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Tzvi Rudin

Illustration by Esti Saposh

When I was eleven, I was supposed to go to sleepaway camp. Instead, I came down with mono. I wasn’t too devastated about staying home, because, to be honest, I hadn’t wanted to go in the first place. I have zero reference point of what going away for the summer is like, but this Soundbites installment subject has been kind enough to clue me in.

Tzvi Rudin has seen it all, with his many positions in different aspects of employment in the food industry — and he’s loved them all. He’s been a caterer, camp and yeshivah cook, mashgiach, you name it. Deep-diving into his food experience is a virtual reality tour for this intrepid non-sleepaway-camper writer.

How did you come to work in the field of food service?

For many years, since I was very young, I worked in a camp under my uncle. Later, I went to Kosher Culinary Academy, a culinary school in Israel (which no longer exists). It worked well for me because it was an English-speaking program, and I got the added benefit of receiving certification to be a mashgiach.

After I returned to America, I worked for a restaurant and did some odd jobs. I got married and moved to Israel with a plan to start working in the industry.

But, frustratingly enough, I couldn’t seem to land a steady job. I literally went knocking door to door, looking for work. Every time I found a job, for some reason, I lost it shortly thereafter. After quite some time, I finally found a position in Har Nof — not as a chef but helping set up for parties. Then the chef was fired and I kind of got thrown into the job as the head chef for a catering company, cooking for multiple parties a day — everything from brissim to bar mitzvahs and weddings. I worked crazy long hours.

After the birth of my oldest son, we went back to America for Pesach, knowing that we were going to stay in the States.

What’s your current job?

During the year, I work as the cook in the Philadelphia yeshivah — I’ve been there for 16 years. For the past four summers, I’ve been working at the Agudah camps for girls in Marshall, Indiana. For the first half of the summer, it’s Camp MTM, and the second half it’s Maarava.

The requests from a boys’ yeshiva and a girls’ sleepaway camp must be very different!

Yes, as can be expected, the girls’ camps get lots of salads — Israeli, cucumber, you name it. They also eat lots of vegetables, like broccoli, string beans, and squash. The guys prefer proteins.

With some foods, the contrast between the two is obvious: I cook for 750 in the summer and about 250 during the year. When I make pasta for dinner, we use about 100 pounds in camp and 60 pounds for the guys in the Philly yeshivah!

Not all foods have such a dramatic difference — we use about 120 pounds of potatoes for potato kugel for yeshivah and a whopping 360 pounds in camp. I make cholent for the girls Thursday night, Friday night, and Shabbos day, too. It gets devoured.

And not surprisingly, what they do have in common is that pizza is the favorite milchig dish and schnitzel is appreciated the most in the fleishig department.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s never totally predictable. The amount of food fluctuates — last week, I cooked four cases of eggs and there were none left. Today, I prepared three cases and there was a lot left over. Go figure.

Anything you specialize in?

Apparently, I’m good at stepping in to take over even when it’s the last minute. I once was asked to come help out at a camp where the cook suddenly walked out. There were more than a thousand people to feed! I got there on a Thursday and the kitchen workers and I made dinner that night and then made Shabbos. And after the workers got their weekly wage, they all walked out on me because the week before they had felt overworked. Who was left? It was just me and a dishwasher! I had to draft bochurim to come help, and then had to hire other workers. Having enough water was another issue, because the camp wasn’t designed for a thousand people. They had to shut off the water on one side of camp to give me enough to wash dishes and cook pasta!

Getting supplies has been a challenge lately for the regular consumer. Is there anything you’re finding challenging to keep in stock?

I put in my monthly delivery orders, including meat, three weeks before I need them. But lately it’s been a challenge getting chicken.

That’s annoying, but is there something you can’t get in camp that you wish you could get?

Rest. I can’t seem to get any rest!

Pro Tip

Cooking for a larger crowd? Do the things that take the longest to prepare first. If you run out of time, you can just make the easier-to-create items more simply.


Tzvi in 60 Seconds

Grew up in: Passaic, New Jersey. Currently live in: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with my wife, Naomi. We have four sons: Reuven is 16, Aaron is 13, Yisroel Meir is 11, and Dovid is 9. Bar mitzvah beginnings: I’ve been running kitchens since I was 13. My go-to snack is candy. Crucial kitchen tool: The knives must be the best quality. The sharper the knife, the less chance of an injury.  New culinary pursuits: I love grilling and it’s a mainstay of my food preferences, but lately I’ve branched out into smoking. Food philosophy: A. It doesn’t have to be complicated! B. I don’t use MSG or soup bases. Food jobs have included: a cook for Pesach programs, working for a caterer, a private caterer, a chef, and a cook for schools and camps. Non-food job: I’m also the camp EMT. Workhorse: On a good day, I work from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. with a one-hour break from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. On a busier day, I work straight through until 10.


(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 809)

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