Celebrating in lockdown – how to keep the family connection through dining together, apart
Owner of The Left Handed Chef in South Melbourne, Ehud Malka’s Shabbat Boxes are helping to unite families and friends who are unable to congregate in person on culturally significant days of the week.
Running a relatively small operation with three delivery drivers – plus Malka and his wife Holly in the kitchen – the restaurant has been delivering and accepting pickups of about 70-80 dining boxes every Friday.
According to Malka, the Shabbat Boxes were created “when things went bad with COVID-19,” to help families share dinner from home.
“I’ve been in hospitality for 20 years, and the ‘dining-in’ experience is one of my loves. I’m the biggest believer in going out and having food hot from the kitchen, but we had to respond to the market and our customer base,” Malka says. “The boxes are simple – schnitzels, challah, hummus, salads and so on – but they have everything you need for a family Shabbat dinner. It’s why they are kept at a reasonable price. Everyone’s suffering, not just in hospitality, and I’m charging people as much as I would expect to pay.”
The hummus bar – which is selling a variety of feasts and individual dishes – has gone through ups and downs depending on the days of the week, and the announcements of the day.
But Malka says feedback from these boxes has been positive.
“Every Friday we receive orders from parents, sons, daughters and so on who are living in different houses, ordering dinners and Zoom[ing] together. One Friday, we had 10-12 different orders from the same family. They had Shabbat dinner together over Zoom, and called to say how beautiful it was,” he says.
“Even though they were all separated, [they] can still share the same dinner and have that experience together.
“That togetherness is helping to keep morale up at the moment.”
“We went with traditional and authentic food from home”
Starting as a “fairly standard café with some food from Israel,” The Left Handed Chef has taken different forms since its inception about eight years ago.
Malka gradually changed the meals on offer, and knocked off the “boring brekkie things” to include more Israeli dishes.
In July last year, they started running a dinner service oriented around traditional Israeli street food. They received support from the Israeli and Jewish community, as well as new and returning customers who were happy to try something new.
“I wanted our food to be approachable and available to everyone, not just the community who are familiar with the food” he says.
“There are no unnecessary garnishes or mass productions of anything. The food is very authentic with flavours that I grew up with and – as the only chef in the kitchen – the quality of the food will always stay the same.
“We try to make it clear that this is what real Israeli food is.”
Malka adds that their hummus is the biggest focus of The Left Handed Chef, and made fresh every day.
“The commercial stuff in the supermarket isn’t really hummus. It’s preservatives, lemon and garlic mushed up with a little bit of chickpeas,” he says.
“Hummus is made from chickpeas and needs to taste like chickpeas. That’s the big difference between the hummus I make and what’s out there.”
He adds that his recipe is basic, but he has developed it over many years.
“Everyone can play with different flavours – like garlic, olive oil, lemon, cumin and so on – but what you eat needs to taste like what the [main] ingredient is,” he says. “Ours is made from chickpeas with a little bit of tahini, [and] that’s what I think it needs to taste like.”
Creating positive feelings for customers.
With Jewish festivals coming up, including Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) which falls on a Friday, Malka is intending to make thematic changes to their boxes. Planned changes include honey cakes instead of babkas, and round challahs which are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah.
And while Fridays have consistently been busy, he is hoping the other holidays fall on weekdays.
“On busy days, we are very proud to see what we get, but it’s always hard work on the other, quieter days,” he says.
He is also looking to incorporate dining boxes into his business model when people can dine-in again.
“Nothing compares to the experience of dining in at a restaurant, but we are very happy to see what these boxes and dinners have created for people,” he says. “Even when we open, we want to keep offering that happiness for people who can’t come in, or want to have dinner at home. The boxes have created positive feelings for customers, and we don’t want to take that away.”
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