Annapolis-based caterer Steve Lebowitz and his wife Dore visited our farm this weekend with a shopping list that included fresh-picked spring onions and organic dates from Israel. Steve is the chef and a co-owner of Allot Catering, which he runs out of Congregation Kneseth Israel’s kosher kitchen in Annapolis.
Whether its vegetables, meat, herbs or fish, Steve believes in sourcing local and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. “At the core of Jewish ethics is gratitude,” he says, “So buying local brings us closer to the source of our nourishment and joy.”
Steve and Dore came ready to walk through our fields to help select green onions for an upcoming event. We ducked under our deer fence and walked up the hill to the onions, finding the very first blueberry of the season along the way.
As we hand-pulled 15 bunches of the smallest onions we could find, Steve shared some of the challenges inherent in ensuring that freshly picked vegetables meet kosher standards. Vegetables, especially leafy, green ones, must be checked very carefully for insects. Green onions, for example, need to be sliced lengthwise. Using fresh ingredients in kosher cooking requires extra effort, but getting the freshest and healthiest ingredients on the plate is worthwhile.
Steve’s recipes weave together different strands of Jewish cooking, from updates on New York deli fare, like homemade whitefish salad and salt-cured lox, to very contemporary Israeli and Mediterranean cuisine. He makes fresh, healthy versions of Ashkenazi comfort food like kugel (served as a kugel bar with various toppings) and everyone’s favorite matzah ball soup.
Just as often, he serves regional Italian dishes, hearty French bistro dinners and healthy, flavorful dishes inspired by “New Jerusalem” fusion. “That’s a lot of different cuisines,” Steve says, “but they all share the Mediterranean alchemy of smoke, char, olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice.”
Since 2007, Lebowitz has used the synagogue’s kosher kitchen as a base for his operation, which has catered events throughout the greater Washington area, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The kitchen is under Orthodox supervision so Allot Catering can meet the kosher standards of most any event. They are even known to run plates over for Jewish Annapolis-area hotel guests who request a kosher meal while they are in town.
Allot Catering specializes in simchas like weddings and bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. They make sure that the food for children is as healthy and lovingly prepared as the adult fare. They take their mission beyond preparing food to helping to ensure that the whole event is meaningful and infused with good values. For example, they help families donate leftovers to shelters, learn about composting food waste and consider sourcing sustainable ingredients.
They involve families in their own events by inviting them into the kosher kitchen to assist with some preparation. For example, one bat mitzvah student came in learn how to make challah for her event. Others have learned about composting in the Day School garden.
Steve and Dore remain very involved in their community. As volunteers, Allot provides hot lunches for the children of Aleph Bet Jewish Day School, which gives them a chance to work directly with children and test some new recipes for immediate feedback. Each year, they run a “Grow Your Own Lunch” program where schoolchildren bring vegetables and herbs from their own gardens to include in the recipes.
Steve exudes enthusiasm and passion for his work and is always up for a new challenge. He even cures his own salmon for lox right in Annapolis using a very traditional salt-and-sugar cure. According to Steve, “It has a cleaner taste and a more pleasant mouth-feel than commercial smoked salmon, especially when sliced for guests right off the fillet.” It sounds amazing. Next time some fresh lox is ready, you might need to travel to Annapolis—or an Allot-catered bar mitzvah party near you—and get behind me in line for it.