Going traditional, but with a twist

Holiday: Customary Rosh Hashana foods get a culinary makeover when Barry and Maria Fleischmann mark the Jewish new year.

September 08, 1999|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Food Editor

Barry and Maria Fleisch-mann of Reisterstown are like many couples when it comes to celebrating holidays. One likes tradition; the other prefers to tweak the tried-and-true.

For the Fleischmanns, Rosh Hashana -- the Jewish new year which starts at sundown Friday -- presents such a challenge, especially when it comes to the family meal.

"We try to find a happy medium," says Barry Fleisch-mann, executive chef and president of Innovative Gourmet, a catering business in Owings Mills that the couple founded 16 years ago.

With their involvement in the food industry, the Fleischmanns are used to culinary compromises. This year, Mr. Fleischmann came up with a new-year menu that incorporates the customary foods that Mrs. Fleischmann enjoys with the adaptations he likes.

Mr. Fleischmann, the cook of the house, will be preparing Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Broth; Braised Beef Shanks With Dried Fruit, Potatoes and Port; and Flambeed Apple With Apple Brandy and a Touch of Lavender Honey. He'll also be using the menu for clients.

He says roasting the chicken and its bones will enhance the soup's flavor; substituting beef shanks for the usual brisket will add richness to a dish called tzimmes; and dressing up apples with flavored honey will put a new twist on the fruit, which represents the harvest, and honey, which symbolizes sweetness for the new year.

"This one is most off the middle," says Fleischmann of the apple makeover.

These days, Mr. Fleisch-mann, 42, oversees the day-to-day operation of the catering business, while Mrs. Fleischmann, 37, assumes home duties, caring for the couple's three active children, ages 10, 9 and 7.

Since the Fleischmanns married in 1984, Innovative Gourmet has blossomed from a $37,000-a-year, mom-and-pop venture -- started in the couple's first apartment near Pikesville -- to a $2.5 million enterprise in a 6,500-square-foot space of kitchens, conference rooms and offices in a suburban business park.

Today, the company is quite comfortable handling cocktail parties for groups of more than 2,000 and seated dinners for 600, as well as smaller affairs.

"We want to be seen as a talented force in the industry," Mr. Fleischmann says. "Our success has more to do with tenacity. Failure is not a consideration."

Wearing a crisp white chef's jacket over a black shirt and jeans, Mr. Fleischmann speaks quickly, thoughts tumbling out rat-a-tat-tat, his words often punctuated by expressive hand movements. He's sitting at a table in one of the soothing gray rooms where menus and prices are explained to potential customers and recapping how he got to this point in his career.

With his take-me-seriously demeanor, Mr. Fleischmann, sporting a trim mustache and rimless glasses, certainly has come a long way from being a high school dropout who started selling cars to support himself. "Sitting in a classroom was hard for me," says Mr. Fleischmann, who left school at age 16 but later got his high-school equivalency.

Eventually, he attended a yearlong program at the Restaurant School in Philadelphia, where he learned to wield a chef's knife and make complex sauces among other culinary skills. "It was the most intense learning experience I had," says Mr. Fleischmann, who grew up in Northwest Baltimore.

After a stint as a catering director at the American Cafe in the Inner Harbor, he was able to combine two goals: cooking and opening a business. Innovative Gourmet was born.

While Mr. Fleischmann is the behind-the-scenes guy at Innovative Gourmet, his brother, David Fleischmann, 35, is executive vice president and director of sales operations. As David Fleischmann says, "He's in the kitchen. I'm in the front of the house."

Having a business relationship with a family member works just fine, David says.

"I can't imagine working with anyone but a brother," he says. "It's wonderful. You have someone you can trust."

And catering is a crazy business, David Fleischmann says. The venue and situations are always different for off-premise caterers like Innovative Gourmet, and 60-hour workweeks are the norm.

But still he wouldn't change his life right now, he says. "Food and wine are my passion. I just love good food."

Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Broth

Serves 8-10

5 pounds chicken bones, or wings and necks can be used

2 pounds chicken thighs with meat

salt and pepper

3 large onions, cut in large dice

1 pound carrots, peeled, cut in large dice

1 pound celery, cut in large dice

12 garlic cloves

4 bay leaves

20 black peppercorns

6 dehydrated mushrooms (optional)

1/2 bunch parsley

6 sprigs thyme

sherry, lemon juice, balsamic or a good specialty vinegar, optional, (see note)

cold water

Lay out chicken bones (or wings and necks) and thighs on sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 375 degrees until cooked through and nicely browned, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove thigh meat from bones and set aside.

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