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New York…In a frantic effort to restock empty shelves during the recent blizzard in the Northeast, distributors of kosher foods overcame some major obstacles, including unplowed streets and little parking or standing space. Shelves in many areas of New Jersey were left empty by customers hording foods on Sunday in anticipation of the blizzard that virtually left the region, including New York City, paralyzed. Retailers say that deliveries on Monday were extremely spotty but that miraculously trucks were able to resume their normal deliveries as early as Tuesday. Some retailers said that they had a sufficient “reserve” (including frozen poultry) to replenish shelves on Monday. Dairy and poultry distributors, say the retailers, “came through big time.” Jewish social service agencies also beat the odds, according to William Rapfogel, Executive Vice President of the Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty. He noted that many volunteers made sure that the elderly received food from the organization’s food pantries and soup kitchens (Masbia). Through volunteers that braved the inclement weather, Masbia served hot meals during the blizzard. A Meals-on-Wheels program by the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island was one of the very few such programs which functioned despite the emergency snow conditions (meals were delivered on-foot by extraordinary staff who walked long distances to prepare and deliver the meals).
Jerusalem…by Idele Ross, KT Israel Bureau Chief…Israelis take their breakfast very seriously, as anyone who has stayed at an Israeli hotel knows. So it should come as no surprise that El Al Israel Airlines has launched an all kosher new in-flight breakfast menu created by restaurateur and television chef Moshe Segev who was recently hired to take over and redesign the airline’s menu and cuisine. It took Segev six months to learn the world of dining in the air during which time he also developed his working relationship with Tamam, El Al’s catering company. The emphasis of the new breakfast line is on fresh, healthy foods such as yogurts, fresh vegetables, whole grain breads and omelets. In addition, the trays have been updated with new dishes and silverware.
El Al’s four million scheduled passengers for 2011 will enjoy the new meals being served in all classes from tourist to first class on incoming and outgoing flights.
At a press conference last month, Segev said that the Israeli breakfast is known throughout the world for its variety and abundance. This is the concept of the new menu and the foods are those comfort foods familiar to Israelis. El Al supplied five million meals to passengers during 2010. 1.2 million breakfasts were served in tourist class on departing flights from Tel Aviv and 450,000 were served in business and platinum classes. El Al offers 22 kinds of special meals. Some 16 percent of the passengers ordered the special meals; 6 percent of them ordering glatt kosher. The airline’s budget for catering is $40 million. It has 11 kitchens operating abroad and three in Israel. In related news, a new study indicates that most Jewish tourists to Israel prefer to dine at kosher restaurants, according to Israel’s largest internet restaurant website 2eat.co.il. The study found that the tourists have the most choice in Jerusalem where 38 percent of the restaurants are kosher. In Rehovot, the rate is 37 percent, in Tel Aviv 16 percent and in Haifa 12 percent.
Great Falls, VA…Walter Scheib remembers the day a team of rabbis koshered the White House kitchen for the traditional Chanukah party, under the watchful eye of First Lady Laura Bush. Chef Scheib had the distinction of serving two First Families, the Clintons and the Bushes. Now, Scheib believes that he has much to offer the rapidly growing kosher community with its emphasis on gourmet and upscale foods. He is planning to offer his artistry to kosher caterers, clients who desire an upscale kosher experience and to the creation of many new and innovative kosher products. In April 1994, after a lengthy application and screening process, Walter Scheib became the chef to America’s chief executive and the First Family. First Lady Hillary Clinton, impressed by the comprehensive spa menu Scheib had developed for the Greenbrier resort, as well as his highlighting of American cuisine, personally hired Scheib. For 11 years, he prepared everything from simple family meals to elaborate and formal State Dinners. His culinary creations dazzled and delighted White House guests including Nelson Mandela, Emperor Aikihito, Jacques Chirac, Boris Yeltsin, Vaclav Havel, Lady Diana Spencer, Tony Blair, Vicente Fox, and others, not to mention the thousands of congressional members, journalists, and other House visitors who got to know his food. Since he returned to private life, Scheib has founded The American Chef, the company through which he shares his knowledge of the development of American cuisine at the White House, as well as White House remembrances, with audiences across the country. Now Scheib is planning to open a special division for kosher.
