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“LOVE, LEARN, LAUGH AND EAT:” AN INTERVIEW WITH CLAUDIA BILDIRICI

By: Kelly Jemal Massry

“As a child, I’d come home from school and there’d always be somebody eating lunch at my kitchen table,” Claudia Bildirici remembers fondly. “Food was a big part of my life, as it is for most people in our community. The value of cooking for others, of serving others, was instilled in me from an early age.”

“Call My Daughter!”

Claudia attributes this influence entirely to her mother, Lottie, a”h. An incredible cook with a tremendous heart, Lottie’s legacy is responsible for the widely-acclaimed Lottie’s Kitchen, an institution that feeds people in need in Israel. It was Lottie who, with a mother’s all-seeing eye, recognized Claudia’s potential which Claudia herself did not originally see.

“My mother used to cater,” Claudia recalls. “She’d say, ‘Call my daughter – she makes the desserts.’ I didn’t make the desserts! But I started to then.”

This is a theme that’s run through Claudia’s life – stepping up to the plate when she’s called to do it, even if she doesn’t have the resources, the know-how or the experience. For Claudia, it’s all about the journey – the doing and the living of her calling. She throws herself into a new venture, quickly finds her way, and then flourishes beyond her wildest imagination.

A “People Person”

Case in point, she built a successful career as a mass producer of the highly popular Lottie Biscotti.  Claudia would make batches upon batches of them in huge industrial ovens and then sell them to local and large supermarkets. However, she did not find this pastime fulfilling, as it did not speak to her fun-loving, people-pleasing, boisterous nature.

“Making my biscotti, I was alone all the time,” she says. “It was grueling and depressing.”

Claudia gave it up and began working at Kitchen Caboodles on Avenue P in Brooklyn.  “I loved it there,” she enthuses. “Being with people, talking about food and table décor.”

Reflecting on her work, she says, “More important than what you make is how you serve it.” In Claudia’s experience, “People eat with their eyes.”

An unabashed “people person,” she loved interacting with customers every day. Finally, she was coming alive again, talking about her passion with people who cared about it as deeply as she did. Entertaining others – from the ambiance, to the presentation, to the food on the table – is an art form, and she made sure people came away with an appreciation for this art.

“I’m Part of the Party”

Soon, Claudia began planning her next big step – combining her love of people, her knack for baking and her knowledge of the kitchen into a business.  What Claudia envisioned, though, and what actually happened, were two very different things.

“I was an avid baker,” Claudia shares. “I planned to go to people’s homes and bake with them.” She started a new Instagram account called bakemehome and she waited for the idea to coalesce. But to her surprise, the first request she got was for cooking, not baking.

“Somebody asked me to do a cooking party!” says Claudia, who was never known for her cooking and didn’t practice it regularly. “I never cooked – I always baked. But I said okay, and I gathered up some recipes and I did it! I was scared but I did it – and it was so much fun.”

Thanks to the power of Instagram and word of mouth, Claudia’s business – initially just intended to be a master class in baking, but morphing into a multi-course meal with dessert included – took off with abandon. Claudia’s culinary parties radiate with warmth, love and togetherness, and, of course, the smell of good food. She is booked around the clock, and sometimes multiple times a day for all sorts of occasions. They range from surprise birthday parties, to “just because” family nights, to a memorable day with friends or an anniversary party or reunion. The common theme is togetherness – whatever the reason. The videos Claudia posts after the event sparkle with radiance – a natural bond between participants, who genuinely enjoy each other’ s company, and a true love of the moment. Claudia insists that the smiles and belly laughs are not her doing. “I just get along with people,” she says dismissively. “Old people. Young people. All kinds. I’m part of the party.”

#iamblessed

This, too, is a special gift that Claudia has – the ability to give herself over completely to the people she is with, whether it’s a crowd of 18-year-olds or a room of contemporaries. Party-goers leave the event breathless with laughter and filled with love, and Claudia, too, emerges as a changed woman.

“When I post pictures on Instagram, my last hash tag is always #iamblessed. When you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. I love to bake, cook, feed people and add that unique, special touch to the day. It really is a perfect fit for me.”

Claudia takes each cooking party very seriously. “This is a person’s special day of lasting memories, and I’m in charge of that,” she reflects.

From the start, Claudia goes to great lengths to make a lasting impression and to make each party new and exciting. She makes a cookbook for the participants, gathering pictures for a collage on the cover. She gives the table a flourish with menu cards and occasionally has aprons made up. The guests never know what to anticipate. In fact, she refused to reveal all of her secrets even to this interviewer! But what the guests can and do anticipate is good food and a good time.

The party itself has many steps involved. “I talk to the person making the party and we go over the menu together, check for allergies, dieters or any special food restrictions. The event starts off with drinks and goes all the way to dessert.” In between, there are appetizers, salads, pasta, fish, a vegan option and pizza. All of it gets put on the table at the same time, except for the drinks and appetizers, which guests enjoy while they cook. 

“The most fun parties are made up of family members,” Claudia enthuses. “Men and women both, the men cooking in aprons with their wives! It’s an experience like no other.”

“Just Get In There and Do It”

Like many new brides, Claudia didn’t know how to boil water when she first got married, but she figured it out. “I liked the kitchen,” she says simply. “I found baking relaxing and I taught myself. If you do something over and over again and you love it, you’re going to get better at it. That’s natural. Just get in there and do it – don’t be fearful of the kitchen. Food brings families together. Everyone will be thankful for your efforts.”

It figures that a woman who orchestrates parties built around friendship and family would say as much. Her proactive attitude is precisely what pushes participants to their limits of exertion, of talent and of goofiness. She encourages her guests to cook and bake right along with her, the end product being irrelevant as long as they are having fun. What results is grandchildren rolling out pizza dough on the laps of grandmothers, a husband in an apron trying his best to maintain his composure, and the opening of mouths positioned wide and up high for the food that will be pouring in.

“I ask that people watch me and do it with me,” Claudia says. “When you see something done, it’s more likely you’ll be able to do it yourself. Some people are just there to socialize, which is fine, too. Everyone is there to be together and enjoy each other, and everyone comes away having learned something.”

Beginning this month, Community Magazine readers will now have monthly access to Claudia’s talents and knowledge. She will be writing our monthly recipe column, and her first installment can be found in this issue on page ____. This time, it’ll be recipes that you can replicate from reading each step, not from watching it performed. We are so excited to welcome Claudia on board, and we welcome both the passionate cooks and the hesitant ones to try her recipes for themselves.