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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Hava’s Kitchen: Healthy home-cooked comfort food with global flavors

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There’s nothing more comforting than a home-cooked meal — even if it’s not cooked in your home. 

While the hectic pace of everyday life and two-income homes have made the fresh-prepped meal an endangered species, healthy food delivery services like Chef Hava Volterra

“Our changing menu includes soups, sides, salads and main dishes, and covers a lot of geography, recipe-wise, around the Mediterranean,” Volterra said. “I grew up in Israel, a child of an Italian father and a French mother, among friends who kept kosher to different degrees, and traveled to my parents’ home countries at 16. Experiences like these have enabled me to serve clients keeping kosher to various degrees as well as vegetarians, vegans and people with food sensitivities.”

Menu items — which change weekly online — have run the gamut, from Kousa bi Gebna (summer squash and cheese gratin) to fresh, broiled Atlantic salmon.

“Our most popular items include Turkish beef and leek meatballs, pan-seared top sirloin steak, a tomato-basil frittata, Greek moussaka and Spanish fish paella,” Volterra said. “One of my personal favorites during the summer and fall months is a Moroccan vegetable tagine with chickpeas and dried apricots.”  

Hava’s Kitchen took root with clients based on the Westside and in Santa Monica, Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Encino. During the course of 2014, she’s added Pacific Palisades, La Brea/Fairfax, Playa Vista, Westchester and El Segundo to her delivery area.

As part of the subscription service, customers purchase a certain number of points to cover meals. If a customer needs more food, more points can be purchased. If a pre-paid allotment is not used up, points roll over to subsequent weeks. A four-week subscription of 36 points — the equivalent of two to three dinners and one lunch per week for one person — costs a minimum of $320. An introductory two-week subscription starts at $160.

“Our biggest clientele group is families with young children, but we do have a mix of customers of all ages — singles, families, older couples and college kids.”

For Volterra, who left a successful career as an electronics engineer and tech startup executive, the business is, in a way, a dream realized.

“As a teenager, I wanted to be a chef,” she said. “When I looked closely at the diverse cuisines of Jewish people around the Mediterranean, as well as the general populations of those countries, I realized that many dishes not only comply with Jewish dietary laws, but also meet vegetarian and/or vegan requirements. Once I decided to pursue my dream years later, I researched and experimented with different Jewish cuisines from Syria, Greece, France, Italy and other places. The recipes coming from the research are now regularly rotated in our offerings based on customer demand.”

The mother of two, who is an avid yogi and surfer, said she also represents the key demographic for the vanguard of food delivery companies: a busy professional mom wanting the most nutritious, delicious food for her household. Like many of her clients, she is university educated (an alumnus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), and an established professional with a full schedule. Topping that off, she’s also a documentary filmmaker, having made “The Tree of Life,” which covers the history of Italian Jewry and explores her Italian-Jewish roots. Her late physicist father, who survived World War II by being hidden in the house of non-Jews, emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s. 

Although her own children are grown, Volterra relishes her current role as a personal chef — this time for hundreds of customers with divergent religious and health-based dietary requirements. 

“Hava’s Kitchen offers a variety of plant-based meals, as well as meat, fish and dairy items that can be mixed and matched,” she said. 

The company is based on the premise that the right mix of food should be everyone’s primary source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Volterra underscores that the Mediterranean diet she was raised on in Israel — rich in vegetables, beans, whole grains and natural oils such as olive oil; low in animal fats; and moderate in meat, fish and dairy — is also one that lends itself to great taste and a variety of different flavor profiles that naturally motivates people of all ages to maintain good eating habits.

Given that the expanding customer base includes a large contingent of Jewish families, Volterra developed her online menu to incorporate thorough descriptions of each dish, with user-friendly indicators that denote whether the dish is vegetarian, vegan, dairy-based or gluten-free and so on. One thing she finds her Jewish and non-Jewish clients have in common is a shared belief that the dining experience itself should not be restrictive or boring.

“Every week, the team scouts our local farmers markets and food purveyors to find the freshest seasonal, organic and local ingredients,” Volterra said. “The chicken is free-range, the beef is grass-fed whenever possible, and fish is wild-caught.” 

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