After several grueling months caring for coronavirus patients in Paris, kosher-keeping Jewish doctors and nurses are finally getting the gourmet baguettes they deserve — stuffed amply with smoked salmon, watermelon radish, red onions and caper dill mayonnaise.
They’re all courtesy of Ellie Balouka, a 33-year-old Ohio-born chef whose colorful salads, creative stuffed baguettes and poke bowls have become the rave among Jewishly observant Parisians.
Balouka, who moved to Paris about 14 years ago, has been working to open her own kosher restaurant in the Opera neighborhood of the French capital, where she lives with her husband and kids.
But she recently switched gears after learning that observant Jewish doctors and nurses treating coronavirus patients were going empty-handed while their colleagues enjoyed free food from local non-kosher restaurants.
“They say, ‘We get deliveries every day, but we can’t eat a single thing,’” said Balouka.
She decided to change that.
Since Passover, Balouka has cooked and delivered some 60 meals to medical workers at hospitals in and around Paris. She has raised approximately 1,500 euros, or $1,625, and has contributed an additional 500 euros, or $541, of her own money to cover the cost of the meals and delivery.
“The meals are free for them so they can go to work and say ‘Today I don’t have to prepare my lunch. I don’t have to even think. I know somebody is going to bring me a meal,’” she said.
France has been on lockdown since mid-March and is among the countries in Europe that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus, with more than 22,000 deaths. Hospitals there have been scrambling to find enough ventilators and beds for Covid-19 patients.
Balouka, who is Chabad, delivers the meals herself, driving as far as 45 minutes outside Paris to get the food to doctors and nurses.
For the hospital deliveries, she has been focusing on meals that are “simple and delicious” and don’t require reheating.
She has made smoked salmon baguettes and other breads featuring an array of grilled vegetables — peppers, zucchini, portobello mushrooms and eggplant — with goat cheese and pesto. She also has brought in salmon and rice poke bowls topped with avocado edamame, mango and sweet potatoes.
Balouka says the doctors and nurses who receive her food have been “shocked” by the gesture and “really impressed.”
“For me, it’s so normal to help out,” she said. “It’s not something that I think is amazing. I think it’s something that needs to be done.”