Comestibles Fine Catering and Supper Club prepping dinners.
Comestibles Fine Catering and Supper Club prepping dinners.

How Shabbat dinner kept the lights on for this caterer during the pandemic

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Michael Goldfarb is a partner in Comestible: Fine Catering & Supper Club, which does everything from dinner parties to corporate catering. So he could not have foreseen that homey Shabbat dinners would become a big part of his business in the middle of a global pandemic.

That’s what happened to the Oakland-based chef when all of his corporate clients and events were canceled after March 2020. It was weekly chicken dinners with sides and desserts that helped keep the operation running, meals that were popular outside of the Jewish community, too.

Working with several synagogues in the East Bay, Comestible went on to offer Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah menus, as well.

“We basically tried to work with every holiday we could, to bring people food that is high quality with a lot of love, to make up for the whole pandemic thing,” said Goldfarb. “We cooked our hearts out for a year and delivered the food, which kept the lights on until everything was somewhat back to normal.”

One such Jewish event took place last year when Goldfarb and his business partner provided Shabbat meals for a LABA program at the JCC East Bay. The menu included sumac-crusted chicken or za’atar fried mushroom schnitzel, both with mint chimichurri sauce, matzah ball soup and honey-roasted carrots.

We cooked our hearts out for a year and delivered the food, which kept the lights on.

Some weeks, there were so few orders that they not only made the food but delivered it, too. It was worth it, Goldfarb said, as they saw how much joy the meals brought to people at home.

The Yelp reviews back up his observation. Wrote Judy S. of Oakland, “Weekly dinner from Comestible has become a definite highlight of our week and an almost wonderfully guilty pleasure during this trying time. We’ve never been disappointed.”

They also partnered with some East Bay nonprofits, donating meals to people in need.

Goldfarb, 34, who goes by “Chef Mikey,” was born and raised outside of Los Angeles in Westlake Village and Agoura Hills in a home where Jewish holidays were celebrated. He wanted to go to culinary school straight out of high school, but his parents wanted him to go to college. He enrolled at San Francisco State University, which is how he ended up falling in love with the Bay Area and its food scene. What he didn’t fall in love with was college. He told his parents he was dropping out and then enrolled in the California Sushi Academy in Los Angeles instead (he loves sushi and Japanese food).

After graduating, he returned to the Bay Area and cooked at sushi bars and fine-dining restaurants, including Roy’s and Spruce. In 2014, he went on Birthright Israel, and then stayed on in Israel for a few months to cook.

In 2016, Goldfarb moved to Portland to try his hand at corporate catering, with clients including professional athletes and Nike’s headquarters. Although catering hadn’t been on his chef radar, he said he came to appreciate the creativity involved. Also, “I’ve learned I can make more money rather than running around being tired all the time,” he said.

He ended up returning to the Bay Area, where he worked as a private chef for Noah Jacob, an alum of Wise Sons Delicatessen who started Comestible in 2013. Right around the start of the pandemic, Jacob moved with his family back to his native Portland, and Goldfarb and partner William Hughins took ownership in 2020. (Jacob will soon be opening a Jewish deli, Jacob & Sons, in Portland.)

“Noah has been a huge inspiration to everything we do,” Goldfarb said.

That includes everything from intimate dinner parties (supper clubs) to large, celebratory events with hundreds of guests, from “white-glove-passed hors d’oeuvres service to a taco bar, from a bar mitzvah brunch spread to a sit-down wedding.”

While from a business perspective Goldfarb is grateful events are coming back, he seems a bit wistful about the days of cooking for families during the pandemic.

“We do a lot of b’nai mitzvahs. It seems like everyone is starting to get back to celebrating,” he said.

“I wish we could still do the meals,” he added. “But we were barely covering our costs as it was, and now people don’t really need that anymore. People are going back out again.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."