Working to satisfy a feeding frenzy
BY VICTORIA PREVER
HOW MANY can you cater for without breaking out in a shvitz? Ten at Shabbat? Seder for 20? Party for 800? The latter is the number Benjamin Gestetner of Kedem Europe and kosher caterer Arieh Wagner provide for at the annual Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE). The event takes place at the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane Hotel at that point of the year when the post-Chanukah detoxers are raring for a retox.
The scale of this party is phenomenal. Wagner orders 592kg (yes — five hundred and ninety-two kilograms) of beef to turn into salt beef for his hungry guests. That’s a lot of cows. “I have to warn the kosher butchers a few weeks ahead, as they would not be able to source that amount of meat — even collectively — at short notice,” he explains. It’s not just beef being ordered. A carving station will also offer turkey crown and lamb shoulder ready to be loaded onto 1,200 slices of rye bread. Other buffet tables will be groaning with sushi and sashimi made with salmon, tuna and halibut and a stonking 15kg of sushi rice. A salmon carving station will serve beetroot cured salmon and mustard and dill gravadlax on black bread. For dessert, Wagner’s team will be preparing hundreds of macarons, fresh fruit and fruit and nut clusters. Home chefs generally have the luxury of knowing in advance how many guests will be walking through. The menu includes salt beef, salads and a range of artisan bread their front door. Not so for Wagner, who will notknow final numbers — and even then based on an educated guess — until the day before. “We always increase our food orders by 30 per cent just a day or two before the event,” explains Gestetner. It’s not just the food. There are considerable logistical hurdles to overcome. “We need to hire 40 to 50 young people who are shomer Shabbat to pour the wines, most of which are not mevushal which means they must be poured by Orthodox Jews to remain kosher from bottle to glass. “We use the Jewish Barman Agency,” explains Gestetner. “We prefer more girls than boys as they have a softer approach. Finding them can take a few months, and you need a surplus to cover any that don’t turn up and so pourers can each take time for a break.” Then there’s the table plan. “This year, 42 wine makers are coming, up from last year’s 33”. They are at 26 wine stations (many sharing) which requires table planning worthy of a family simcha. Everyone wants the best seat and care is needed not to place rivals too close to one another. Oy vey.
“We also have to ensure they pick the wines they’d like to showcase and their wines arrive. There must be sufficient ice buckets [and ice] for those wines needing chilling.”
Gestetner and Wagner have to be prepared for any eventuality. “I’ve had an American winemaker desperate for an adaptor plug and another whose luggage had not arrived, needing an iron for his shirt,” Wagner recalls. “I deal with any issues, while steering the event. At the same time, I’m walking the floor, smiling, with an eye on everything. I have a pedometer on my phone and one year it recorded 17 km of steps!”
Then there was the year the conference room was booked until 5pm on the day of the show — with the first guests expected at 6pm. “We were literally waiting at the doors for them to leave and took their conference down while setting up ours in under an hour! Nothing fazes us — we’re used to any eventuality. Ideally though, we set up the night before.”
There is also the small matter of glassware. Wine tasting etiquette worldwide generally dictates that you pick up a glass as you arrive and hold onto it for the evening. “In London, tasters tend to discard their glasses. We wash them during the evening, but we still use around 1,200,” says Gestetner. No wonder that the wheels start turning well in advance. “We start planning five or six months ahead, when we agree the date for the London KFWE. We run similar events in New York, Miami, LA, Paris and Tel Aviv and co-ordinate them so exhibitors can get from one to another, or that they can get home from Shabbat in between shows,” Gestetner adds. Securing the winemakers is the next task — Gestetner emails his suppliers to see how many can attend. “Winemakers have a lot of commitments and many of our French suppliers own high-end chateaux making non-kosher as well as kosher wine, so it’s not easy for them come.” With that sorted, next up is the menu Gestetner and Wagner meet in December to discuss what food they’ll be serving alongside the world class wines. It needs to be high end catering but for a massive audience. Gestetner and Wagner feel the show, now in its 12th year, is a well-oiled machine. But you can bet they sleep well that night.
This year’s KFWE takes place on February 1.
For more information visit www.kfwelondon.com