Our mothers, ourselves. Shari Berman in the kitchen.

by | Jan 20, 2022 | Trending News

A catering mentor once told Shari Berman, ‘We eat with our eyes.’ As a young kosher caterer, art lover, and teacher, she took his words to heart and allowed her brain to release childhood memories.

“When I was in high school, my mother’s culinary talent impressed everyone but me,” says Berman, owner of Cater 613.

“I was a rebellious daughter with zero interest in learning how to use cookie cutters to make shapes out of carrots or how to make cream puff swans from matzoh meal for chicken soup. I was Audrey Gutterman’s daughter, but while everyone else raved about her creativity, I was totally indifferent to the cakes she baked in the former JCC.”

Along with a loaded volunteer schedule and the responsibility of full-time motherhood, Audrey Gutterman was a gourmet food consultant who taught local chefs how to prepare a Passover seder and guided iconic businesses like Custom Cake Shoppe in their formative years.

Berman’s move to acknowledge her ‘inner-Audrey’ was made for her 20 years ago when she and her husband Bruce became observant and joined B’nai Israel in Norfolk.

“I had no option but to learn how to cook. Everything I tried not to learn from my mom came back to me.”

Berman also put her loaded restaurant takeout menu collection to good use. Years of eating out and ordering in from La Galleria and No Frill Grill in Norfolk, and anywhere Cowboy Sydney (Mears) set up shop, paid off.

“When I started cooking, I started copying,” says Berman “I really figured out on my own how to make popular dishes that look beautiful and taste amazing. Her crossover meal was pistachio encrusted salmon, or salmone in crusta di pistacchi, inspired by infinite meals enjoyed at La Galleria. Confidence gained in her version of the dish led to a big compliment from Pat Robertson at Swan Terrace on the CBN campus.

“Dr. Roberson was recording an interview with a rabbi and an orthodox scientist. When I arrived to prepare their kosher lunch, I was escorted by a very present and gregarious security guard. I set one table for Dr. Robertson and his kosher guests in a room that accommodates 50. At the end of the meal, I served coffee and tea in disposable cups. I offered to serve Dr. Robertson in one of the fine china coffee cups from the restaurant. He politely said no thank you, ‘I will have everything the same as the Rabbi!’ As I was clearing their meals, he said with a southern drawl, ‘Shari, this kosher food is one of the best meals I ever had!’”

The subject matter on the table was an anti-tumor compound known as CPI- 613.

613 refers to the number of mitzvot one is commanded to follow.

The name, Cater 613, reflects Berman’s commitment to the observant community, without any intention to exclude.

“When I’m serving at an event, I want people to see my food and say, ‘I’d rather have that,’” says Berman. “My mentor worked with a very well-regarded kosher caterer in New York. He taught me about presentation, which fit my background as an art teacher who taught art in public schools for years as well as at HAT and Toras Chaim. Cooking for all the senses tied everything together for me.”

Be careful what you ask for.

When Herb Zukerman and Associates chose Top Golf as their holiday party, Cater 613 was there. The food was prepared at the B’nai Israel kosher kitchen and taken to the venue. Berman learned fast that a polite sign indicating kosher food was necessary as the non-kosher guests unknowingly swarmed the kosher table.

In December 2021, Kirk Levy was among those members of the community who facilitated the Dafna Kaffeman visiting artist lecture at the Chrysler Museum. Part of his vision was to have kosher food that everybody would enjoy, but only certain people needed to know its status.

“The Israeli glass artist event looked like a dream,” says Berman.

“I put a Jewish twist on popular dishes. I know where people eat and what they love. We came up with a meat menu, which was the perfect context for my brisket wontons. For my Jackson Pollack brownies, I drizzled mint brownies with chocolate. When the museum’s event director reported to me that her donor was in love with the brownies, I sent her out with a full pan, knowing how important it is to keep donors happy.”

A reduction made from denial is good for the (Jewish) daughter’s soul.

“Does this sound familiar?” quips Berman. “I’m a proud mother and super active in the Jewish community, fusing food and service.”

Berman sits on the board at their Yeshiva, served as past president of Toras Chaim, and for many years ran the PTA. An honoree at the 10th Anniversary Dinner for Toras Chaim, she also ran the Purim event at B’nai Israel for many years, and in 2009, conceived and chaired the B’nai Israel Reconnect Brunch.

“My mother had a Bat Mitzvah at Beth El in her 60s. She threw a party afterwards dedicated to all-things chocolate. All those years I thought her creative cooking and community projects were lost on me. But, when I looked at those Jackson Pollack brownies at the Chrysler, I was filled with pride. I totally turned into my mother.”

Lisa Richmon