It seemed like a dream job for a young Montreal caterer: provide all the meals for what was billed as the first organized kosher Antarctica cruise.
When the American tour operator contacted Shua Lurie of L’Orchidée Traiteur, a kosher catering company in Montreal, about eight months ago, he said there would be a minimum of 15 passengers required for the planned December voyage to the seventh continent.
The cruise – more accurately an expedition – was soon sold out after it was announced in July. Lurie and his partner, Armand Kadoch, were faced with feeding the 52 passengers who were booked for the 10-day luxury trip, which leaves from the southern tip of Argentina on Dec. 10 – the last night of Hanukkah.
That came to 1,500 full meals plus snacks that had to be packaged and sent more than 15,000 km to the remotest part of the globe – with no compromise to their quality and kashrut.
In fact, they had to be “indulgent,” a selling point of the trip, which ranged in cost from US$13,000-US$23,500 ($17,000-$31,000) per person, excluding flights to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina.
They also had to be hearty, considering the appetites that would be worked up by on-shore excursions and sub-zero temperatures.
Special dietary requests such as vegetarian and health-related requirements had to be accommodated, as well.
Everything had to be suitable for freezing and re-heating, and that included extras like milk, cheese and challah. Each meal component had to be thoroughly wrapped and meticulously labelled and boxed in the correct order.
Meals will be finished and plated on board, where fresh produce, for which L’Orchidée was not responsible, may be added. The Montreal caterers also had to instruct the non-Jewish staff in what keeping kosher was all about.
In total, it was a six-month job, with work reaching a frantic pace through the High Holidays, when the final prep work was done.
Lurie, 33, credits Kadoch, a chef with 40 years’ experience, with managing to meet all these criteria, while he handled most of the logistics.
A month ago, they put six palettes (four of meal components and two of dry goods, like spices and condiments) onto a freezer truck at L’Orchidée’s premises in the Fooderie supermarket on Park Avenue, bound for Halifax, where the cruise ship, the RCGS Resolute, was docked.
How did a relatively small kosher catering company in Montreal, which was started only four years ago, get tapped for this gig?
The brother of the main expedition organizer, Dan Eleff of DansDeals, is married to a woman from Montreal. Eleff was looking for a caterer in Canada because the ship operator is Vancouver-based One Ocean Expeditions. And since the loading was to be done in Halifax, a caterer in the east was preferable.
Eleff’s sister-in-law recommended L’Orchidée, which is certified by the Vaad Ha’ir. Lurie emphasized that the MK seal of approval ended when the food left Montreal.
The tour organizers were responsible for seeing that a separate kitchen was kashered (a mashgiach of their choosing will be on board).
The crew’s food will be prepared and consumed completely separately, in another galley.
The expedition’s program is halakhically observant.
Shabbat will feature a morning Kiddush, after davening and a festive dinner. As the sun never really sets in Antarctica, rabbinical authorities advised the organizers that Shabbat should be observed around 1 a.m.
There’s also a fast, 10 Tevet, during the two days through the Drake Passage, en route to Antarctica. Several TV-style dinners had to be made for those not observing it.
Eleff, whose partner in this venture is photographer Morris Hersko, said the passengers are mostly from the United States, but also from Europe and Israel. They include modern Orthodox, as well as Hasidic and yeshivish Jews, ranging in age from young adults to senior citizens.
It was a monumental amount of work.
– Shua Lurie
“When I agreed, I never realized what a logistical nightmare it would be, especially having the co-ordination with so many different people along the way,” said Lurie, who mainly caters weddings and bar mitzvahs, as well as the Herzliah High School cafeteria.
There was a final nerve-racking moment. Canadian customs in Halifax contacted the caterer, saying the shipment would have to be opened for inspection. After explaining the stringency of Jewish religious practice, the agency accepted the packing list and nothing was unsealed, Lurie said.
“It was a monumental amount of work over months. There were all kinds of things we had never foreseen.”
Despite how challenging the assignment was, Lurie does not completely rule out taking on something similar again, saying that, “I’ve certainly learned from this experience, but we’ll see how things turn out after the trip.”