.” I think that the country in itself needed to see that, we’re all people and love doesn’t have a color. And going back to Fonzworth Bentley, I was P. Diddy’s personal stylist for a long time, and he was his personal assistant. So Fonzworth and I were in the trenches together.
And will we see any other cameos from other celebrities besides ones that we’ve already seen in the first three episodes?
O’Neal McKnight: You will just have to tune in for that. There’s always gonna be a surprise for every episode of “Kosher Soul.”
On the show, we see Miriam get to know your cousin Andre Harrell.
Miriam Sternoff: We definitely, throughout the filming process, as we were around each other a little bit more, had a chance to talk and get to know each other. But even since we stopped filming, is really the time that Andre and I have spent our most time together and gotten to know each other. Though it’s still not at a place where we know each other very well, it’s definitely much further along than when I met him even almost 10 years ago.
O’Neal McKnight: You gotta keep in mind, Miriam and I had a very turbulent relationship.
Miriam Sternoff: Correct.
O’Neal McKnight: And we were on a hell of a roller coaster ride. I’m part of the music industry culture where a lot of times, the woman is not presented or put in the forefront of a lot of things. So Miriam was not around a lot and when she was around, there was this awkwardness just because Andre didn’t know whether she was “the one” or if she was one of many who was gonna be on this merry-go-round of women.
O’Neal, in your opinion, what is your take on the current status of the music industry, especially southern hip hop?
O’Neal McKnight: Southern hip hop has really dominated the airwaves now for quite some time. I think that the artists like Ludacris, Nelly and Outkast, they opened the doors for the Lil’ Wayne’s and all these southern rappers that are coming through. New York obviously is a home of hip hop and that’s where it originated from and then we got that West Coast thing, but for a long time, the South didn’t have a voice. So we tend to adapt and listen to everything. That’s why southern hip hop is a little more eclectic and you’ve got that funkadelic, eclectic Outkast vibe. You’ve got that Nelly almost melodic rapping sound. It sounds like he’s singing. … I’m from South Carolina. I listened to everything because we didn’t have a voice. By having to do that, our taste palette is different. Our ears are different. So we’ve fused a lot of different sounds to become a very dominant force in hip hop and pop culture today.
Going back to the show, was there anything looking back that you regretted doing or saying?
O’Neal McKnight: No. I think that this whole process has been somewhat therapeutic for both Miriam and I. I don’t look back or regret anything about it. I am flawed like everybody else. I am human and we’re not perfect. I think that you live and you learn. This has been a very interesting process for me and for Miriam as well. But at the same time, no, I don’t regret anything. I mean, this is my life and I invited you into my home.
Miriam Sternoff: And so much of the show was intended to be educational as well since we’re talking about race and religion. So again, it’s not like the typical reality show where you’re just coming in to our lives then there’s a camera on right in front of our faces following us all over, but you’re very careful as to what we wanted out there in the world, which was about this love story of two people that are totally opposite but bringing in our different cultures. So it’s really educational.
O’Neal McKnight: It is educational, but it’s not preachy. It’s not in your face. A lot of times when people hear the word education they feel like they’re being taught something … This is a very entertaining way to show you that two people from two different worlds can work.
Miriam Sternoff: And it’s okay to poke fun at each other’s cultures and differences.
O’Neal McKnight: Yeah. Exactly. So I mock myself, she mocks herself. You know what I’m saying?
And besides the show, is there anything else that you guys are doing that you would like to share?
O’Neal McKnight: I’m really focused on this comedy right now. I’m trying to get that Kevin Hart money. I’m trying to get that sitcom money. You know what I mean? I’m trying to get this thing to the next level. I definitely wanted to use “Kosher Soul” as a platform to show that not only am I a person, but I’m also a comedic actor. I’m allowing the consumers and the viewers to be familiar with my face. A lot of reality stars do TV and don’t have a real plan … And it’s not even a reality show but a docu-series. This is a documentary of sorts about our life. It makes you feel like you’re watching to “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” We’re not playing other people, we’re playing ourselves. But I’m using it as a platform to create awareness about myself and awareness about Miriam as a celebrity stylist. She’s worked with everybody. I’ve worked with everybody on the celebrity scene as well. But really, we’re using this as launching pad to take it to the next level and show people that you can create something viable with this outlet.
Miriam Sternoff: And as O’Neal said, I’ve been a wardrobe celebrity stylist for 13 years and have my own business. And I’ve worked with Leona Lewis, and Regina King, and Kelly Rowland, Melanie Fiona, ABC, Kerry Washington, so I’m using this platform to just broaden my styling career and go more into consulting and be really a tastemaker within the fashion industry.
The show premieres February 25 at 10/9c on Lifetime.
Chasity Saunders contributed reporting.