We were considering Florida this year for Pesach as so many of our friends and neighbors have been doing for years now, and began to explore the various options still available.
Pesach programs, per se, are all-inclusive and the kids certainly would be occupied from early morning until the late hours of the night. However, my husband and I were looking for something a bit more private and contained. We needed to find just the right spot and have someone handle the food for us.
We contacted close friends of ours who have been going down to their condos in the Miami area for years now, as well as good friends who moved down to South Florida years ago. (They were the smart ones to grab the real estate before the market exploded.)
And while we were given the contact info of many of the local kosher supermarkets to call for their takeout menus, one name kept popping up.
Meet Esther Elefant, who calls herself “ST” and goes by the business name “What’s Cooking?”
ST has been catering in-home since 2005 when a friend dared her to get into business, as she and her family loved her food. “You have 15 minutes to decide. Yeshiva needs a fruit platter for its graduation event and your business can either start now or I am going to call someone else.” She took the dare and has not looked back.
“Whenever I look at the photo of that platter I laugh out loud,” she said. “To think that I thought it was a work of art is just too funny. And the compliments I received? What were these people thinking?”
At the outset, ST cooked fresh food each week for her local client base. As the business grew, she realized that it would make more sense to start making extras of her most popular items and fresh-freezing them for her clients to enjoy even if she was out of town.
She purchased a shed for her backyard, installed electricity, bought some freezers, and started filling them up. People would come whenever they wanted to pick up food, and they would sign their names on sheets posted on each freezer with a list of what they took. Whenever she felt like it, she would pull the papers off the freezer and bill her clients.
At some point she realized that a “frozen business” was the way for her to make a living yet offer the flexibility that a typical job would not.
Purchasing additional freezers—she is now up to 24—and setting it up that way, she embarked on widening her client base … and Hashem was with her.
Now in her 19th year, still cooking out of her home, ST only caters for Pesach. Her clientele is a mix of local South Floridians, owners of condos and second homes who bring their families for Pesach, as well as families who rent vacation properties for Yom Tov.
We called her to get a feel for this entrepreneurial young lady (who calls herself “old,” much to her children’s dismay), and enjoyed hearing about how her business evolved and what she feels makes her stand out among the competition.
“I like to say that I strive for imperfection. When you prepare three potato kugels or two batches of soup in your own home, there is no way that each item will be identical to the one sitting next to it on your counter. That is what I wanted out of my business—for my clients to feel as if they made it themselves.” And in fact, many of her clients ask permission to peel the labels off the trays because they want their guests (and their husbands!) to believe that what is on the table is a result of their own hard work.
As to the food itself, her menu evolves every year into offering more sophisticated dishes but not “over the top” items such as duck and prime rib.
“My clientele wants yummy food similar to what their mother/grandmother made for Pesach,” said ST. “If they are looking for rack of lamb, I will happily refer them to someone else. And while each year I offer exciting new dishes, I find that I am asked to make my trademark homemade ‘ayeh lokshen’ and ‘schnitzel’ ‘blintz souffle,’ ‘eggplant parmesan’ and insane amounts of my decadent chocolate mousse.”
Her menu is all-inclusive—from starters and soups all the way through desserts. This year’s menu boasts 62 items. ST is also unique in another huge way. Everything on her menu is completely pareve, aside from actual dairy and/or meat dishes.
When deciding on the menu, “I take recipes from friends and family and try to steer clear of the kosher cookbooks as I feel that everyone makes their stuff. When I get a recipe, I make at least one change to it to ‘make it my own,’ and my clients love that personal touch I give to each dish that comes out of my kitchen. And as there is such a wide variety of items on my menu, there is something for every single person at the table.
“Cooking and baking are my passion. I am busy with this about four months of each year so it is all-consuming but … it is a labor of love. And that is what stands out about my food—everyone can taste the love in each dish they place on their table.”
And so, for this year, my husband and I are heading down to South Florida to enjoy the sunshine, the beach, the palm trees, and ST’s cooking. We’ll be sure to let you know how many pounds we put on, upon our return.
P.S. You are all invited to join us for dessert. We ordered 20 quarts of ST’s chocolate mousse.
ST and What's Cooking can be contacted via text/whatsapp: (305) 710-7590 or via email to: [email protected]
By Elana Gold