NY caterer accused of violating kosher food laws

Feb 8, 2012, 10:36 PM

Associated Press

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) – The owner of one of Long Island’s largest catering companies has been accused of seriously violating Jewish law by having workers prepare kosher and non-kosher meals in the same kitchen.

The allegations come from the former chef and general manager of Morrell Caterers, who claim they were instructed to prepare non-kosher meals in one of three kitchens operated by the company. Among observant Jews, kosher law defines what foods are fit for consumption and how they must be prepared, and the mixing of kosher and non-kosher products is strictly forbidden.

Chef Michael Savitsky and general manager Tom Cataldo, who crashed a Wednesday press conference called by catering company owner Scott Morrell, claim in court papers that starting in September 2010 the company expanded to serve non-Jewish clients. Savitsky and Cataldo say they were told by Morrell to prepare non-kosher foods such as shrimp, lobster and pork using the same facilities, plates and utensils used for kosher foods. They say even the delivery truck that carried kosher foods to customers was used for non-kosher products.

They estimate at least 200 weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other events were tainted by the preparation of kosher and non-kosher meals at the same facility.

“As times got rough, business was down a bit due to several factors, there was another way to bring in additional revenue,” Cataldo said. “Unfortunately this was the shortcut that Mr. Morrell started to take.”

Savitsky and Cataldo each own a 5 percent stake in the catering business, their attorney said, which initially made them reluctant to report their allegations of religious transgressions. Cataldo added, “It all comes down to dollars and cents with him, that’s the bottom line. He sold himself out for a couple of extra dollars.”

Morrell, who was flanked by two rabbis, several attorneys and other catering company officials, denied that any preparation of non-kosher meals took place in any of the three kitchens he uses. His attorneys claimed that the lawyer for the two accusers is trying to reach a settlement in an unrelated $19 million lawsuit and is using the kosher/non-kosher allegations as a wedge.

“I have never violated any rules,” Morrell said. “This is a very calculated and cynical deliberate way of destroying my company.”

The company, in business since 1965, says it helps host events at distinguished synagogues and event spaces. It says on its website it has “redefined the craft of luxury catering” and believes in “kosher cooking that doesn’t compromise on pleasure.”

Morrell held his press conference on the steps of the state Supreme Court building in Mineola, just east of New York City, and brought samples of kosher food to share with the media, but no reporters accepted the offer.

A rabbi, Abraham Alper, said at the press conference that while he declined to address any legal issues he vouched for Morrell’s integrity.

“I have personally witnessed him apply the highest standards of Jewish law to food preparation,” Alper declared.

Another attorney for Morrell questioned the motivation of his client’s accusers.

“What made them find God now?” Ronald Rosenberg asked. “If these people who are saying they were so moral were given these immoral orders to violate kosher rules, why now are they coming clean?”

The former chef and general manager say they want a full accounting of all Morrell books so they each can get what they claim is their share of the company. On Tuesday, a judge issued a temporary restraining order, prohibiting Morrell from getting rid of company records or assets until the case is decided.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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NY caterer accused of violating kosher food laws