With kosher caterers, you never went hungry

'You learn after a few weddings not to argue with caterers. Or to tell them anything. They will do as they please.'

July 03, 2020 10:28

Of all the things I have missed during this pandemic time-out, kosher caterers were nowhere on the list. Especially wedding caterers. Ever tried to pay for a wedding without ruining the jacket of your new suit by stuffing it with thick bundles of banknotes? I’ll say no more.

Whatever you make of wedding caterers, you have to admire their prescience. A friend of mine was approached by a young man who had been dating his daughter for a couple of years and solemnly asked for permission to seek her hand in marriage (we do things properly around here). My friend gave the matter sober consideration before granting consent. Ten minutes later, he got a mazeltov call from wedding caterers. How did they know? That’s life, the caterers always know first, and last.

I hear Covid-era charedi weddings are being held in secret venues with a tiny invitation list and the address disclosed to guests only an hour or two before the chupah, barely enough time to get your nails done. All very well, but the caterer has to know ahead of time and the caterer always does. Has anyone ever tested them for extra-sensory perception?

Speaking of testing, do not talk to me about tastings. On the first occasion, I lost my sense of smell as I chewed through what felt like a discarded football boot doused in gelatinous waste. “Sorry,” said the caterer, “that was intended for someone else.” Presumably for the father of the bride without the bulge of notes in his suit.

No cakes at our reception, we said. Some of us are health-conscious, sugar-free and keen on saving the planet. No cakes? said the caterer with an ominous upturn on the noun. Sure enough, the reception was stuffed with every kind of gateau, croissant and patisserie — all of them milk-free, since the caterer had thrown in hot dogs and chips on to the waiters’ trays. “I won’t charge you for the hot dogs,” he chortled, all but pinching my cheek with victory. You learn after a few weddings not to argue with caterers. Or to tell them anything. They will do as they please.

And this, by divine mercy, is London, where we have an abundance of caterers and notionally the freedom to go from one to another. Think of Glasgow or Leeds where there’s only one kosher caterer and you eat what you’re given and probably get made to do the washing-up afterwards.

So why am I thinking of caterers? Prepare to groan. In my circles you do not leave a wedding without a Grace After Meals booklet which, being an object of sanctity, cannot be thrown away ever after. Many of them have a dinner menu printed in the front inside cover. Some go back 60 years and more. Oh, they knew how to dine in the ’50s.

Honeydew melon to get you going. Followed by “Hors d’oeuvres varies” (no accent) and smoked salmon (no lemon). Before you can draw breath, they’re dishing up Mandel Soup with Kreplach or Cold Beetroot Borsht and then it’s a pause for lemon sorbet ice to cleanse the palate before the main onslaught, or slaughterhouse.

Guests are invited to choose between Ox Tongue with blintzes or roast Poussin with potato croquettes. How a French painter (1594-1665) got into catering is unclear, the more so since this was not the French side of my family or they’d never have left off the accents. I thought Rembrandt had sewn up Jewish weddings before the photographers came in (they’ll get a column one of these days all to themselves).

Desserts? Just ice-cream gateaux with hot cherries, or maybe peach and pineapple Melba, not to mention assorted strudel, petit fours and “fresh fruit in season”. No wine list. You drink what you’re poured. And there’s no second glass.

How anyone got up from the table without collapsing with cardiac arrest is unclear, but I don’t remember hearing any groans except of satisfaction, or any guest demanding a vegetarian option. You don’t eat meat, sir? We’ll find a lettuce.

Truth to tell, I have dined well through Covid-19 without the benefit of caterers and, so I hear, kosher caterers have also done well with home deliveries and special meals for health workers. Weddings or none, a caterer will never go hungry.

Still, hunched over my old benschers, I cherish the simplicity of past choices.

I might dither today between blintzes and croquettes, wondering which has the least salt and fewest carbs, but all the sushi and sashimi of a Tony Page five-star does not feel as festive to my lips as asparagus tips — remember them? — or nougatine baskets. From next week, small weddings are permitted. Someone, send me a nougatine basket.


July 03, 2020 10:28

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