Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of functions catered at non kosher hotels. Catering in these facilities creates many more kashrus concerns for the kosher certifying agencies supervising them. Sometimes, as many as three or four vigilant, professional mashgichim are needed to ensure that no requirement of kashrus is being overlooked. Whatever the number may be, there is much more involved than meets the eye. The guest enjoying a luxurious smorgasbord at these hotel affairs really has little idea of the kashrus supervision involved. The following are some of the behind-the-scenes preparations that go into making sure that not only is the presentation of the food impeccable but the kashrus is as well.
Kashering and Set-Up
By 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. on the day of the event a kashrus agency will have already sent in one or two mashgichim to begin preparing for the kashering. While the kosher caterer will typically send his own kosher china (or china that he rents from a kosher certified facility), there are numerous pieces of silverware and chafing dishes (A metal dish or pan mounted above a heating device used to cook food or keep it warm) and other equipment provided by the hotel that will need to be koshered. A hotel affair calling for 500 people might require kashering of the following:
- Reception Forks: 2000
- Dinner Forks: 600
- Salad Forks: 1200
- Teaspoons 600
- Soup Spoons: 500
- Dinner Knives: 600
- B&B Knives 550
- Coffee Pots: 50
- Serving Utensils: 75
- Goosenecks: 100
- Soup Tureens: 50
- Chafing Dishes: 25
Some kashrus organizations require everything to be aino ben yomo (more than 24 hours since its previous) before kashering. In such cases, a mashgiach must be sent to the hotel a day or two ahead of time to seal up equipment to ensure that this requirement is met. Other kashrus organizations allow for kashering to be done when the utensils are a ben yomo, or less than 24 hours old, if koshering is done with a davar hapogem, or caustic. In either case, the mashgiach must check that the equipment is spotlessly cleaned in order to prepare for the kashering. This in itself can be a long procedure and the mashgiach is the one to say that the equipment is ready to be koshered.
Kashering of ovens and sinks must be done in addition to the huge quantity of utensils. Depending on what is being kashered, either hagala (boiling water) or libun (fire or dry heat) is done. The mashgichim that use various cleaning fluids and boiling water for kashering require special skills. They must be aware of the dangers involved and take the correct precautions. In some locals, mashgichim must be licensed to use certain kashering equipment.
Hagala may take place in a piece of equipment known as steam kettle, brazier or tilt skillet. Fireman’s gloves will be used to prevent accidental burning. Kashering can be a long procedure, depending on how many guests will be at the affair and what is being koshered.
In some contexts, there may be a separate kosher kitchen present. However, that doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems, because even these kitchens are, or can be, kashered by kashrus agencies where there was a possibility of different standard met than those of the current kashrus agency. Other hotels have only one kitchen, and it is dedicated to preparation of treif food. In either situation, one must bear in mind that a non-kosher hotel will often have non-kosher going on at the same time in the same kitchen as the kosher affair. Obviously this presents more of a challenge in the monitoring of the kosher affair. Non-kosher utensils typically cannot be completely removed from the kitchen and the mashgiach or mashgichim must be acutely conscious of possible mix-ups with these utensils. .
The caterer will probably appear around late morning time for an evening affair in order to begin the preparation work. Depending on the size and complexity of the affair, additional mashgichim may join those who have been working on the kashering. By that time, most of the utensils will likely have been kashered and all the worktables will have been covered with double layers of heavy duty aluminum foil and kraft paper when the table surfaces cannot be koshered. The food for the affair has been prepared offsite under kosher supervision at the caterer’s commissary. As a general rule, many kashrus agencies will not permit vegetables to be checked at the site of the event, but they are checked at the commissary by the mashgiach. It is much too time consuming to check vegetables at the party itself.
All the food must be properly sealed according to halacha. When the food arrives at the hotel, the mashgiach will check that these containers are sealed and have the appropriate simanim. The food must then be put into the refrigerator until it will be warmed. It is very rare for a hotel to be able to designate a refrigerator just for kosher, so here too extra care must be taken. Once the prep work starts, one mashgiach will station himself in front of the kosher area to watch everything going on, while keeping an with eye on the non-kosher area, to make sure that no nonkosher food or equipment comes anywhere close to the kosher area. Another mashgiach will finish up any koshering that may need to be addressed and work with the caterer or the caterer’s chef to review any kosher issues. For example, he may have to point out exactly which ovens and sinks can be used. Also, he will be reminded do check before doing anything that could possibly be problematic, such as removing from the general storeroom items that may not have been sent from the caterer’s commissary.
