Photos by Anat Vronsky/Special to the Town Crier Chef Anat Vronsky, above center, creates dishes including bourekas, left, and dolmas, right.
Anat Vronsky caters gatherings - weddings, meetings, work lunches. In a time defined by the need to not gather, her cooking has taken a turn toward the home.
The Los Altos resident has taken to preparing a long list of family meals from her commercial kitchen located in the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. Her business, Anat Events, has redefined “full service” for a new era, delivering multi-serving starters, main dishes and desserts via an online ordering app, CooKx.
Her dishes reflect the hugely varied cuisines that call Silicon Valley home – in a given week, you might find gazpacho or sashimi, schnitzel, potato gnocchi or sloppy joes. There’s a through-line of Israeli inspiration in her menus, with Mediterranean and European influences adapted to a California setting.
Vronsky said that at first, the shelter-in-place orders felt like a break, but as she realized that events are going to be on pause a lot longer than people initially thought, it’s “too long and too quiet.”
Two weeks after the shelter-in-place started, Vronsky determined that she couldn’t just sit at home, so she started a delivery service, based in the beginning on foods that the caterer served at events.
“A lot of my customers, people who used to come to the events, asked me if I could deliver, or do meals for five people,” she said. “We started a strange combination of homey food and fancy food. There is a demand for each one of them – some people want food for the kids, they’re tired of cooking or they don’t know how to cook, so they just want lasagnas, pastas, meat sauce, things like that. Other people want to replace the restaurant experience, so they are looking for fancier food – like, I have filet mignon on my menu, all kinds of fancy desserts, ceviches, sashimis, things like that.”
There’s more busy work involved in delivery on a small-household scale, and more competition as other restaurants and catering enterprises have adapted to the new rules of the game. Vronsky hasn’t been able to maintain as large a staff as she previously employed, though she is still preparing enough food each week to have a socially distanced kitchen, with her co-workers and herself masked, gloved and separated from one another.
From lawyer to pastry chef
Vronsky practiced law for nearly two decades, but after moving to Los Altos in 2008, she decided to pursue a previously private passion for cooking. She enrolled at the International Culinary Center’s Campbell campus (which has since closed) and “had the time of my life,” she said, in its longest professional program. She continued on to the San Francisco Baking Institute, and after two exhilarating years in very different programs, felt that she perhaps really wanted to do something with her newly honed skills.
Vronsky started catering a corporate brunch for 40 people once a week, built a client list from among those eaters, and expanded into weddings, bar mitzvahs, JCC events and conventions.
She jokes that previously her limit for taking on a new contract was always above 25 people, but now it hovers at around one person during the time of virus shutdowns. She purchases staples from restaurant providers that can deliver in large quantities but is also a huge fan of DeMartini Orchard, which she touts as “the best store in the area” for produce, and has been buying fish from Draeger’s Market, as she thinks it provides the best quality option for the smaller quantities she’s now preparing each week. Her former bread instructor, who founded The Midwife and Baker in Mountain View, is now her source for breads, which she baked herself when she first started catering on a much smaller scale.
As some offices contemplate reopening, Vronsky is developing a virtual buffet where employees can pick out the foods they would like, remotely, and receive an individualized lunch box. She’s also taking a disrupted schedule as the moment to revive a dream of cookies. She’s developing cookie boxes, where customers make a selection from a host of revolving flavors and receive a 12- or 24-cookie box.
Over the past few months, she has gotten to see the intriguing variety of needs for a community feeding itself exclusively at home. Although her most common order is a main dish, a salad and a side, Vronsky said one customer adds at least six desserts every order, and others ask for extra sauces, dressing and dips so often that she officially added them to her list as a scaled-up option.
Anat Vronsky’s Potato Gnocchi
" Anat Vronsky/Special to the Town Crier Chef Anat Vronsky recommends pairing gnocchi, right, with a sauce of sage, salt and melted butter – topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan.
• 2 3/4 pounds Yukon potatoes (a little more than 2 pounds after cooking and peeling)
• 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, more for kneading and rolling
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 5 egg yolks
• 2/3 cup grated Parmesan
Place unpeeled potatoes in large pot. Fill pot with enough cold water to cover potatoes by at least 2 inches and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer potatoes until completely tender.
Drain potatoes, let them cool and then peel them. Pass potatoes through ricer into large bowl. Add rest of ingredients and mix with your hands until dough clumps together. Knead 1 minute (don’t overmix, or gnocchi will be tough; dough should feel very delicate). Cover with clean kitchen towel.
Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Tear off piece of dough about size of a lemon and put towel back on rest of dough so it doesn’t dry out.
With your palms, roll dough piece on floured surface into rope approximately 3/4 inch in diameter. Cut rope crosswise every 3/4 inch to make 3/4-inch-square gnocchi. Pass gnocchi with some flour in fine colander and then arrange in single layer on parchment-covered baking sheets, making sure they don’t touch. Repeat until you run out of dough, re-flouring work surface as needed.
Eat gnocchi right away or freeze for later use. Put gnocchi in freezer while they’re still on baking sheets and freeze until they are hard to the touch, at least one hour. Transfer them to several small Ziploc bags and freeze for up to two weeks.
Cook fresh gnocchi or frozen gnocchi in boiling water in small batches. Gnocchi are ready approximately 2 minutes after they float. Remove with slotted spoon and place in butter sauce, made of melted butter, sage and salt. Sprinkle parmesan on top.