In 2015, Daniel Israel was working odd jobs and looking for a direction. He knew just one thing for certain: He wanted to marry his girlfriend, Amanda Ross.
But to get Ross’ father’s approval, Israel needed to find a path. And, one day, Israel’s girlfriend asked him what he wanted to do.
“Cook,” he said.
Six years later, Israel, now 32, is the owner of Deluxe Catering, a kosher catering company in Philadelphia. And Amanda Ross is now Amanda Israel.
Going into another Rosh Hashanah, Israel is booked solid with orders, and recently, several people in a local Facebook group recommended him to someone looking for a High Holiday caterer.
How big are the High Holidays for you at this point?
Secondary. I do it for the community. Our business is targeted toward weddings, galas and fundraisers.
But we do small events, too. We do every size event. Anything from one person to 10,000 people.
Which types of food does your business specialize in?
I have a wide array of food I make. Different ethnicities. Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Thai. I’m just starting to get into Ethiopian food. I love learning new dishes.
Sometimes, people will see something they like on Pinterest or go to an event where they had something yummy, and that’s something they really want to have at their event. It’s important to be flexible.
I just did a wedding last Sunday, and they wanted an Indian station. We haven’t done that for three years. But when somebody has a certain taste, we pull it from our repertoire.
What made you want to become a chef?
My father (Naftali Israel). He was a chef in his younger years. Then he got into contracting. But he has friends who are chefs in the city.
I learned at an upscale French restaurant, Deux Cheminees. My father connected me to his friend, Chef Fritz Blank.
I worked for him from age 15 to 18. He taught me 90% of what I know.
How did your cooking career go from there?
My father got me into it, but was trying to get me out of it. He said it’s not good pay. It’s hard on your feet, knees and back. It’s impossible to have a family life.
I listened to him and kept going to school.
I went to Temple (University) and studied kinesiology. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got more curious about my roots, took a trip to Israel and thought maybe I should stay.
I came back home and my mom connected me to her friend who sold life insurance. I worked at New York Life and sold insurance for 5-6 years.
Then I met my wife.
Once you decided to follow your passion, how did you build yourself up?
I had to start from scratch. I hadn’t been in the industry in seven years.
I wanted to be a kosher supervisor. Someone who supervises shipments of food to the kitchen.
Ofelia (Cohen) with A La Karte Catering (in Bala Cynwyd) pointed me in the direction of a rabbi who could certify me. I started working with her and Six Points Kosher Catering (in King of Prussia).
From there I got a job at Temple as head chef and supervisor at Hillel. I was running the only kosher deli in Philadelphia. It’s called Cafe 613 now.
During the winter break, I wanted to earn extra money. So I worked at this sushi place, Sushi Talk.
When I came back on summer break, things were slowing down. I made a deal with the owner.
I said, “You don’t have to pay me. I know you’re hurting. In exchange, if somebody needs me to do a catering job, I have permission to do it out of your kitchen.” He loved it.
In the first month, I made over $15,000. He had four years left of his lease. I bailed him out and have been there ever since: 7588 Haverford Ave.
I did everything myself the first two years. Cooking, cleaning, menu planning, sales. I woke up at 6 (a.m.) and got home at 11 (p.m.).
But when you do one event, everybody at that event tastes your food, and it changes everything.
Where is the business going now?
On Sunday, I did a wedding in Barnesville. I never knew that place existed before. I’m getting jobs in Scranton and the Poconos. It’s really grown.
Now, my main focus is scaling the business without reducing the quality of the food.
I’ll have to train other people. I have a rule with my chefs: When they make something on their own, they have to make it twice perfectly before they can cook it without me taste-testing it.
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