Arrivals - Feeding you like a bubbie


Ahuva Schwartz (photo credit: LISA RICH PHOTOGRAPHY)
Ahuva Schwartz
Feeding you like a bubbie
This is a story about how the love for a flag and a passion for preparing food combined to launch Ahuva Schwartz on aliyah and a burgeoning Instagram-fueled cooking career in the Holy Land.
First, the flag. Monsey, NY, where Ahuva grew up, is not known as a hotbed of modern religious Zionism, but she grew up with an abiding passion for Israel. “My parents have always had a huge Israeli flag in the window,” says Schwartz. “We were not closet Zionists. My parents never took us on vacations to Florida. We always came to Israel for the holidays. They instilled a love of Israel in us,” she adds.
Next, the food. Schwartz’s greatest passion in life is cooking and baking, and today she is the face behind ‘The Katamon Kitchen,’ preparing Shabbat meals for customers throughout Jerusalem, and the host of an Instagram page with thousands of followers.
Ahuva’s interest in cooking began at an early age. “My first memory is cooking with my mother when I was five years old. Every year, she makes 200 kreplach before Yom Kippur for the final pre-Yom Kippur meal and sends them to all of our cousins. I remember tasting the meat and making dough with her.” Growing up, Ahuva and her mother would watch cooking shows featuring culinary stars such as Jamie Oliver, Jacques Pépin and Lidia Bastianich.
Ahuva enjoyed learning new tricks and techniques in the kitchen and she shared her creations with friends and family as her culinary skills developed. She wrote a regular recipe column in her high school newspaper and baked birthday cakes for girls in her class. During her gap year in Israel, she prepared gourmet dinners every Tuesday night for fellow students at the girls’ seminary she attended.
Ahuva wanted to remain in Israel for a second year of study, but her parents insisted that she first obtain a college degree. She dutifully agreed and attended Stern College in New York, receiving her degree in early childhood education. “But I always knew in my head that after graduation, I would go back to Israel,” she adds. Schwartz graduated from Stern in 2011 and returned to Israel, working as a counselor at the Tiferet Seminary in Ramat Beit Shemesh. In August 2012, Ahuva officially made aliyah, arriving on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight together with her brother and sister-in-law. She spent her first official year as an Israeli citizen working as a counselor at a Jerusalem-based girls’ seminary.
Ahuva maintained her love for cooking, and on her days off, she would go to her parents’ vacation apartment in the Katamon neighborhood to cook and take photos of the food she had prepared. While visiting the States in the summer of 2013, one of Ahuva’s friends told her about Instagram, the social networking app, and suggested that she create an Instagram page with her cooking photos and recipes.
Ahuva designed an Instagram page and started posting pictures under the name of The Katamon Kitchen. “I don’t like writing,” says Ahuva, “but I like taking pictures of food and sharing my recipes and ideas.” Slowly but surely, the page gained a following. In December 2013, when a major snowstorm landed in Jerusalem, paralyzing the city for several days, Ahuva, with plenty of time on her hands, cooked for four days, posted more photos and recipes, and her Instagram following increased.
In January 2014, Ahuva embarked on a new culinary adventure, preparing meals daily for a large Jerusalem family, and regularly posting photos of her recipes to her Instagram page. In 2015, she joined the cooking team at Crave, the popular Jerusalem eatery, and in June 2019, moved to the Al Dente restaurant in Jerusalem. Soon, Ahuva began to receive orders from customers for their summer Shabbat meals.
AHUVA LEFT Al Dente in December 2019 and focused her energies and attention on her full-time Katamon Kitchen business, preparing complete Shabbat meals for clients in the Jerusalem area, including challot, appetizers, salads, entrées and desserts. Called “Shabbat-to-Go,” the service has become a great success. Schwartz also offers “Dinner-in-a-bag” during the week for new parents, people who have recently moved to new homes, and new olim (newly arrived immigrants).
She is always on the move and runs everything as a one-woman show: purchasing food, cooking, baking and delivering orders on Fridays throughout the city. Ahuva goes food shopping on Tuesday, buys meat and chicken in the shuk on Wednesday, and cooks all day Thursday, from 8:00 a.m. until midnight, after which she “plays a game of Tetris,” trying to fit the food into her refrigerator. Plus, she still works part-time at Crave.
Ahuva was concerned that the novel coronavirus pandemic would negatively affect her business but found that people being cooped up in their homes with little to do, had begun to follow her on Instagram. “My numbers went up like crazy, and I now have more than 14,000 followers on Instagram,” she says. Orders also increased, as people did not want to spend their corona isolation time cooking in their kitchens.
Ahuva has also been offering Zoom cooking classes during the pandemic and conducted a cooking demo for a bridal shower, with participants from Israel, Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto, New York and New Jersey. Many of her clients purchase meals for people living in Israel, and she comments, “A really sweet order during corona happened when grandchildren in the States ordered #shabbattogo for their grandparents in Jerusalem.”
In Ahuva’s view, making food has enabled her to make friends both through Instagram and through her weekly food shopping. “What I love about my page is that I reach people from all over the world. When people message me and tell me that they enjoyed a recipe and tell me where they’re from, I think it’s amazing that I can connect to people with food no matter where they are.”
Ahuva has even met distant relatives through her Instagram page. She reports that people who meet her in the supermarket are excited to meet her but downplays her notoriety, saying, “I’m nothing special. I just love what I do, and I hope to teach people more about food and inspire others to get in their kitchens and enjoy it too!”
She has developed warm relationships with vendors in the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk, who look forward to her weekly visits. “One week, when I made my order a day later than usual,” she reports, “my butcher was very concerned. He said that he and his wife were so worried about me! Every week when I go to make my order, I get a huge smile from their son, who looks forward to seeing me every week.”
Despite her talents in preparing exotic dishes, Ahuva reports that her favorite meal is “simple roasted chicken and potatoes.” Her hobby has always been cooking, but she does enjoy reading historical fiction and working out, and she adds jokingly, “My mother says, ‘Of course you should write that she’s single.’”
“I’m very happy that I moved to Israel,” says Ahuva. “If I were in the US, I wouldn’t be doing this. I would be an unhappy teacher. The reason I cook is to make people happy with food and to enhance Shabbat with food. I am a Jewish Bubbie – I just want to feed you.