“I love what I do, I am a total foodie and thrive in the kitchen. I am always trying out new dishes and I don’t follow recipes.  I take Syrian foods and substitute some of the ingredients to make them healthier.”

~~ Jacqueline Elbaz ~~

What a treat to meet Jacqueline, a chef and the founder of her own catering business, Stuffffed.  Jacqueline Elbaz, née Tawil, is the daughter of Debbie Dweck Tawil and Morris Tawil, a”h, both of Syrian descent.  Her beloved father, Morris, passed away last summer.

Jacqueline fondly recalled how her friends would bump into her parents in the neighborhood and tell her how open and friendly they were.

Jacqeline’s father was very proud of his great-grandfather, Hacham Chaim Tawil, a”h, and he incorporated his great-grandfather’s love of Torah into his own life.

Jacqueline is the oldest of three children. She is close with both her sister Laura, a NY speech therapist, and her brother Hymie, who lives in Colorado.

As we spoke, I realized that it was so easy to chat with Jacqueline. I found her to be lively, warm, energetic, genuine, and super down-to-earth.

Growing Up

Jacqueline attended Magen David Yeshivah for both elementary and high school.  She says she was an okay student and was a friendly and outgoing child and teen.

“I marched to the beat of my own drum and didn’t fit the mold. Most of my closest friends are my childhood friends, the ones I’ve had for over 30 years. I went to college briefly, but it wasn’t for me.”

Family has always been a key element in Jacqueline’s life. When referring to her childhood and teen years, she lovingly spoke of her grandparents and great-grandparents and great-aunt, in addition to her parents and siblings.  “Both my parents worked very hard to provide for the family.”

A fun fact:  The cookbook, Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews, features a picture of Jacqueline’s great-grandmother holding her brother Hymie at his brit milah.

Jacqueline lived upstairs from her mother’s grandmother until she was 18 years old.  She passed away on Jacqueline’s 21st birthday.  “I got my inspirations and recipes from Grandma Esses.”  Her Great Aunt Esther was the one who came up with the name of her business, Stuffffed.

Marriage and Children

In 2004, Jacqueline was introduced to her naseeb, Sion Elbaz, by his cousin. Sion is of Moroccan, Egyptian, and Syrian descent. Sion is also from Brooklyn and is two years older than Jacqueline.  His maternal grandfather, Rabbi Sion Masalton, zt”l, was the Rabbi of Ahi Ezer Congregation and was a pillar of the Sephardic community.

“I was going on shidduch dates but didn’t feel pressured to get married.  I was fortunate to go on Birthright’s program to Israel before I met Sion and I made some wonderful and diverse friends.”

The newlyweds remained in Brooklyn and have four children, a daughter fifteen, a son, thirteen, and two younger girls, nine and seven.  Jacqueline lights up when she talks about her family. She calls herself the bad cop and Sion, who travels for business, the good cop and fun parent.

Both keen on spirituality, the couple chose Yeshiva Derech Eretz when the yeshiva was just starting out.  They are thrilled with the school’s hashkafa, mission, and the positive influence it has had on the kids.  Jacqueline is also grateful YDE has a day camp where her oldest child, Judy, worked this past summer while her siblings were campers.  “Our kids are happy, confident, and do well in school. They have good values and don’t ask for big ticket items or designer clothes.”

Becoming a Chef

How did Jacqueline start her business?

Several events and circumstances influenced Jacqueline’s decision to create Stuffffed.

First, she is crystal clear in declaring that food makes her happy. She has a healthy relationship with food, and she and her children are willing to experiment and try new things.

For as long as Jacqueline can remember she taught her friends how to fill a freezer. “My friends and I cooked and froze food and filled the freezer when we were nine months pregnant. I always cooked for girls’ nights out.”

When her oldest was seven, around eight years ago, Jacqueline decided to look for a job.  She tried the jewelry industry and shadowed a child in school.  These jobs did not feel right for Jacqueline. She considered returning to college for a degree in special education and asked her sister what that would involve.  But Jacqueline decided she was not ready to commit to college and grad school. Her best friend, Fortune Gemal Levy, a”h, would ask her, “When are you going to start selling your delicious food?” And Jacqueline’s dad cheered her on.

Five years ago, an acquaintance asked if Jacqueline could make a certain type of kibbeh.  That inspired her to post pictures of her uncooked frozen Syrian delicacies (such as kibbeh balls and yebre) on Instagram.

A close friend, Jackie Bitton, a gifted educator and inspirational speaker, guided and encouraged Jacqueline on her path to develop her business.  Rabbi Bitton facilitated the JSOR hashgacha for Stuffffed by being one of her references.

Jacqueline’s confidence kicked in and the requests for catered foods began to pour in: “I need food for the holidays, I’ll take whatever you have.”

She was a personal chef for many clients and events over the years.

Jacqueline now caters locally and delivers her specialties to New Jersey.  “I am proud to say that I can do a sebet for 200 people in my sleep.”

In the middle of telling me that some of her recipes qualify for Eve Elenhorn’s Flavorfulfit program, Jacqueline remembered that we had met briefly at Eve’s home.  I had interviewed Eve three years ago. Jacqueline credits Eve, a talented chef, personal trainer, and health coach, with helping her to launch her business.

Jacqueline started attending foodie events such as Kosherfest and she was overjoyed to connect with Naomi Nachman, a top chef.  Jacqueline had originally messaged Naomi to ask for her hamantaschen recipe and a friendship was born.  Jacqueline was elated to be a contestant at a Chopped event that Naomi was judging at Gourmet Glatt.  Their relationship blossomed and one of Jacqueline’s recipes now appears in Naomi’s cookbook, Perfect Flavors.

When Jacqueline described each of the women who championed her, she expressed her immense hakarat hatov to these friends and to Hashem for blessing her with this network, her chevra.  Jacqueline strives to give back by donating a maaser, a tenth, to the community.

“I Am a Syrian in a Sea of Ashkenaz Chefs”

Jacqueline’s friends and colleagues are a varied group. She even wrote an article for Fleishigs Magazine, a high-end kosher monthly cooking publication (fleishig is meat in Yiddish).  The topic?  She was asked to prepare a Syrian Purim feast in a test kitchen using five recipes.

What is unique about Jacqueline’s cooking style?  Jacqueline does not follow a recipe and is open to innovation. Her followers can track the ingredients and measurements when she records her Instagram stories for new items.  By the way, she does not bake but her oldest daughter does.  Jacqueline has expanded her skillset and is a recipe specialist and a Trader Joe’s specialist. She advocates using local farmers’ market ingredients.

Finding Balance

Although Jacqueline made her work sound so easy and joyful, she admitted that her life is hectic, and her two oldest children help her to run the house.  She does like being spontaneous about travel and has journeyed with a group of foodies to Florida and to London to attend key events.

Jacqueline made many new foodie friends and is in awe of how authentic and supportive they are.  She confided that she was overwhelmed when she accepted an offer to cater a book party for 75 people using twelve recipes.  It was around the time of her father’s yahrzeit and she needed help.  Her friend from London was in town and jumped right in, and others also rallied to help her to pull off a successful event.

Check Out Jacqueline’s Delicacies

You can find a great video on Kosher.com, with Jacqueline making kibbeh pomegranate with the renowned chef Naomi Nachman.

The best way to reach Jacqueline is on her cell (917-514-7432) or on Instagram @Stuffffed.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.   Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com (www.lifecoachellen.com).