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How to have a socially safe simcha

Lockdown has been especially tough on caterers, but parties are on the way back

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Since lockdown, kosher caterers have had to find new ways to weather the coronavirus storm.

At the start of the pandemic their brief was black and white. Restaurants closed and no socialising. It was all about home delivery. Frozen meals, high-end banquets and Friday night meal deliveries were all on the delivery menu.

As the measures have been eased, there’s a lot of grey. Government announcements have increasingly blurred not clarified the boundaries, especially when they change at the last minute.

Restaurants and cafés have opened and we can meet in small groups. The chancellor is even picking up part of the tab three days a week. Caterers were gearing up for smaller simchas from August 1, but their hopes were dashed when the brakes were put on at the last minute and the easing of small gatherings was delayed another fortnight.

Now, the rules have changed again and weddings can go ahead, with up to 30 people allowed to have a sit-down meal.

But that’s not the case in Manchester, where Ed Shaerf, co-founder of Ed’s Feast, is based. Lockdown rules were tightened there at the end of July.

“I can go to the pub but I can’t go to my in-laws. It makes no sense!”

He had to postpone two weddings when the anticipated easing of rules did not happen.

The rules for home simchas remain confusing. According to Sam Delamore of expert advisory agency, My Compliance People, the magic number is 30: “It’s against the law to gather in groups of more than 30 people in private homes (including gardens and other outdoor spaces); but businesses following Covid-19 secure guidelines can host groups of more than 30 people.”

Delamore explains that you would need to have enough space for your guests to remain socially distant — so that would require a pretty large home or outside space.

She admits that for events in private homes, it’s not entirely clear. Her advice is that (apart from Manchester and other areas subject to stricter rules) “Nothing says you can’t have [a catered event for] up to 30 people in a private home but the event operator must still follow the Covid-secure guidelines, which are about 60 pages long.”

The KLBD issued guidelines in late July. “We want to help our caterers cater small, socially distant events. We’re trying to put flesh on the bones of the Government guidelines,” says Richard Verber, director of communications for the United Synagogue.

The KLBD’s advice is that caterers may not cater an event at a private home for more than two households inside, and 30 outside. Parties for more than 30 may take place at venues, but with the caterer responsible for ensuring the venue’s manager has “carried out the required risk assessment effectively and has assessed that the approach to following Government guidelines is reasonable.”

The KLBD is currently permitting catering for sit-down meals only and not stand-up receptions.

“We’re probably being cautious, but it’s that balance where people have put their lives on hold, not celebrating life cycle events, and the impact on caterers has been huge. We want to get our caterers back to catering but in a Covid-secure way.” says Verber.

This week the KLBD offered additional guidance that wedding receptions for 30 people at a sit-down meal were now permitted.

“The rules keep on changing,” says caterer Ben Teneblat .

He and other caterers are directing their sights at groups of up to 30 for home parties.

“We’re doing a lot of smaller dinner parties” says Tenenblat, who has set up an online booking system that allows guests to pick their menu for a certain number of guests — from eight to 26 — which is then delivered with a chef to finish off the food and plate it, and waiting staff. “The cap at 26 allows for up to four serving staff.”

Many of his clients are breaking down previously planned functions for more than 100 guests into a series of smaller events. He trialled the concept at his own daughter’s batmitzvah. “We had a ‘walk-through kiddush’ outside, with guests invited for 30-minute slots and 15-minute gaps between each session.

“Kiddush food was served in individual, pre-made boxes, each containing a smoked salmon bagel, olives, artichokes and a home-made fishball with chraine. We also did a vegetarian and a sweet version.”

A final party for his daughter and her friends was an immersive cinema experience, based on the film Grease, with her guests dressed for the era and actors and actresses roaming around in character. He provided burgers and (parev) shakes.

The American diner-style menu was served from a shiny Airstream trailer — part of Tenenblat’s new Crave London concept, serving top-notch tacos and gourmet burgers. The caterer, better known for his fine dining and cutting-edge dishes is keen to stress this is not a new direction, but an offshoot.

“It’ll almost be a mobile restaurant with a weekly schedule,” he explains. “Each day in a specific area, for example, Tuesdays in St John’s Wood.

“It’s taken ages to get the burgers just right — the perfect ratio of meat to fat for the best flavour.” The menu includes steak/brisket burgers, and a range of other items, including fish and veggie dishes and loaded fries — topped with chilli beef and (parev) cheese sauce. I’ve tasted much of the menu and it’s delicous.

Shaerf, too, has branched out: “I decided after three or four weeks of lockdown we weren’t prepared to sit and wait.”

His home delivery menu launched in April. “We were approached by people who were shielding to bring them Friday night dinner. We wanted to provide that community service and keep our name out there.”

He and his partners also have an Airstream trailer. For them, the classic vehicle made their menu choice obvious: “It’s so associated with US street food — overindulgent portions of NY-inspired food. Huge salt beef sandwiches you have to share as you can’t finish them!”

Their street food feast launched in Manchester, where his kitchens are, but he has invested in a second truck to be based in North West London. He takes advance orders, prepping his food ahead, but finishing it on-site, ready for each customer’s socially distant pick-up slot.

Simone Krieger of Krieger’s Kitchen has also reinvented her kosher-style catering business. “Everything’s small — like I’ve gone back five years!” She is still being asked to cater celebrations, but the number of people attending is usually spread over several smaller events.

She has been delivering food in boxes. “I may include seared salmon or tuna, with three or four salads — all beautifully presented — plus grab bags with mini sourdough loaves with a pat of butter or pot of hummus. They are individually packaged so no one touches anyone else’s food.”

Krieger has also seen clients inviting guests in small groups over a few hours. “That works better by day. At night the vibe is different — especially if alcohol is involved, as people can get a bit relaxed over the social distancing.”

Her clients are also sending out food boxes to guests, especially where it has not been possible to hold the religious side of the function in synagogue. “They send tea or graze boxes to guests to celebrate virtually together on Zoom.”

Working on the basis that home entertaining is the new going out, Aron Schlagman (owner and creative director of Whitepaper Events) has founded The Lion’s Feast with Ed Shaerf. High end creative events company, Whitepaper Events, had come to a standstill with lockdown. “We wanted to find a way of staying current and adapting what we do, as people are delaying barmitzvahs and other big events until next year. Some people may be happy to go out, but not to a restaurant, so we wanted to bring the feeling of eating out to them.”

What he and his team have come up with is seriously luxe. All you need to do is provide sufficiently socially distant space, and they'll bring you the entire set-up.  That includes your choice of one of their stylish 'tablescapes' — individually designed layouts including all cutlery, crockery, napkins, glasses, flowers and place cards; a three course kosher meal, served up by your own chef, who will finish off the food (cooked by Shaerf) on-site; and your very own butler - who will serve you and your guests. Your very own restaurant without leaving home. 

Whatever the rules, caterers are ready to serve.

Instagram:

@Crave.Ldn

@the_lions_feast

@kriegerskitchen

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