The Fresh Diet home-delivery program, which reaches 16 cities nationwide, expanded by opening kosher kitchens in South Florida and New York this year. Executive Chef Yosef Schwartz discussed the business with JointMedia News Service.
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When he was 15, Yosef Schwartz wanted to attend culinary school but was told by his father “As soon as you get your smicha (rabbinical ordination), I will support you in going. But do that first.”
Schwartz—a graduate of the Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute—accomplished both objectives, and now his career has taken on a uniquely Jewish twist as executive chef of the Kosher Fresh Diet. Similar to the Zone Diet adopted by many celebrities, Schwartz’s company delivers three meals and two snacks to your doorstep daily.
What started in 2005 as a non-kosher venture called the Fresh Diet now delivers to 16 major cities and has two kosher kitchens, one opening last February in South Florida and another in New York last June. The company, whose 300 employees include drivers, chefs and packers, operates non-kosher facilities in New York, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles. The South Florida kosher kitchen delivers to Miami and Tampa Bay, and the New York kosher kitchen to New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Baltimore.
The Kosher Fresh Diet offers plans customized for men, women, diabetics and vegetarians, and can cost as little as $35 per day. Schwartz, who said he recently lost 15 pounds on his own company’s plan, spoke about the kosher dieting business in an interview with JointMedia News Service.
What are the primary challenges of maintaining a kosher dieting company?
“Honestly, my biggest challenge is the amount of washing and touching of the food, of the fresh vegetables and fruit, that according to [Jewish] law you have to make sure are bug-free. I feel that it hurts the integrity [of the product].
“Certain vegetables [the Orthodox Union] will allow frozen because once it freezes the bugs get killed, but certain vegetables like Brussels sprouts they won’t even allow frozen. Just that part of it, just reworking the menu a few times to make sure that everything is on the up and up kosher-wise, is difficult.”
How are the needs of kosher clients different from those of non-kosher ones?
“They’re Jewish families, they’re very family oriented. In the non-kosher [business] we always had 50 percent of our clients are doing it for weight loss and 50 percent for convenience. Obviously the ones who do it for convenience stay on a lot longer. So in the kosher world, if you have a mom that’s still cooking for a family, she’s not going to stay on it that long. I find that they’re more going on it for weight loss, but more targeted for an occasion, like a bar mitzvah, a wedding, a bat mitzvah.”
How does the Jewish calendar factor in to your business?
“We just reworked the whole Sukkot calendar because we originally were going to deliver for Chol Hamoed in between the [Yom Tov days], but we went through the numbers. A lot of people go away that time of year, there weren’t that many [people who wanted our kosher meals], so we just decided to close it. It’s not worth it to open up a kitchen for 20 people. It’s just too much.”
The Kosher Fresh Diet offers a 40 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent fat and 30 percent protein plan. Why?
“There are many diets based on that. The reason why I kind of chose that philosophy of dieting was because of two things. One is the balance. The balance of the vegetables and proteins made the diet affordable, whereas if I was trying to do a home delivery Atkins [diet], it’s all protein, and a lot of times your highest price points are on the protein, so there’s nothing else to give them.
“The other thing is, if you want to stay on something like this, not just for weight loss, but for the long term, it’s going to get stale if it’s just one genre of food, if you’re just doing the Atkins diet or a carb diet or just a vegetable diet. By having a properly balanced meal, people are able to stay on that much longer, and they’re satisfied.”
Given that you’re a rabbi, what is the Jewish case for dieting?
“Everyone knows the famous line [from the Torah], ‘your body is a temple,’ and you have to treat it that way, which is very true.
“You’ve go to treat your body with respect and not shovel in things that are bad for it. Your whole mind frame is going to be better just by dieting, and I’ll tell you this—Honestly, I have been on a campaign the last seven years, even before I started this diet, to get people to switch off of soda, because I switched off of soda about seven years ago and I’ve been drinking water since, and just that gives me such clarity. You don’t get the headaches in the afternoon, no sugar headaches. That’s treating your body better.”
Since you eat kosher, you couldn’t sample your own food in culinary school. Was that a difficult urge to resist?
“[That was] probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in terms of self-control, because I’m for lack of a better word a food addict, I love food. So it’s like putting a recovering alcoholic in a brewery and saying ‘work here.’ You’re tested every single day. But in a weird way, since I’m so strong in my beliefs in kashrut and in general, I wasn’t even really tempted because I honestly knew for myself that if I crossed that line it would be the beginning of a big downward spiral for me religiously.”
For more information on the Kosher Fresh Diet visit http://kosherfreshdiet.com/.
Jacob Kamaras is the Editor-in-Chief of JNS.