Michael Schick, Hotels, the Economy and Pesach


michael-schickMichael Schick is having about 1,500 people over for the Seder this year. Is he worried or concerned? Not in the least. Like every balabusta, Michael is slaving away in his kitchen, directing his chefs, their assistants, and other expert food personnel so that this Pesach-like the erev Pesach sun itself-outshines them all.

Michael is a very-much-in-demand glatt kosher caterer who has a unique artistic flair for creating an impressive presentation even when preparing food for thousands of people at the same meal. For Pesach this year, Michael has been engaged by the Gateways organization and is overseeing the food service for their guests at two hotels, one in Hauppauge on Long Island and the other in Tarrytown in Westchester County.

For Mr. Schick and caterers at other hotels this year around the country, it’s not just about making sure that their guests are sated. It’s also about assuring that the dishes they present, the fashion in which the tables are set, and most importantly the edibles that will grace the china before them will be as pleasing to the eyes as it will be to the palate. Getting this done presents challenges for these men and women in the food-service-for-Pesach industry on multiple levels.

In Palm Beach, Florida, Abe Fuchs is putting together ten days of lavish feasts for his 600 guests at the Lasko Tours PGA Resort. Mr. Fuchs, who resides in Woodmere, is the proprietor of New Star Caterers, which does exquisite high-style catering at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center and Congregation Or Torah in North Woodmere. He’s been down in Florida since last week, overseeing the food production for his guests and, like Mr. Schick, putting his best culinary foot forward to tantalize the taste buds of his guests for yom tov.

I grabbed hold of Michael Schick in his food commissary in Brooklyn on Friday morning to find out what he was preparing and what his plans were for the next few days. He was in the midst of overseeing the production of tricolor gefilte fish, which he explained included fish, of course, along with spinach and carrots, I suppose for flavor as well as the all-important color. I can see people oooing and ahhhing when they walk into the hotel dining room prior to that first Seder night and seeing the multicolored fish dish off to the side or on the waiters’ tray ready to be served once Kiddush has been made and the first portion of the Haggadah has been recited and amply discussed.

Most caterers will tell you that the presentation that first night very often sets the tone for what’s to follow in the days ahead and throughout the yom tov. In a sense, if you’re a food person or caterer, you want to hit a home run that first night so as to announce your presence and demonstrate the high level and quality of what you intend to present the rest of the chag.

To that end, later that very same first night Michael Schick is planning to serve a new dish-poached chicken sous vide. The way Michael explains it to a food novice like myself is that each individual chicken is cooked in its own plastic bag so as to keep the flavor and spices enveloped in the bag until it’s ready to be served, thereby richly preserving the flavor. Schick explains that the chicken in the bag is slow-cooked to keep in the flavor, and the method is especially useful because no roasting takes place on the Seder nights (so as not to interfere with the commemoration of the way in which the Jewish people roasted the Korban Pesach when they left Egyptian captivity). Mr. Schick’s next menu choice after the chicken sous vide is a delectable and well-dressed stuffed Cornish hen.

Abe Fuchs at PGA in Florida will be coming at his first-night guests with a choice of veal Milanese with balsamic reduction and diced Bermuda onion with Roma tomatoes and baby arugula. Or if that doesn’t excite your taste buds, then the next choice is stuffed Cornish game hen with quinoa and dried cranberries, and there is also roast Long Island duck with caramelized kumquats.

On the second night, when the Seder preparation, and the Seder itself, start even later than on the first, Mr. Schick is opting for stuffed veal with peppers and spinach. He says that he likes that for the second Seder night because it takes time to cook and will be ready fresh by the time his hotel guests are up to their main course.

As you can see, this is no easy way to cook-for the same people, day after day after day. It’s a situation where you constantly need to be at your best and on top of your game. And you can rest assured that all the caterers who have already landed at their respective hotels are feverishly at work getting it all done in time for your arrival.

Of course that’s just one rather upbeat angle to the Chag haPesach. From another direction, those not going to some faraway hotel or to someone else’s home for yom tov, but also not doing their own cooking, have the option of using an array of personal chefs who have in particular emerged in very busy fashion this year. As a result of the global economic downturn, families that in the past routinely made their way for Pesach upstate or to warmer environs have either voluntarily or involuntarily decided to save tens of thousands of dollars and just stay at home for the chag.

That’s where these personal chefs come into the picture. Consider it to perhaps be a compromise formula for meal preparation for an extended group of family and friends that might grow to 15 to 20 or more people around a Seder table.

The personal chefs do not necessarily come into your home and prepare each meal for every day of yom tov or oversee the service. The chefs we refer to here prepare the meals as much as several weeks before the chag and deliver them to your home, where you freeze them and then just wait for the holiday to arrive. Granted it doesn’t do much for the setting up, the serving, and then the clearing up, but it does take the place of weeks of painstaking meal preparation.

And finally, let’s also consider two spots in our community that were the hub of activity for most of this past Sunday, beginning early in the morning and extending late into the night. At these locations the focus of the proceedings was also meals for the holidays. One site was a parking lot in Inwood, the other a garage and driveway in Bayswater in Far Rockaway.

At the Inwood location, dozens of men and women were directed where and how to find boxes of food essentials for the holiday and to anonymously and discreetly deliver them to people’s homes around the area. This was the site of the Far Rockaway Tomche Shabbos/Yad Yeshaya pre-yom tov food distribution. A little later in the day we were in Bayswater, as the Keren Aniyim of Satmar group organized their own food deliveries in and around Bayswater.

At Tomche Shabbos, a specific effort is made to recruit volunteer delivery people and assign them to areas that they do not live in or even frequent. The logic behind this design is to minimize the possibility that an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation develops where you end up delivering food to someone you are familiar with.

After years of hearing about it and reading about it, I can now relate from personal experience that there are indeed people receiving these charitable food donations for the holiday throughout the area, including areas that if you drove by you would never dare speculate that this was in fact the situation. But it is.

The people we delivered to were very nice and appreciative. There were no obviously discernible signs of overt poverty or anything that specifically stood out along those lines. We were in and out of the house for only as long as it took to deliver the boxes of meat, chicken, matzah, fruit, vegetables, wine, grape juice, and whatever else was included therein.

So we’ve gotten a glimpse of Pesach from both sides of the economic divide. Regardless of the situation, each participant in the Pesach Seder will have those few moments where they can lean back and reflect, with feeling and emotion, on our freedom and how being genuinely free allows us to attach ourselves to the One Who created us. As all Jews celebrate the watershed event in Jewish history, each in their own right will have the opportunity to be thankful.

Chag kasher v’sameiach.

{Larry Gordon-Five Towns Jewish Times}
{Matzav.com Newscenter}