Meet Matan Gutwaks, our New Food Service and Catering Manager
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus is proud to announce and welcome Matan Gutwaks as its new Food Service and Catering Manager. Gutwaks, who recently moved to Columbus from his native state of New Jersey along with his wife, Columbus native and kosher chef Alison Barnett Gutwaks, is excited to join the JCC team.
“The sky’s the limit,” Matan enthused. “I think we can accomplish so much here. I’m really happy and excited to be working for the JCC because giving back to the Jewish community and, by extension, to my family is very important to me.”
Matan has many years experience in kosher cooking, catering, and kitchen management going back to his childhood when he began voraciously studying everything he could on cooking technique, including that of French chef Jacques Pepin. “I would say I’m a foodie,” said Matan, whose lifelong love of food and food preparation began because of his mother, who was a chef herself.
“I really enjoy experimenting with the different possibilities that exist when you play with food,” Matan explained why he immersed himself in the world of kosher and Israeli cooking at such a young age. He grew up speaking Hebrew with his Israeli parents in his home he deemed “little Israel,” and studied in Israel for a year before enrolling in Yeshiva University where he earned a Bachelor’s of Art in Sociology.
Matan exudes enthusiasm for working with both people and food, “Because that’s my personal philosophy: I care about the people I serve. Each dish that I make in essence is an art piece and therefore I don’t want to give them less than the best I can do,” he explained.
He has worked in a variety of kitchen settings — from a kosher create-your-own fried chicken restaurant (think Chipotle with fresh, made-to-order kosher chicken) where he planned the menu; to a nursing home setting where 400 people were served three kosher meals daily; to a private home where he and his wife served as personal chefs in Manhattan.
His management background includes five years moving up from working as weekend mashgiach, to head mashgiach and sous chef, to assistant director, and then acting director for CareOne in Teaneck, NJ. There he oversaw such feats as the overnight preparation of the kitchen for Passover for the residential nursing facility and the redesigning of the facility’s meal program to include healthier, more nutritious and fresh options.
It was the already strong, well-established kosher kitchen and catering team under the leadership of Chef Toney Robertson that drew Matan to the JCC. “It’s exciting to be able to work with a great team,” said Matan. “One of the major reasons I took this job was because of Chef Toney’s abilities. I know that we can all work well together toward a shared vision. Chef Toney has exceeded my wildest dreams. He is extremely talented and understanding.”
The JCC’s preschool nutrition program with its newly implemented CATCH model for instilling healthy eating habits and values in young children was another big draw for Matan. “I love all of it. I’m appreciative of it, and I feel comfortable with it. I’m excited to continue building on that with the JCC’s Early Childhood food program. I personally believe in health conscious food programs,” he added.
Matan sees the lack of kosher options in Columbus as a great challenge he looks forward to taking on in his time here. “I do think there is a dearth of kosher restaurants in Columbus. But I’d like to be able to up the ante. That’s definitely something that’s already on my radar — to provide to that need.”
His positive outlook and earnest drive to learn, grow, and add value to whatever he is doing are strong assets the JCC is excited to showcase in the coming months. “I love to shine. I love coming up with creative menus and making elegant tables. I love knowing that my clients are ecstatic. I develop these things not because I’m asked to, but because of my natural abilities and because of my wanting to make everything beautiful and everything perfect. I have a drive to do them. I love to push the envelope.”
Matan has been Director of Nutrition Services, Chef, Mashgiach, Kitchen Manager, Event Planner and more. “His ability to wear so many hats will be a huge asset to the many responsibilities of this position at the JCC,” said Carol Folkerth, JCC Executive Director.
With many events coming up that Matan says he knows will be successful, “We can’t wait to show the community that the JCC has been and continues to be a front runner and a major asset in the Columbus catering community. I’m hoping to show the whole community that the JCC’s kosher kitchen team really can do everything and do everything beautifully. There are no limitations. Everything from a tuna fish sandwich to a plated steak dinner at a wedding will be top of the line at the JCC.”