by Gila Golder | photos by Sarah Rushakoff

“I am exhausted,” says chef Marisa Baggett, a few days after the end of the month-long marathon of Jewish fall holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah) which brought her an avalanche of catering orders. But that’s nothing compared to how she felt about ten years ago, when she realized it was time to slow down.

“I went through a period of several years where I just wasn’t able to stand on my feet due to this weird, out of the blue illness that happened to me and took me away from the kitchen. I started looking for opportunities to do things where I could sit, so that’s when I wrote my cookbooks,” she recalls.

A graduate of the California Sushi Academy, Marisa is the author of two cookbooks, Sushi Secrets and Vegetarian Sushi Secrets. But these days, she’s back in the kitchen, feeling better, and describes herself as a “professionally trained sushi chef turned deli lady.” In July 2019, she launched Zayde’s NYC Deli, a kosher-certified catering company offering delivered, heat and eat meals for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

Customers can order full meals or a la carte items from a seasonal menu – no order minimum required, so those who live alone or with a partner or spouse can order just the amount they need. That concept underlies an upcoming Thanksgiving offering, the SatisPie.

“Say it’s me and Stan. A lot of our ideas come from what Stan and I would want,” she says of her husband. “We like different kinds of pie, but we don’t both need to eat an entire pie. So I thought, what if you could buy a pie that had a few slices of this and a few slices of that?”

What Zayde’s doesn’t do is provide a full Thanksgiving meal option, because Shabbat meals must be ready to go on Friday. “My thought is, we can help you with your desserts, but you focus on Thanksgiving and we’ll take care of Shabbat.”

Because Zayde’s food is kosher-certified, certain ingredients are off-limits. Most menus are prepared with meat, which may not be combined with dairy products under traditional Jewish law. Rather than rely on artificial substitutions, as many home cooks do, Marisa curates recipes to focus on whole foods and fresh ingredients, such as coconut milk and olive oil. She can also accommodate allergy restrictions or other special diets – Zayde’s has a dedicated gluten-free customer base and always features a monthly gluten-free dessert. “It’s always the most popular dessert, whether people need it to be gluten-free or not.”

What’s next for Zayde’s? Marisa is coy about future plans, but hints at a possible transition to “shmick and shmortar” (currently, Zayde’s rents space from the kosher kitchen at Baron Hirsch Synagogue.)

“Knowing that I serve the community is what I’m most proud of,” she says. She often receives orders from elderly customers who can’t go grocery shopping, or from families observing shiva, the seven-day ritual mourning period following the passing of a loved one.

“There’s nothing that means more to me personally than when someone reaches out to say the food that you brought for us was so amazing in our time of need. Food is such a connection point, and it’s very humbling that people trust me to do these things for them.”

Stay tuned on Zayde’s social media pages (@zaydesnycdeli) for new monthly menus, holiday offerings (Chinese food for Christmas!) and more.