Charlotte Rakovsky knows what the aroma of fresh-baked hallah can do for a home. She also knows what it’s like to be too busy to do your own baking. So, to help the harried, she has made a business out of selling braided hallah dough that customers can bake in their own homes, just as if they had mixed it themselves.
The Elizabeth-based mother of four does “a lot of things.” She is a dental hygienist by training, and teaches art at the Jewish Educational Center Yeshiva in Elizabeth and to private students. But cooking has been a lifelong passion. While keeping up her other work interests, she has been building up a catering business, Your Chef Naturally.
It was her daughter, whose name she preferred to keep private, who started the dough ball rolling. On a visit to Israel a couple of years back, she learned some recipes from relatives. She began trying them out when she got home, and — her mother said — everyone got involved.
They shared the results with guests and friends and neighbors, and the response was so enthusiastic, “we realized we had something special,” Rakovsky said. With her husband, who was in the construction business, feeling the impact of the economic downturn, it was also a welcome way to boost the family’s income.
In addition to what she calls her Miracle Challah, Rakovsky offers kugels, salads, and soups — from Asian to Spanish to familiar traditional Jewish. For example, this week, she had cold gazpacho and a hearty split pea soup with garbanzo beans “to make it more nutritious.”
Her food is certified by the Vaad Harabonim of Greater Elizabeth, under the supervision of Rabbi Elazar M. Teitz. “People are looking for kosher, healthy food,” Rakovsky said. “My concept is no oil or sugar except where it’s really needed, and no chemicals or preservatives.”
Each Sunday or Monday, she e-mails those who have asked to be on her list a menu of what she’ll be making that week, depending on the fresh produce available and the occasions coming up, with more extensive options for the High Holy Days.
Rakovsky was born in Brooklyn, and her family moved to Elizabeth when she was around seven. She went to the JEC Yeshiva and Bruriah High School for Girls, and learned cooking from her mother and her Polish grandmother. When she got married and had kids of her own, she shared that passion with them. “When they were little, I learned to make sushi,” she recalled. “I had them in the kitchen with me, rolling out the rice.”
Her daughter is 22 now and her sons are 26, 24, and 18. The bread-baking bug intrigued them all. “What started as a Friday family activity became a week-long project,” their mother said. The business is based mainly on her efforts, but they also lent their artistic talents, helping her with the design of her business cards and website.
Tradition is important to the family, and Rakovsky maintains the tradition of hafrashat hallah — taking a piece from the dough, and saying a blessing over each batch. She invites customers to name people they would like included in those prayers.
While Rakovsky is a purist on the health front, she does like to push the boundaries taste-wise. In addition to traditional, she offers hallah in a variety of flavors, including chocolate chip, whole wheat, tomato basil, and za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix. “I’m constantly experimenting,” she said.
The bread comes wrapped in parchment paper, with instructions on how to let it rise, and then bake. Customers can coat the hallah with egg before putting it into the oven to get a crispy, glossy crust, and add whatever toppings they fancy — sesame, poppy, or sunflower seeds or salt or brown sugar and cinnamon. Or they can delay gratification; the dough can be frozen for up to six months.
Rakovsky said, “Someone on our Facebook site said on Yom Ha’atzmaut she put blue and white sprinkles on the hallah. Someone else decorated the loaf like a face. I’m a creative person, and I love it when people use their creativity.”
Rakovsky has gathered repeat customers from various parts of the state — and delivers her wares to many of them, from Teaneck to Livingston to Edison. They also send the bread dough by UPS. “For some people, it’s really hard to get good hallah,” she said, “and it really pleases me to know on Shabbat, when I’m sitting at my own table, that other people are also having the pleasure of eating this bread.”
To learn more or place orders, contact Rakovsky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 908-295-0888 or go to www.yourchefnaturally. com.