By Rob Schaefer
In our modern world, planners are faced with myriad dietary restrictions, food allergies and special requests as they’re designing meeting menus. As we are a global community, cultural and religious requirements also become part of the list of event food considerations. Although it sounds intimidating and finding an appropriate event location may be difficult, it is possible to accommodate your Jewish guests and keep their event meals kosher when needed.
So what are “kosher” foods? They are edible items that have been handled and prepared according to kashrut, or Jewish dietary law.
There are three distinct categories of kosher foods you should understand as an event professional: Kosher meat, kosher dairy, and Pareve. Kosher meat and kosher dairy must never be stored, prepared, served or consumed together. Remember this simple two-part concept: Meat is taken in life, meaning the animal dies; dairy is given in life, meaning that milk is taken from a living animal. This is the fundamental reason the two must be separated. In an Orthodox home, there are separate refrigerators, ovens, pans, cooking utensils, plates and flatware for each. (Remember that kosher food is a religious choice, not a dietary one, and it should not be confused with vegan or vegetarian concerns.) Kosher meals are supervised under the direction of the Vaad, a Hebrew rabbi who ensures that food products meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Kosher meat comes from animals that have split hooves and that chew cud, the plant-based food matter an animal consumes, regurgitates and re-chews. Hooved animals that cannot do this are not considered kosher, such as pigs. An animal also must be slaughtered under certain criteria, including an instant and humane death. When you are serving a kosher meat meal, margarine must substitute for butter on bread or a baked potato.
Kosher dairy products come from a kosher animal such as a cow or sheep. Dairy products such as cheese and butter are processed under a rabbi’s supervision to ensure that no animal products are used in their creation.
Pareve refers to items that contain no meat or dairy and are thus considered neutral. Fish with fins, fruits, and vegetables are considered Pareve.
Shellfish; bottom feeding fish such as catfish; pork; and any vegetable that may contain bugs are strictly forbidden. Vegetables such as lettuce or cabbage that may contain bugs are washed and examined by the rabbi before approval.
Alcohol must bear the kosher symbol and be approved by the rabbi. If you serve wine to a kosher guest, it must be kosher wine or champagne. At many large kosher events, even the preparation of coffee and tea must be supervised and done in a particular way.
In larger cities, finding a kosher caterer, restaurant, venue or temple is not a problem. However, for rural planners, options are limited and it really becomes a matter of what is possible. Paul Bashinski, director of food and beverage at Tan-Tar-A Resort at Lake of the Ozarks, says most guests requiring a kosher meal are flexible due to their location in mid-Missouri. “We can order a frozen kosher meal from St. Louis and reheat the sealed meal in our ovens,” he says. “But many of our guests also select our grilled salmon as a Pareve option, and allow us to triple wrap the side options and prepare them in our ovens.”
Asking very specific questions of your kosher client or guest will save you a lot of leg work and stress:
- Does the entire event need to be kosher, and if so, what type? Remember, a 100 percent kosher event will necessitate a kosher kitchen, which can take days to prepare on-site. It will require all kosher kitchen utensils and tableware; Vaad supervision from setup to breakdown, including kashering the kitchen and all culinary preparation; and 100 percent approved kosher products, which can cost significantly more. It is not an easy undertaking for amateurs, so my best suggestion is to use a facility with an existing kosher kitchen and equipment. Its culinary staff will know what to do. And remember that the Vaad cannot work, nor can the kitchen staff do any meal preparation, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Plan wisely and avoid Saturday night if possible.
- Could the event be kosher-style? This means that meat and dairy are kept separate during preparation and serving, but without religious supervision.
- Can a limited number of kosher meals be shipped or brought in? A frozen kosher meal can be shipped, delivered and heated up in a non-kosher oven as long as it is sealed in plastic with a Vaad sticker. Meals arrive on disposable plates with disposable flatware, also sealed. Always give the guest the choice of breaking the seal himself or herself, or allowing the kitchen do so. And make sure the host and attendee know that bringing in a kosher meal incurs additional cost. In the Orthodox world, using plastic and disposables is common in areas without kosher event space. The peace of mind it brings far outweighs the stigma of no china or metal flatware.
- Is a Pareve option acceptable without supervision? Many grocery stores now carry Pareve products to create a simple lunch or dinner.
For the rural planner, there are online resources to direct you to restaurants, caterers and venues that can offer you the best options.
Here are some Kansas City-area venues that offer wonderful kosher options for meetings: Rams Café, (913) 327-8207; Bubbe’s Kitchen at the Heritage Center, and the Heritage Center Lunch Program, (913) 327-8243; and Rachel’s Café, (913) 266-8422.
St. Louis-area kosher meals and products can be found at Kohn’s Kosher Meat and Deli Restaurant, (314) 569-0727; Gokul’s Indian Restaurant, (314) 721-1888; Breadsmith of St. Louis, (314) 822-8200; Schnucks Market on Ladue Road, (314) 725-7574; Dierbergs Market on Olive Blvd., (314) 732-8823; and Trader Joe’s on Brentwood Blvd., (314) 963-0253. (Source: ShowMeChabad.com)
For more information about kosher dos and don’ts, contact the Vaad HaKashruth in Kansas City or the Vaad Hoeir in St. Louis.