Yoni Siletski has studied, tasted, and cooked the world’s foods. And now he wants to bring what he has learned to the more insular world of kosher cuisine.
Siletski, who grew up in Teaneck, learned to cook right after high school at Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh (Le Cordon Bleu has since begun closing its U.S. schools). Highly regarded for its culinary education, it’s hardly kosher.
“I was off the derech,” said the 2007 graduate of the Frisch School in Paramus, referring to Orthodox Jews who leave the tradition.
But after working in restaurants and spending several years in corporate catering at Mattel in California, he’s come back around to “the derech,” and kashrut matters. Last fall, he opened Take A Break Catering, under the supervision of the Vaad Harabonim of MetroWest, in Parsippany. And a few weeks ago, he launched EZ Shabbos Delivery — which brings glatt kosher Shabbat meals to clients’ doorsteps.
Siletski spoke with NJJN in the entryway to his glatt kosher catering company.
At 26, he looks hardly a day over 16, the age he was when he got his start peeling carrots at Ma’adon, an appetizing store in Teaneck. That’s where he learned at least one difference between home cooking and professional cooking. “At home it was: Here, peel a carrot. At Ma’adon it was: Here, peel this Hefty bag filled with carrots!”
Returning to his observant ways after his culinary training, he found that most of his recipes translated easily back to kashrut. He wishes there were a more natural substitute than margarine to use in his pareve chocolate chip cookies, but he can live with the compromise. He doesn’t miss shellfish or steak with butter. But bacon, he acknowledges, is hard to replicate. “You put bacon in soup, everything changes,” he said. “You can’t do that with beef or lamb bacon. Well, you could — but it’s very expensive.” And, he added, it’s just not the same.
It’s obvious that Siletski loves the kitchen. Moving from the storefront, where all the paper goods and serving trays are stored, into the kitchen, he seemed to relax; he checked on some chicken, displayed his chocolate chip cookies, and stirred a bone broth soup that had been cooking overnight.
His preferred foods involve international cuisine — Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, French. “I like to put a global spin on things,” he said. In fact, he loves offering a tasting menu, “where each course is from a different country, and I pair wines with each course as well.”
He also favors farm-to-table cooking, fresh ingredients, and nothing processed. He started Take A Break Catering with that in mind. “I wanted to offer high end type food, but kosher,” he said. But he found that his clientele preferred kosher comfort food. So now he offers both.
That’s reflected in the options for his Shabbat box, the customer-designed Shabbat meal that he will deliver all over northern New Jersey. A customer can order the same ingredients one might expect in a Shabbos special from other purveyors — or replace the hallah, chicken soup, roast chicken, and kugel with Siletski’s signature pretzel hallah, lime cilantro hummus, vegetarian lentil soup with cumin, Asian brown rice noodle salad, and grilled barbecue short ribs.
There will soon be a smoker in the kitchen (look for smoked chicken in the Shabbos special). Siletski promises vegan options as well. He also offers products from other vendors — like Ma’adon and Pickle Licious — in the Shabbos boxes.
He’s clearly pleased to share that pretzel hallah is selling so well that he can’t keep up with the orders. He can make 200 a week, but he’s had 500 requests — so he subcontracted with a bakery to make them. “Every week the number goes up,” he said.