recently heard a great Berkshire story. We were eating dinner at Perigee Restaurant in South Lee with our friend Julianne Boyd and her dentist husband, Norman. It’s a great-looking place that I would recommend to anyone who likes good food.

I like Perigee because of the more than adequate separation of tables. But what I really love is the fact that the owner, Dawn LaRochelle, makes herself known to her customers.

Within a few moments, we had most of her story including the fact that she was a Harvard Law graduate, both her parents were doctors, she had been a practicing vegetarian but gave it up, and moved to the Berkshires where she started not one but two catering companies and her restaurant. She is married to Dennis, a lawyer at Cain Hibbard who, she says, is the only reason she can do so much. We got most of that story in just a few paragraphs.

This remrkable, still young woman/mother/wife/entrepreneur really caught my attention when she announced that she is the owner and operator of the area’s only Vaad-certified Orthodox catering business.

Roselle and I once hosted a reunion of the extended maternal side of her family, the Mishkoffs. People came from all over the world and some of them observed the dietary laws of Kashrut, meaning that they ate only foods that were certified kosher and practiced other proprieties such as using separate sets of dishes for meat and dairy. Of course, some of this can be accommodated by using paper plates, but it all has to be well thought out.

I do remember one particularly Orthodox cousin of Roselle’s stationing herself in the kitchen and observing the Pittsfield caterer to make sure that no mistakes or omissions were made. So I know how exacting this kind of catering business can be.

Dawn’s stories are eye-opening: “Once we did an event for 250 people at Cranwell. It was a meat wedding [no dairy.] The bride wanted us to make a wedding cake for her. She wanted five layers, each a different flavor, to feed 250 people. For one of the layers, she wanted red velvet which usually has cream cheese in it. That’s difficult to do. I had her come five times to taste the red velvet cake which we made with a parve [non-dairy] cream cheese substitute. She also wanted a groom’s cake in the shape of an ambulance [the groom was an EMT]. We made the cake with working ambulance lights.”

You can see it at the website http://www.beteavonkoshercatering.com.

“Another wedding was at Stoneover in Lenox. The bride was the daughter of a Reform Rabbi. Neither the bride nor her rabbi father kept kosher.

“The groom was the son of a Chabadnik, a member of one of the largest Hassidic movements. The groom was no longer adhering to dietary rules, but it had to be kosher to strict Chabad standards for the Chabad guests. The bride was vegetarian.

“She wanted a dairy wedding. For most Orthodox Jews, it is not a celebration without meat. Secondly, Chabad standards require that dairy products not only be certified kosher but some Chabad people also adhere to cholov yisrael, meaning an observant Jew must supervise various parts of the production process.

“The reason for this is that in days gone by, some unscrupulous farmers would try to pass off pigs’ milk as cows’ milk. The only place to go to meet these standards, as well as my own high standards, is in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where I bought all this food.

“I also had to acquire all brand new dishes because just plain kosher dairy dishes didn’t make the standard. So in the end, this was more expensive than if they had ordered filet mignon and lobster for their meal.

“The day of the wedding was the hottest day all summer and we lost 10 servers to heat stroke. When the Mashgiach [the official who certifies that everything is order] arrived on Friday morning we were using a ‘field kitchen’ that had non-kosher stoves and other appliances.

“He had the job of making non-kosher appliances into kosher ones. To do that, the ovens had to be heated to a maximum temperature. Then they had to be left on for an hour and then left to sit for 24 hours unused. That’s how you ‘kasher’ an oven.”

A Berkshire story for sure.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 12-11-10

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