By Larry Gordon
Here it comes. This is it. Get ready to either proficiently maneuver that wagon down those aisles or pack that suitcase to the maximum, depending on where you are headed for the upcoming Pesach holiday.
Supermarket owners and managers say this is the week that shopping for the chag gets turned up a couple of notches as people seek to fill their shelves and cupboards with kosher-for-Passover foodstuffs. It just may be that Jews the world over, regardless of the extent of their commitment, are more serious about what they are going to be tasting and dining on during this holiday than any other.
Traditionally, Pesach is not just a celebration of our freedom and our demonstration of that independence by consuming the finest cuisine, it is also a yom tov that has deep roots in the matter of traveling, or packing up and moving around, not dissimilar to the travel plans of the ancient Israelites as they rather hurriedly exited Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. I suppose you can say that it is a holiday focused on stuffing: Stuffing your shopping cart, stuffing your suitcase, and, to an extent, stuffing yourself, in a manner of speaking.
So we reached out to the seasonal purveyors of food on a multiplicity of levels. For example, one young man, Eliezer Franklin of Pelleh Poultry, is busier than ever filling orders for his several thousand customers, mostly in places like Monsey, Lakewood, Brooklyn and Far Rockaway. This year, in addition to the usual thousands of orders of chicken, he has added other birds to the menu, as well as beef.
The young man said that these few weeks prior to Pesach are the busiest of the year. I asked him (he’s my son-in-law and was in my home the other day) what people who are home for yom tov are ordering this year. He said that, in descending order, the list is chicken, turkey, beef (mostly roasts), and duck. I asked about goose, which I heard him mention in the past, but he said that for Pesach that bird was not very popular. He is also doing special orders of squab (pigeon), which he has been providing some glatt kosher restaurants with during the past year.
For others who are on the move, one of the premier venues for those flocking south for the holiday is the Fontainebleau on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. That is where you will find one of the modern-day innovators of the Pesach getaway, Sam Lasko. This year Sam is playing host to more than 1,800 guests at this venue in Florida. No question that it is a virtual who’s who in this very special and auspicious year of Lasko Tours’ 25th anniversary.
There is no one Sam Lasko trusts more with the Pesach cuisine than Simon Auerbacher of New York-based Ram Caterers. I managed to get Simon on the phone a few days ago to talk about his culinary plans for the coming yom tov and what he feels makes the service he provides to Fontainebleau guests unique. I also asked that he talk to me about his menus and in particular that first Seder night menu that usually sets the tone for the celebration of the chag.
“That first night of yom tov we are going to feature as our main course nature rack of veal,” Simon says. “Of course it is a traditional night so we are going to start with gefilte fish served with flavor and elegance.” There will be an extensive array of salads as well as chicken soup to round out the meal.
Prior to plumbing deeper into his food ideas for the holiday, we talked a little about matzah and its cost this year. Of course a Lasko venue spares no expense and provides the best of everything for guests. But as long as we were on the subject, Simon mentioned that he had heard from a supplier that there was shemurah matzah available from Russia for $10 a pound. In most shops this year shemurah is upwards of $22 per pound. The catch on this deal, Simon said, was that most of the matzos were broken. I asked him what good that was for him or anyone else, and he responded that if nothing else it was certainly good for matzah brei.
At just about every dinner throughout yom tov, the caterer says, in addition to the main featured course like the veal that first night, there are also carving stations with about fifteen Fontainebleau chefs cutting and serving roasted lamb, Châteaubriand, prime rib, and more. For those with more pedestrian tastes there is always roast chicken and flanken and sea bass (not so pedestrian after all) on the menu.
Batya Kahan of Batya’s Kitchen in Brooklyn is busier this year than ever before. She is cooking for about 100 families, which can mean anywhere from one to two thousand people. For some of these clients she’s cooking all the yom tov, Shabbos, and chol ha’moed meals.
Batya’s menu is very extensive, and all the cooking is done in her Midwood home under rabbinical supervision. She said in our talk the other night that she now has nine freezers in the house and has added a new oven in which she can fit sixteen 9” × 13” trays. So where does all this great-tasting food get delivered to? Well, just about everywhere. “I’m sending a lot of prepared meals to Miami Beach and to Orlando this year,” Batya says. She explains that she has already shipped some of the packages, once she ascertained that her customers had arrived in their homes or apartments and are ready for them, in a deep freeze packed in boxes with dry ice and shipped overnight.
Her most frequently requested dish for yom tov is the short rib roast and flanken. She says that some customers want roast for the Seder, but because of the custom not to dine on roasted foods that night, she goes to great lengths to cook the roasts her customers order to perfection.
Perhaps more than any other cook, chef, or store that prepares and serves ready-made foods, Batya Kahan deals with requests from homemakers asking that she help them conceal that they did not personally prepare the dishes she specializes in. She says that she has an unusual number of requests to fax and e-mail menus to people’s homes and offices without prices. She says these orders are usually paid for in cash. This possibly means that women are trying to conceal the cost of some of these foods from their husbands, or perhaps the husbands from their wives, or whatever the case may be.
In addition, she says she is asked to deliver orders to people’s homes at specific hours when no one else is at home. And when new customers call, she is careful not to give a reference without first calling to make certain that it is all right to reveal that they had a professional cook their meals.
Back at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach this coming Pesach, less than two weeks from now, Simon Auerbacher will be presiding over one of the most upscale and opulent Pesach programs in the market today. As an example, he cites the Lasko tea room, which full disclosure demands that I admit I have experienced—not at the Fontainebleau but rather a few times at the Bonaventure Resort in Fort Lauderdale. I can certainly attest to the fact that both Sam Lasko and Simon Auerbacher are serious about the tea room experience they provide. Put it this way: You can rest assured we are not simply speaking about tea and cake.
Simon talks proudly about the extravagance of the tea room he will be setting up at the Fontainebleau this year. “We open the tea room every morning at 6:30 a.m. with a full breakfast,” he says. “In addition to the usual, there is smoked salmon, pancakes, and so on that our guests can partake of.” This, he explains, is prior to the regularly scheduled full breakfast in the main ballroom which begins at 8:30 a.m.
In other words, throughout the day, whenever a meal is finished being served, the tea room is open and serving most of the items that were on the menu for those who either missed the meal or just want to keep on going. In addition, Simon proudly points out that at the Fontainebleau all the baking is done on the premises and is overseen by master baker Jacob Baruch of Cravingz in Cedarhurst, who directs the world-class Fontainebleau bakers for Passover.
Wherever you may be going, or if you are staying where you are with friends and family piling into your abode, for many it will certainly be a challenging undertaking. A glimpse at the calendar says that this year yom tov is short on chol ha’moed and long on multi-course, extensive, and lavish meals. That means a lot of preparation and then cleaning up before once again preparing for the next meal. Maybe that’s why so many hotels were full earlier this year than at any time in recent history. That could also be why a food preparer like Ms. Kahan needed to buy an additional and larger oven.
Whatever the case may be, let us hope and pray for a beautiful, meaningful, and great-tasting chag kasher v’sameach for you and yours. v
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