VALPARAISO - Kara Barreda has found a way to meld an ancient Jewish holiday

with the pre-packaged meals of the 1990s.

For $13.95 a person, Barreda's A Private Affair catering will prepare a

traditional Passover seder meal.

"On Passover there are a lot of foods that represent a lot of different

ideas," she said. "It's important to have them on the table, but there's a lot

of time and labor involved."

So Barreda's targeting people who don't have the time to prepare the

dishes, but want to have a seder.

The Passover seder is a ritual meal using food to symbolize the events and

miracles that occurred when the Israelites escaped from slavery under the cruel

Pharaoh.

In accordance with tradition, even the cook should be seated for the seder

meal.

Which raises a huge modern challenge: How can the cook prepare and serve a

delicious, multi-course, religiously significant meal and stay seated long

enough to absorb some of the seder-table observance?

Some say it can't be done, or at least gets harder to do every year.

That's where A Private Affair can help.

Barreda, chef and owner of the business, learned to cook traditional Jewish

meals several years ago while working for a caterer in Illinois.

It was a new experience for the Czechoslovakian girl who grew up near The

Beach Cafe, the restaurant her father, Joe Kovalick, co-owned in Gary's Miller

neighborhood.

She made her first matzoh balls during her two years as a chef in Hel's

Kitchen Catering in Northbrook.

"It was a completely new experience. We had a large Jewish-based clientele,"

Barreda said. "I was not versed in anything Jewish. I didn't know what a seder

was.

"The owner's mother (Helen) taught me everything," she said. "They were

catering 700 to 800 complete Passover dinners. We had days of rolling matzoh

balls and gefilte fish."

After a few years of working with different caterers and with various chefs,

Barreda and her husband, Peter, opened A Private Affair.

The traditional seder dinner menu includes chicken soup with matzoh balls,

gefilte fish with horseradish or a Sephardic alternative - baked fish with

saffron and red bell peppers.

She also offers a choice of four entrees, three choices of eight different

side dishes and dessert.

All the dinners are packaged in containers to be heated at the client's

convenience. Orders for as small as parties of two can be placed by calling the

company at 465-6058.

"I thought it would be a natural carry over," Barreda said of her Passover

service. "There is a large Jewish base here. If you don't want to do the

cooking and you want to have 20 people, we're here and we have the experience."

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