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Kosher City House, Not so Kosher Summer House


Pam R
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A regular customer who typically buys a lot, including all her meat, was in the store the other day. Instead of her usual full basket, she carried a few measly items to the counter in her hands. I looked at her and raised an eyebrow - international Jewish-Speak for 'that's it?'. She looked to her left, and then to her right. She leaned across the counter and in hushed tones I could barely make out, she said "I'm on the way to the lake. We don't keep kosher there."

Call it whatever you'd like, she isn't the first person to say that to me. In fact, when I was growing up, my family kept kosher at home, but it was never an issue at the cottage. Call it a compromise between my parents - my mother coming from a completely assimilated family, my father from a religious, kosher home.

A lot of us grew up with these strange practises. There were always disposable plates and utensils in the house - how else could you order in Chinese food or pizza?

Please tell me we're not unique and share your stories.

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Perhaps only peripherally related but what always amuses me, albeit in a somewhat pathetic manner, are all of those people who do not keep kosher at home but, when they come to visit Israel, immediately take on all of the laws of kashrut. And more than that, condemn the vast majority of Israelis who do not maintain kashrut and to whom shrimps, lobsters, meat and dairy in combination and sometimes even pork are a normal part of the diet.

As Yul Brynner put it so nicely: "Is a puzzlement"

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Yul Brynner notwithstanding, I would say that it is more about hypocrisy ...

Pam, I know many people who have a treyfe vacation home or, in one particular case, RV with a kitchen ...

The family kept kosher at home and went on vacation out West for several weeks... the RV kitchen was a place that they felt that they could eat whatever they desired ...

The fallacy here is that one is either commited to kashruth or is not ... not unlike the people who eat treyfe outside home at restaurants ... and I am among them ...

But another light on this: if one keeps a kosher home, they may invite friends and family who are observant without offending them ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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My first job as a chef was at a commodities firm (precious metals and coffee) on Wall Street. Everyone there was Jewish. Or close to it, but the partners whom I fed each day were all Jewish.

They each had their own version of your story of "kosher city house not so kosher summer house" at differing levels, depending on where they laid down their cards in their conceptions of keeping kosher and how and when.

One would keep totally strict kosher at home *unless* there were important guests to dinner and then all rules went out the window. (Imagine the organization that must have gone into that home kitchen . . . yes, he had a private chef.) He would be semi-kosher at work, with things that he would eat and things he would not. Another one had one day a week where he wanted kosher food served as close to the way it should be as possible in a kitchen that was not "legally" kosher. Another guy was more strict on a daily basis, keeping as close to the rules as possible including eating only approved foods on paper plates.

There could be as many as six guys at the same table at lunch, each with their own personal (and very important to them) variation on what they would allow to be placed before them. It was great fun to try to fulfill everyone's personal wishes. :biggrin:

One of the guys told me a story one day, a parable. He was the one that kept to the rules as fastidiously as possible and he was goofing on one of the other guys that did not follow the rules so closely. I loved this guy - he was probably the sanest of the bunch though they were all brilliant in their own fashions.

"I had an uncle who hated fish", he said. "This was hard on him for so often he would be offered fish and he would have to refuse it and starve for the meal while everyone else was eating. He had been like this for years - keeping to the rules of kashrut and suffering his hunger when fish was served as something that was his burden to bear.

One day he went to dinner at an acquaintances' home. He had told the fellow that he could only eat kosher food and the fellow had assured him that a kosher meal would be served. He hadn't told the fellow that he hated fish and when the entree was served, it was fish. Bluefish it was. But he had never smelled any fish that had this marvellous aroma. The plate was set down before him and he stared at it as the wondrous smell wafted from the fish towards him. He decided, against his better judgement, to take a bite. He loved it. This was the most delicious fish he had ever tasted and it was totally astonishing to him. Again and again, his fork bit into the flaky rich fish and he had gobbled up the whole thing before he knew it.

When he went home that night, he wrote a note to his host thanking him for the meal and asking him if he could have the recipe for that fish if possible.

The recipe was sent soon after, and when he read it he was shocked.

This fish had been baked with bacon.

The bacon had been removed from the fish before serving - it was only used for basting. Apparently the cook did not know that bacon on top of a kosher fish would render it non-kosher.

His mind was in turmoil. He had eaten something trayfe. He had never done this before. But this was the first time he had loved fish and he had *really* loved it.

His mind was finally decided. He would keep this recipe, and he would have it made for him by his cook and he would eat it.

The reasoning behind this was that as long as he did not *see* the bacon, as long as he did not put the bacon in his mouth, it was not there, really. And God would want him to enjoy this fish."

