Call it a different approach. Michael M. Medina wanted to start his own food business. Yet instead of taking the culinary collegiate route, the Northern Virginia resident knew he had to bring a strong business sense literally to the table.
First would come the business and marketing degree from George Mason University, next would come the food. But really Medina had grown up in a Montreal home of Moroccan-Jewish parents. The 33-year-old grew up speaking Spanish at home and French at school. Along with the language came tasty delicacies and meals that directly reflected his upbringing.
In June, The Kosher Kitchen Catering Company, owned by Medina, was selected by Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac to become the shul’s in-house caterer.
The Kosher Kitchen Catering Company is certified kosher by Capitol-K under the Rabbinical Council (Vaad Harabanim) of Greater Washington. Medina is also the owner of DISTRIKT Bistro, the kosher Mediterranean restaurant at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center.
“Food,” he said during a recent interview at Beth Sholom, “is something that really communicates between people of diverse backgrounds.”
A food palate that includes savory spices and out-of-the-box recipes and preparation is what he is bringing to the D.C. area. Because kosher, he said, can be and should be more than “gefilte fish, pastrami slices and brisket.” Not that there’s anything wrong with those foods. He’d just prefer to offer preparation alternatives.
Medina didn’t directly enter the food business. He was head of video conferencing for a company called VSGI.
“There was,” he said, “such a lack of good kosher restaurants around D.C. And in Montreal, I was growing up in a place where restaurants were made for everybody, but by the way, some of them were kosher.”
That is exactly the philosophy Medina says he uses at DISTRIKT Bistro, and it’s certainly on his catering menu. Moroccan cigars, or crisp rolls of pastry filled with a choice of ground beef or potato filling, is just a sample of many hors d’oeuvres. There’s even a Moroccan vegetable soup called Harira on the menu as well as an entree menu that makes one ravenous just by giving it a read.
He missed the food he had grown up with. So he started small catering jobs on the side, sometimes in people’s homes. All the while he was continuing to learn from his consulting and strategic marketing job.
He took a huge step and contacted the DCJCC about opening his restaurant there. He has been there since March, 2011. It was from the DCJCC’s kitchen that the food was often prepared for catering jobs. But then a nice challenge surfaced. He needed a bigger kitchen.
He approached Beth Sholom in April of 2012. He emerged through the Beth Sholom board’s selection process as the shul’s choice, signing his contract with the congregation on June 1.
The Kosher Kitchen has catered events at embassies, with government branches and at Jewish Federation of Greater Washington events.
“I think Beth Sholom saw in me that I could produce Moroccan, Mediterranean, French and Asian cuisine,” he said. “Plus I have an excellent staff and we’re running already a successful restaurant at the DCJCC.”
Medina has catered events at venues as diverse as Union Station and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He recently catered an event at Air and Space for some 600 people.
“Our meals are high end, and we’re doing more of them for many private accounts,” he said. “The secret here is our service. We’re a special company. We don’t sell a product, we sell a service.”
He and his wife Sasha keep a kosher home, and, he said with a smile, there are some evenings he comes home from work and can’t even think about getting behind a hot stove. Oh, the advantages of owning a kosher catering company. Usually on those nights, he’ll bring something home from his commissary.
But, he is quick to add, Sasha is an “excellent cook and a big help and support to me.”
His mission, he said, “is to convince people, whether or not they keep kosher, that kosher food has come a long way. And we will provide premium, quality kosher food.”