"Le’Hitraot" to Our Kosher Kitchen Stalwart, Cindy Bell-Deane

Thanks for All the Delicious Meals and Best Wishes for a Joyful Retirement

By Albert Stern / BJV Editor

“Countdown stuff is crazy,” said Cindy Bell-Deane just weeks before her November 16 retirement date. After helming Federation’s kosher kitchen for 25 years and cooking thousands of meals for our community, as she wound up her tenure, Cindy took a moment to smell the roses: “Every day here is now very unique.”

I asked Cindy to share a few thoughts about her experience feeding this community and the legacy she leaves behind. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

I have to tell you, it’s difficult to interview someone with whom you’ve share so many conversations about so many subjects. Plus, it’s going to be hard to write a story after another writer, the guy from the Berkshire Eagle, did such a good job. But here we go – what has been the most meaningful part of your work?

I think bringing varied kosher food. We don't do what this program started out as. This program truly was kind of  meat-and-potatoes, very traditional, semi-boring, and we don't do that anymore. This is not your mother's or father's kosher lunch program.

Where were you at as a cook when you first started? What kind of food were you accustomed to preparing?

I've always been a bit adventurous and varied in my food tastes. However, what you do at home and what you do on a bigger scale isn't necessarily the same thing. I have brought a lot of my enjoyment of Asian food and Middle Eastern food and Greek food to the program over the years, and the program has brought me to much more Sephardic and wide-flung Jewish community food.

There's also a bit more of a consciousness in the Jewish culinary community about the idea of pan-Jewish-diaspora nature of Jewish food. It's not just cholents and mandelbrot anymore.

We grew up in a timeframe when Ashkenazic foods were central to so much of what we did, which excluded so many other cultures and so many other Jewish cultures that are around the world. I have learned about Jewish communities –  there are a lot of Syrian Jews and Algerian Jews and Italian Jews. We're omnipresent in almost every culture. It's kind of eye-opening and amazing. Like you said, you grew up on the matza ball and chicken soup, and in my case, stuffed veal breast.

I love stuffed veal breast.

There is one dish I no longer make at all – traditional Italian style veal and peppers, because that's what I was making on 9/11.

What is your favorite meal that you cook for yourself if you're cooking for yourself to please yourself?

My favorite meal is still one of the fussiest meals I make for the Senior Lunch Program, and that is oven-roasted root vegetable pizzas. I still do that at home. Roasting beets and carrots and parsnips and onions and then pizza. I've done it on a homemade cauliflower crust. When I have friends who are gluten-free visiting, it's always a hit. It's always delicious. And it's my own recipe, period.

I like simple food. It has to be precise. It has to be neat. It has to be clean. It has to be composed. I try to make sure things are color-coordinated so that you don't end up with all tan-colored food. I try to pay attention to the aesthetics of food. When you're plating something on a white plate, there's the green, there's the orange, there's the tan, there's the purple. The color palette needs to be part of what you look at, and that's where the art history major stuff comes in, because I am an art history major.

What advice have you given Susan Levine, your successor? Obviously a lot of pointers, but philosophically, what have you told her that will allow her to connect to this community and to the very meaningful work that you have done? Feeding people is essential.

She's got the food stuff. She is undoubtedly a wonderful cook and a wonderful chef. She needs to work on quantity and that'll come once she knows about estimating, how much to buy. She will figure out what works and doesn't work for herself. I gave her a binder that I updated, and there are recipes there that are kind of interesting or unique. Most of them we've tried at least once. Usually, if I have a recipe I don't find as successful because it's too complicated or too time-consuming or didn't end up tasting like anticipated, they go in the trash almost immediately. I've reminded her, have fun. The cooking part is have fun, enjoy yourself. Pie in the sky. Plan what you want. She's done her first round of recipe planning. Her recipes certainly indicate who she is.

Will people miss me? I hope so.

I’ll miss you. You were always very nice to me, reminding me about Meatloaf Monday and all.

My mother used to call me the Pittsfield version of a Sabra. Kind of a little rough around the edges, but soft mush, you know?