I've thought of this story as the Parable of The Bluefish and The Bacon ever since he told it to me. I don't know if it was a "true" story or not. But who cares? :laugh:

It begs the question of what is real and how we each define our own realities. Is it *not* there if you can't see it, or if someone else can't see it? The mind is a fascinating tool that creates many answers.

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And then there is the story (quite true, for I was there to witness it) of when the great Joel Robuchon was one of the chefs invited to prepare the gala meal to celebrate the 3,000th Anniversary of the founding of Jerusalem. What Robuchon and the other great chefs (including among others Marc Haeberlin, Jean Louis Palladin, Michel Lorain, Gualtiero Marchese and Pierre Troisgros) knew about the laws of kashrut was, for all practical purposes, nil but with the aid of local chefs they somehow managed. All that got in the way of Robuchon was when he insisted that his sauce could not possibly be made without bacon.

The mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) informed M. Robuchon quite politely that bacon was not kosher. Robuchon, with a truly confused look on his face replied: "But your holiness, its only a very little bit of bacon". I think the mashgiach was pleased with his new title but not even 1/100th of a gram of bacon went into that sauce.

And if anybody wants, I'll tell the story of about Jean Louis Palladin and of how 50 kilos of the world's finest foie gras wound up in a trash can because of kashrut.

PS. Mimi Sheraton was present at the dinner. I wonder if she recalls as I do that the only really superb dish of the evening was Palladin's quails stuffed with goose liver?

Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)
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And if anybody wants, I'll tell the story of about Jean Louis Palladin and of how 50 kilos of the world's finest foie gras wound up in a trash can because of kashrut.

You are such a charming flirt Rogov. Of course we all want to hear the story.

P.S. I can't believe foie gras ended up in a trash can! (Unless the trash can was well-lined with a clean bag for some cook to later remove and smuggle that foie out and home. Or maybe the kitchen staff had a feast . . . it's just inconceivable that it would be destroyed without anyone interceding. :biggrin: )

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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I confess, as a Protestant (Methodist upbringing) Christian, I've always wondered at this--not trying to call anyone out on their beliefs, but being acquainted with a number of Jewish friends, I know that some keep absolutely kosher while some have their small (to me) exceptions, and I'm unaware of the distinction.

It seemed distilled to its essence when, at a wedding reception, I heard one Jewish friend say to another (upon meeting for the first time) "How Jewish are you?" "Enough." came the reply, as both tucked in with relative abandon, while a fellow who kept kosher partook of fruit.

Again forgive me, for I have no wish to offend; if this would be something better replied to via private message, I look forward to anyone offering a response.

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While the inconsistent, personalized application of the laws of kashruth can be amusing, I can't see anything wrong with it. I think it has to be understood that for most modern, assimilated Jews the kosher dietary laws are a cultural thing, not a religious thing. We eat Jewish foods, and eat according to Jewish traditions, not because we actually believe God cares what we eat (or even exists) but because that way of eating is part of our cultural heritage. So, for example, I eat anything, but I certainly wouldn't eat or serve pork at a Passover seder. It would be as incongruous as having a traditional Chinese banquet and serving pizza. I agree with Rogov that the real offense is not inconsistent application of the rules, but the high-and-mighty attitude of those who try to impose rules on others while they themselves are not particularly consistent about their observance. Meanwhile, the most religious Jews I know are quite low key about their kashruth. From their perspective, it's an incremental thing: if they can serve me a kosher meal, it's a mitzvah, even if I eat bacon at the previous and next meals. It's not all-or-nothing in their calculus. Every time you eat something kosher, it's a plus. You don't lose credit for that, no matter what else you do or eat at other times.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Sliding sideways into the arena of people in politics rather than people at home there is a fantastic article about choices and how they can be affected by "daily life" in the realm of following a religion's laws on food in the latest issue of Gastronomica.

This article is one that has been published online - here's the link to "How Caviar Turned Out to Be Halal" by H.E. Chehabi.

Reminds me of the saying about laws and sausages. :smile:

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I'm always amused by people who don't keep kosher at all, except ... when they make a Passover seder. Oy.

But in truth I don't see anything hypocritical about these behavioral inconsistencies. Hypocrisy enters the equation only if one starts to tell other people what they "should" do, while at the same time doing whatever he/she might like. That sort of thing goes well beyond religious practice, of course.

