A Passover trend: The catered Seder

Lots o' matzo: One local caterer is cooking meals for 25,000 and has made 180,000 hand-rolled matzo balls as more Jews hire caterers for Passover.

March 27, 2002|By Liz Steinberg | Liz Steinberg,SUN STAFF

For the first time, Diane Newalt will be enlisting the help of a caterer to prepare a Seder, the traditional hours-long meal that begins the eight-day Jewish holiday Passover. Newalt, a Columbia resident, is apprehensive.

Mind you, she's preparing the family Seder for tonight, the first night, herself. But for the second night, Newalt's family and five other families - all of which will be cooking their own first-night Seders - decided to abandon their decade-old potluck format and have the Knish Shop in Pikesville cater the 30-person meal.

"This is definitely an experiment," Newalt said.

Newalt's "experiment" is part of a steadily growing trend: As Americans continue to buy more prepared food, many Jews are choosing to cater their Seders, the multicourse dinners marking Passover's first two nights, the holiest meals of the year. Passover commemorates the Jewish emancipation and exodus from Egypt.

"It's pretty much accepted by almost everyone that we all have extremely busy lives and we all need a little help in the kitchen, no matter how much we enjoy being there," said Jo Alexander, communications director for Eddie's of Roland Park, a Baltimore gourmet supermarket that offers "kosher-style" Passover food, meaning food items prepared in a non-kosher kitchen.

In addition, more synagogues are playing host to Seders. The Knish Shop will be catering Seders for 20 synagogues, said owner Marty Zangwill, who has been preparing for Passover for the past 12 weeks and expects to see a 15 percent to 18 percent increase in business compared with last year.

Passover, which is based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, starts in the middle of the week this year, so "it's not like [customers] have any real time to cook," he said.

The cost is $10 to $25 per person. Kosher food, such as that sold by Pikesville's Seven Mile Market or the Knish Shop, which strictly abide by the religious dietary standards, tends to cost more than non-kosher.

But purchasing the meal ready-made may not cost much more than making it yourself, said Nathaniel Hawkins, deli manager at Seven Mile Market.

"By the time you buy your raw ingredients and you average in [your] time," the costs are about the same, he said.

People may order a side dish or a main entree and prepare the rest of the meal at home, depending on what the family's traditional foods are, said Alexander.

"A lot of people still cook [for] themselves, and we fill in around them," said Zangwill. The Knish Shop will provide food, if not full meals, for 25,000 to 30,000 people this Passover, he said, and already has prepared 15,000 dozen handmade matzo balls.

Catered food can be a slippery slope. People may order one or two dishes one year and a full dinner the next, said Harriet Dopkin, president of the Classic Catering People in Owings Mills. Classic Catering is non-kosher but offers Passover foods.

"People gain confidence that this is a good way to go," said Dopkin, who expects to see a 10 percent to 15 percent rise in business this Passover.

Stanley Levy, chef at Eddie's Roland Avenue store, said it and the North Charles Street supermarket received about 500 orders for Passover this year. The average order is for four to five people.

"That's about half of what we do for Christmas," said Levy.

Eddie's will be making more than 300 gallons of chicken soup and, "Oy! Five thousand, maybe more," matzo balls, Levy said.

Other popular options include baked and roasted chicken, kugel (a type of pudding) and liver.

Convenient or not, for some the time demand is part of the tradition.

"I'm cooking everything," said Barbara Rubin, a Baltimore resident who has been preparing Seders for 35 of her 60-plus years.

The cooking adds meaning to Rubin's holiday.

"When I make my sponge cakes, I remember my mom, who has since passed away. Every one of my dishes reminds me of various people," she said.

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