Copenhagen…As the executive chef of the five-star Dan Acadia in Herzliya, Ariel (“Arik”) Porat is already considered one of Israel’s leading kosher chefs. But earlier this month, Arik brought his mastery aboard the new Costa Deliziosa in a cruise to the Baltics, sponsored by Kosherica, a leader in the growing popularity of kosher cruises that include resident scholars and world-class entertainment. For the more than 200 vacationers (out of 2160 passengers), the 7-day cruise was also a week-long culinary experience, as it has been on many of the Kosherica cruises that featured Arik. Each evening, passengers in the elegant third floor hall dined on a five-course meal that included several choices of beef, poultry, and fish, much like those served in some of the finest hotels and restaurants. For Helit Edelstein of Kosherica, the logistical challenges of having a world-class chef of Porat’s reputation “is all part of the experience,” which on this particular cruise included Rabbi Stephen Riskin of Efrat and Cantor Yaakov Motzen. The “challenges” also included recruiting reputable kosher supervisors and, of course, acquiring the best meats, fish and other ingredients for the world-class chef. Ofi Fishman, Helit’s brother, and a key player in planning the menus, prides himself on the quality of the baked goods that is prepared on board as well as the quality natural and fresh ingredients. While their acclaimed culinary delights have become almost routine, they still are busy “educating” the ship’s staff and most importantly catering to the needs of a “very sophisticated clientele” that on this particular cruise came from as far away as Melbourne and from such places as Gibraltar, Tel Aviv, Montreal, Toronto, London, and New York. Kosher industry sources say that kosher cruising has increased by more than 20% in the past five years, despite the recession. While some travelers still prefer going on a cruise with the cruise ship providing “kosher airline-like meals,” the trend is towards joining the total kosher experience that companies like Kosherica offer. David Wallace of Eddie’s Travel, which partnered with Kosherica for the kosher cruises, sees a growing number of kosher travelers opting for organized kosher travel to many destinations throughout the world. He is already joining Kosherica for Sukkot programs at the Dan Caesarea and Hacienda Forest View hotels in Israel and for many winter cruises in the Caribbean. As the kosher passengers disembarked in Copenhagen after visits to Tallinn, Estonia, Helsinki, Finland, St. Petersburg, Russia and Stockholm, Sweden, the talk was about “the experience” which meant the Kosherica program and, of course, the food of Arik.
Teaneck NJ…by Tova Ross…It’s been a long time since kosher food was synonymous with matzah balls, tzimmes, and stuffed cabbage. More and more in recent years, the trend in kosher food has been cuisine that can only be described as upscale, gourmet, and on par with the most sophisticated food trends in the mainstream culinary world. Whether it’s visiting one of the many fine kosher establishments like The Prime Grill or Abigael’s, or from kosher gourmet products like artisan cheese, kefir yogurt, oolong teas, and organic foods like whole-grain breads and nut butters. Kosher catering today has gone far beyond the traditional synagogue caterer or off-premises catering in a hotel. It is as much a function in the back yard of a luxurious home as it is in the Waldorf Astoria. RAVE! Catering and Event Planning, founded and headed by restaurateur Noam Sokolow, is making a name for itself with its exclusive brand of catering in almost any venue. Although based in Teaneck, RAVE! has been steadily gaining a national reputation, which is responsible for its recent move to national kosher certification agency Star-K from the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County. It has done its share of catering in such elegant venues as the Pierre, the New York Plaza, and the St. Regis, but it has also catered events for politicians including former President Bill Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
RAVE! is the caterer of choice by many of the rich and famous because of its innovative dishes as well as its supremely elegant presentation. Some of the innovative menu items include sweet potato chips with chipotle sauce; grilled beef, veal and turkey sliders served on miniature buns; wild mushroom risotto; and crispy vegetable pakoras. According to Sokolow, his exclusive clientele have no qualms about paying top dollar for the best in the most gourmet fare. Other caterers note that people with tighter budgets still demand the finest staging possible. David Pearlman, of Brooklyn’s Garden of Eat-In family business, who started his own Executive Caterers in 2006, acknowledged the recent economic downturn and said that many of his clients ask for the most elegant presentation rather than the most expensive or fancy foods. “We often practice the art of taking simple items and elevating them to gourmet status simply through an elegant presentation.” Since he first started his catering business, Pearlman has charted the shift among his clients towards a more refined and well-informed sense of food. “I see people becoming steadily more educated in fine wines and knowing about menu items like balsamic reduction, truffle oil and tuna tartare – all things the average kosher consumer might not have heard about several years ago,” he said. Pearlman attributes the increasing knowledge about elegant food primarily to the Food Network, which he calls “a huge phenomenon that’s like going to culinary school right from your couch.”
Marty Bodner, one of the owners of the in-demand and NJ and NY-based Main Event Caterers, confirms Pearlman’s feelings on the new age of kosher catering. “People definitely have a more sophisticated palette today as opposed to twenty years ago when Main Event first started catering events,” said Bodner. “Additionally, I think people are now much more willing look at lower end of the spectrum of the food, and how we can use our expertise to take that to the next level.” Bodner said that rather than take more expensive cuts of beef or veal, he uses inexpensive cuts and presents it just as elegantly as he would a grade-A prime rib. “By presenting less expensive items with a beautiful presentation, we are able to accommodate a lot more people,” said Bodner. Also different from twenty years ago? “There’s a lot more caterers in the market right now,” Bodner said. “It’s a hot business.”