Carrot Top: And what saying about laws and sausages might that be? :smile:

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I'm not Carrot Top but the saying goes that you don't want to see what goes into the making of laws or sausages. :wink:

I was raised in a Kosher home that had a drawer with paper plates for the Chinese carryout. I don't keep Kosher now, but I have friends and family who do. And they're pretty strict adherents of the laws - otherwise, I think they wonder, why bother? Otoh, none of us would dream of telling anyone else what do to. About this particular subject. :smile:

edited because sometimes grammar requires caffeine.

Edited by hsm (log)
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Carrot Top.....

The Palladin story is an amusing one indeed. In 1995, along with Michael Ginor (of Hudson Valley Foie Gras Fame), Todd English and several other American chefs, Jean Louis was invited to prepare a celebratory meal at Tel Aviv's Sheraton Hotel. The meal, of course had to be kosher.

The job of preparing the goose liver opening course (sliced sauteed liver with a wild berry sauce) fell on Palladin and he set to work with gusto. Well, at least until the mashgiach informed him that he could not merely pan fry the foie gras but first had to sear the liver in order to drain it of its blood.

Palladin realized that this was going to kill the goose a second time, so he sent two of his assistants to talk with and thus distract the mashgiach while he quickly did what he had to do with the livers. Whatever the mashgiach was, stupid he was not, and after his discussion with the two line chefs came over to where Palladin was working and scooped all of the goose liver into one of those large green plastic garbage pails that you find in so many kitchens.

Palladin had a fit but I, along with one of my colleagues were planning on smuggling that garbage pail out to a taxi and shipping that foie gras home. The mashgiach, however, had the last word as he went to a storage closet, returned with five gallons of bleach and poured it over the liver. I suppose that along with Palladin, I wanted to strangle the mashgiach. I did manage to restrain myself. Palladin, in his fury, resolved never to return to this "crazy country".

The story does have a happy ending though. When Palladin was invited to be one of the chefs at the 3000 Year meal for Jerusalem (referred to above) at first he refused but after thinking on it, accepted. Because he now had some hint of what awaited him in the way of the kosher kitchen he decided that he would outdo all kosher cooks before him. At his own expense, he paid a Washington D.C. mashgiach (Jean Louis was then at the Watergate) a full year's salary; twice weekly had goose livers, quails, oil, herbs, spices and even bread crumbs flown over from Israel so that he could practice and perfect the dish. As I said above, the dish was superb - so much so that after a single taste I walked into the kitchen, grabbed Palladin, kissed him soundly three times and then helped myself to three more portions - two for myself and one for the very nice young woman who was sitting alongside me at my table.

The only kosher chef who has ever matched Palladin in a fully kosher kitchen since then was Raphael Cohen during his tenure at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. But that's yet another rather long story..........

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Eh. Baited and hooked I was, and the worm was worth it. :smile:

Fabulous story, Rogov.

Palladin realized that this was going to kill the goose a second time, so he sent two of his assistants to talk with and thus distract the mashgiach while he quickly did what he had to do with the livers. Whatever the mashgiach was, stupid he was not, and after his discussion with the two line chefs came over to where Palladin was working and scooped all of the goose liver into one of those large green plastic garbage pails that you find in so many kitchens. 

Oh my heart hurts. :sad:

Palladin had a fit but I, along with one of my colleagues were planning on smuggling that garbage pail out to a taxi and shipping that foie gras home. 

Yes, yes, the idea exactly! :smile:

The mashgiach, however, had the last word as he went to a storage closet, returned with five gallons of bleach and poured it over the liver.

Impetuous fellow, wasn't he. Determined to strike the last blow, too.

I have to admit being curious as to what he looked like.

Because he now had some hint of what awaited him in the way of the kosher kitchen he decided that he would outdo all kosher cooks before him.  At his own expense, he paid a Washington D.C. mashgiach (Jean Louis was then at the Watergate) a full year's salary;

Mmm. The Right Thing to Do, absolutely. And I have to admit there is nothing as wonderful as being an executive chef with a more-than-ample budget. :biggrin:

As I said above, the dish was superb - so much so that  after a single taste I walked into the kitchen, grabbed Palladin, kissed him soundly three times and then helped myself to three more portions - two for myself and one for the very nice young woman who was sitting alongside me at my table. 

Kissing chefs brings you closer to heaven, you know - as well as does bringing nice young women good things to eat.

The only kosher chef who has ever matched Palladin in a fully kosher kitchen since then was Raphael Cohen during his tenure at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.  But that's yet another rather long story..........

The challenges of cooking (and dining) "fully kosher" are certainly challenging in many ways.

I can only speak as an outsider, with great respect for it being done (as Fat Guy noted in his post):

if they can serve me a kosher meal, it's a mitzvah
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