Afternoon tea has been a tradition at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal ever since the hotel opened in 1912. Now, the venerable institution on Sherbrooke Street is holding a kosher-certified high tea alongside its regular service.
The Jewish Community Council of Montreal has given the teas its MK heksher, and all of the food is prepared in the Ritz-Carlton’s glatt kosher kitchen.
In fact, the teas are deemed mehadrin, which is considered the most stringent level of kashrut, says Danielle Medina, who oversees the kosher kitchen.
The kosher tea is offered at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, by reservation. Patrons can choose to sit in the elegantly ornate Palm Court’s main room, or opt for a little privacy in the upper alcove, just outside the storied Oval Room.
Like the regular service, the menu consists of a wide choice of teas, accompanied by dainty sweet and savoury finger foods presented on a three-tiered stand. A flute of sparkling Prosecco may be added, as well.
Patrons enjoy the same solicitous, yet discreet, attention by staff that this five-star establishment is famous for.
The brand-new fine china is made by Wedgwood and its distinctive floral pattern ensures it can never be mixed up with the other crockery, notes Medina.
The dozen varieties of teas are procured from Sloane Fine Tea Merchants, a Toronto-based company headed by Hoda Paripoush, an Indian-born Persian who is a certified tea sommelier.
Will it be the sweetly scented Perfectly Pear tea, Heavenly Cream, with its notes of bergamot, a spicy Masala Chai or a robust Lapsang souchong that’s been smoked over a pinewood fire?
Whatever the choice, Simon Schmidt, the hotel’s assistant food and beverage director, points out that none of them come in bags. He holds up the vacuum pack of loose leaves from Sloane that are portioned into gauze pouches just before they are steeped in individual pots.
An hourglass timer at the table indicates when the tea may be poured.
Everything is made in-house – the pastries, the bread, even the jam.
The most difficult item to replicate in the kosher kitchen was the scones, those fluffy, slightly sweet biscuits that are an English tea staple, Medina says. For guidance, she turned to the “fantastic” London kosher caterer who supplies British Airways.
The kosher kitchen is meat-only, so there is no clotted cream, but the apricot and berry preserves are all that’s needed.
Little round buns are filled with egg, tuna or cucumber. Smoked salmon with a dollop of pareve cream are served on blini canapés.
The bite-size pastries are more French than English: eclairs, chocolate cream puffs, meringue-based macarons, apple pies and tarte au sucre.
That reflects Medina’s background. A Quebecois from Trois-Rivières, Medina began her career as a dietician. Today, the convert to Orthodox Judaism heads her own company, Food With a Conscience (FWC), which consultants to the food service industry on nutrition, food safety and menu development.
Her kosher pastries have become so renowned that Qatar Airways, which serves only halal food in-flight, has become a faithful customer.
Medina has worked for some years with the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, helping the companies it certifies meet national and international regulations. FWC, in association with two food service providers, supplies the kosher meals to nearly all domestic and international airlines operating out of Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, as well as most Montreal hospitals, except the Jewish General Hospital, which has its own kosher kitchen.
All of the meals are made in the Ritz-Carlton’s small kosher kitchen.
Medina may be credited with saving the hotel’s kosher services. The Ritz-Carlton was closed for five years for renovations. After it reopened in 2012, demand for kosher services fell off, said Schmidt.
(Another downtown landmark, the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, did not resume its kosher services when it reopened in 2017, after a yearlong facelift.)
Three years ago, Medina, who did not want to see this luxurious option lost to observant Jews, proposed that FWC rent the kosher kitchen. The Ritz-Carlton agreed, said Schmidt, on the condition that its standards not be compromised.
That agreement has developed into a partnership and FWC is now integrated into the Ritz-Carlton’s operations. In addition to the high tea service, FWC has introduced kosher room service and, very recently, kosher meals served in the hotel’s posh French restaurant, Maison Boulud.
Major events, like weddings, are handled by outside caterers.
While it doesn’t promote it, the Ritz-Carlton can accommodate special occasion high teas. It did so recently for Chai Lifeline, a Jewish charitable organization that supports seriously ill children and their families. Forty mothers were treated to an evening tea, designed just for them, to give them a break from their worries.