Let’s remember now that there must be a mashgiach stationed every minute at the work area because, invariably, non kosher is going on simultaneously. At about 3:00 pm, the staff, which consists of waiters, bus boys, and bartenders, arrives. Instructions must be provided to the various members of the staff regarding the affair. If they speak English, it’s a little easier for the mashgiach to provide them instructions. If not…well, it just makes the job that much more difficult. Very often the hotel’s staff are union representatives and it becomes apparent that things need to be made as easy as possible for them to only use kosher equipment.
What are some of the instructions provided to the bus boys? In a non-kosher affair, china, once used, is normally returned to the hotel’s treif dishwasher. At a kosher affair there are designated boxes for the return of dishes supplied by the kosher caterer. Explicit instructions must be provided to the bus boys to avoid mix-ups. Waiters must also receive explicit instructions regarding many issues including from where they can take utensils, silverware and china.
Once the kashering is completed and the mashgiach has gone over instructions with the waiters, it becomes time to check the bar for the wines, whiskies and drink mixes. The knives used to cut lemons and limes and the small cutting board must be removed. All cutting of these foods must be done in the kitchen, under supervision of a mashgiach. The mashgiach must also make sure that all the bottles of approved wines, liquors, and drink mixes are contained in sealed bottles. Once the party starts, the mashgiach must constantly check the bar: when the bartenders run out of something, they will go back into the storeroom and many times refill a non kosher item into the empty glass flasks that were originally approved for use. If the mashgiach is not aware of this practice, he will never know that what he thinks is kosher wine is actually not-kosher. To try to circumvent this problem, many mashgichim will only allow the hotels to pour the juices and drink mixes and wines out of the original bottles to ensure what the item is. But that requirement doesn’t relieve the mashgiach of continued vigilance. Bartenders have been known to try to take the empty kosher bottle and refill it with non kosher wines in the storeroom.
The next area of concern is the smorgasbord. While everything might look fine and dandy, there are a number of areas of concern. First, any fish dish should be put separately from any meat dish and, if possible, a sign should alert the guests that it is a fish dish. The waiters must be instructed to put the fish item in a separate dish and not to put the fish on a plate with other food, even if the guest requests it.
Second, there are many items at the smorgasbord such as crepes and blintzes and sometimes eggs which are cooked from scratch, and which create potential bishul akum issues. It is necessary, in such cases, for the mashgiach to turn on the burners. Unfortunately, the fires on these burners are constantly going out, many times due to either the air conditioning in the hall or a malfunctioning burner, or other problems. Thus the mashgiach must always be circulating around the smorgasbord.
During and After a Hotel Affair
So far, we have mashgichim who have been on their feet approximately 12 hours and are not nearly through. Special care must be taken that during serving of the main course, only the caterer’s kosher utensils or whatever was koshered may only be used. Very often a mashgiach will be stationed by the non-kosher silverware to redirect the waiters during set up. Waiters must be constantly watched as they go in and out of the kitchen to be sure they are not grabbing the wrong utensils.
An additional area of concern is the nondairy creamer served at dessert. Any food returning to the commissary has been, or should have been, properly sealed by the mashgiach. One of the concerns when dessert rolls around is that it is very easy for the waiters to grab milk which, many times, is located outside of the kitchen near the coffee urns and bring the milk out to be served at dessert or the Viennese table. The only way to monitor that is for all caterers to serve portion control servings of nondairy creamer as opposed to little metal creamers that are filled up with milk and put out on the tables.
By this time the mashgichim have been on their feet for about 16 hours and are ready to leave. They must however take steps to ensure that only the caterer’s keylim are sent back to the commissary and not the hotel utensils.
We have taken only a small look at the behind the scenes preparations to ensure that everything was done according to exacting and demanding kashrus standards that guests would, and should, expect. A guest should never be hesitant to question the mashgiach at a hotel affair, before he starts eating, as to what the standards of the kashrus organization are and if the mashgiach did everything necessary for the guest to be completely satisfied with the kashrus standards for that event.