From warm, savory Shabbat dinners to that unforgettable Shavuot cheesecake, Chabad emissaries sure know how to cook. And Chabad-house goers sure love to eat. This symbiotic relationship between delicious food and happy, sated congregants exists in almost every Chabad house one might visit.
But what about a Chabad house serving a community of chefs? Say, a cooking school? What would it be like to cook Shabbat dinner for a crowd of foodies? Would Bubbe’s chicken soup and matzo balls satisfy the palates of discerning, high-brow eaters?
These were exactly the thoughts of Rabbi Moshe and Chavie Kalmenson, new emissaries to the Culinary Institute of America and Marist College. They moved to Hyde Park, New York last August to service these two universities, and although they were eager to begin, they were slightly worried about cooking for culinary students.
It turns out, there was no need to worry.
“It was intimidating,” said Rabbi Moshe, “but you quickly realize that even though they are culinary students, they don’t always have three hours to make themselves lunch. They’re still college students and we’re still offering them a homemade piece of chicken and kugel.”
So, despite the unconventional campus they find themselves on, the Kalmensons offer a conventionally well-rounded line-up of Chabad on Campus services: Shabbat meals, holiday programming, Torah classes, and the all-around Jewish home away from home. They estimate that there are three to four hundred Jewish students at the Culinary Institute of America and about the same at Marist College, and they are slowly building connections with these students.
So far, there has only been one other food-related twist to the job. In the culinary students’ fifth semester, they take an advanced baking course on baking for patrons with allergies or dietary restrictions, and as part of the course, Rabbi Moshe teaches the basics of kosher. “To have someone who lives that way makes a more direct connection,” explained Chef Richard Coppedge, the course professor. Chef Richard is an expert in gluten-free cooking and a world-renowned chef; but in the area of kosher, he is grateful for Rabbi Moshe’s expertise.
Rabbi Moshe and Chavie are looking forward to the upcoming school year when COVID restrictions will hopefully relax and they will be able to expand their programming. Yet, despite current restrictions, they are steadily making progress. After a year of weekly Shabbat to-go packages, they just hosted their first Shabbat meal — a delicious brisket dinner spruced up with the special spice of Judaism.