Maya Bloom has been in the business of cooking for 10 years. She studied at Le Cordon Bleu London and worked in several restaurants in Israel and abroad. Before the coronavirus pandemic, she owned a small business offering concept dinners, combining a-la-carte cooking with arts and music. But the coronavirus-induced crisis put an end to all that. At once, there were no more reservations, and Bloom found herself without any revenues and unemployed.
"When this happened I started looking for comfort. And for me that meant comfort food. I researched the market and found that only few places offer real Southern American food. I grew up in the United States and traveled all over the place. Macaroni and cheese is actually my earliest childhood memory. So I connected these two dots and created Yo Mama. Excellent takeaway Southern American food that I cook in my own kitchen," Bloom told Al-Monitor.
Bloom said that launching a new cooking business in times of a pandemic is certainly a challenge. "When you cook at home, you have no one cleaning the dishes. No suppliers at hand. I do everything by myself, so it is a lot of stress, especially since I am determined to keep high standards as if I manage a restaurant. The pandemic changed many things for restaurants. Ghost kitchens are the future, so we might as well get used to that immediately," she added.
Indeed, reactions on social media are enthusiastic, and Bloom is busy all day long cooking, packaging and delivering. Yo Mama has already made quite a name for itself. Her You So Corny corn-bread with sour cream, for instance, or her Mac & Shmack hefty macaroni and cheese with cheddar have become many customers’ favorites.
Bloom and Yo Mama are not an isolated phenomenon. Chu Dudkevitz came to Israel two years ago. Up until the coronavirus crisis, she worked at a customer service department of a small Israeli company. But in April she was sent home for unpaid leave. Since she has not resided in Israel long enough, she is not entitled to unemployment benefits. Chu and her husband Dror stumbled upon an ad of Yummi, an Israeli platform regrouping individuals and restaurants that offer takeaway services. With Chu being a gifted cook, the couple took the plunge.
"Chu is a fantastic cook. I always knew she was talented. After she was sent home for unpaid leave, we decided to give it a try. We created a menu together — just the two of us. Chu started cooking Thai food, and I organized the rest, including our own website. We call it Thai Chu. Shortly after we started, delivery orders came in. It was really great, to the point that Chu left her old job and is now cooking full time,’’ Dror told Al-Monitor.
On their site, Chu explains that most of the materials she uses are imported directly from Thailand, so that her exotic dishes are truly genuine, including the Som Tam Thai papaya salad and the Yum Woon Sen celery-peanut-bean noodle salad. Evidently, Israelis like Chu’s cooking, as the couple has hardly a moment to relax.
Philippe Gottlieb also changed his career and lifestyle following the recent economic crisis. For almost 40 years, Gottlieb specialized in consulting Israeli exporters in their efforts to seek new markets abroad and export their merchandise, but the coronavirus pandemic hit his business hard. Projects were canceled and Gottlieb found himself at home, with lots of free time and little work.
"When the coronavirus knocked on my door, I thought of making a major change in my professional career and asked my son Ori to join me and be a part of a wonderful internet platform called Yummi. First, I passed their strict audition. Then, the professional staff of Yummi in Israel guided me through the different aspects of home cooking for individuals. After a few weeks of preparation I went online and immediately received orders," Gottlieb told Al-Monitor.
Gottlieb explained the success of his cooking services, saying that "the home-cooking enterprise is expanding in Israel, and that there is great demand for developing it. The lockdown has had a huge impact on this business. People spend much more time at home, and restaurants are closed and the demand for home-cooked meals is rising constantly. Our large menu is varied and covers a wide range of tastes."
Gottlieb stressed that he only uses fresh ingredients and also offers gluten-free dishes; he is flexible with delivery times. But his customers say that the real reason for his success is simply his fine cooking — fine Israeli cuisine that combine other culinary traditions. "Philippe and Ori’s cooking is a perfect match for us as a family. We love good, simple food, and so do our children. Philippe and Ori’s dishes are perfect for after-school lunches and festive family dinners. It makes our lives so much easier in these difficult times," said Ora, a regular customer.
Maya, Philippe and Chu are just three out of the many Israelis who have left their former lives and turned toward cooking from home. Theirs are success stories. Still, thousands of Israelis who were laid off are struggling to find new jobs and new opportunities. According to official data, nearly 1 million Israelis have found themselves jobless during the coronavirus-induced crisis — the end of which is nowhere in sight.