It was Chanukah, and as the thoughts of Jews everywhere turned to lighting candles and to the long winter ahead, Rabbi Dov Schreier was already immersed in springtime, planning for Passover. The Orthodox Union Kosher Division’s Rabbinic Coordinator for Food Services – which includes restaurants, caterers, hospitals and nursing homes — Rabbi Schreier was meeting with the management of upscale restaurants, going over the process of converting their establishments from OU Kosher to the even stricter OU Kosher for Passover.
“Now, Passover rapidly approaches, the game plans are falling into place and the arrangements are being made for the koshering,” Rabbi Schreier said. “We are busy preparing for the turnover of the restaurants and for their service of quality Kosher for Pesach food to thousands of people.”
The restaurants will be open for the Passover seders Wednesday, April 12 and Thursday, April 13, with pre-reservations, as well as for the three intermediate days (Chol Hamoed), Sunday, April 16 through Tuesday afternoon, April 18.
There is an incentive for restaurants to engage in the costly and arduous process of opening for Passover, Rabbi Schreier explains. They have fixed costs, such as staff on weekly payroll, who must be compensated whether the restaurant is doing business or not. Moreover, the restaurants risk losing some of their non-kosher (including non-Jewish) clientele to restaurants that are open during the period. So there were sound financial reasons for sitting down with Rabbi Schreier in December and getting ready for a holiday that was still months away.
As Passover draws closer, Rabbi Schreier returns to finalize the game plan with management and with the mashgiach temidi, the rabbinic overseer who by OU regulations must be present at all times an OU certified restaurant is open. The restaurant closes its doors for one very busy night, when a cleaning crew comes in “to make the place like new,” Rabbi Schreier says; when an engineer arrives to raise the temperature of the dishwashers; when a steam cleaner is present to work on the kettles; and when the silverware is purged in boiling water.
New Utensils are a Necessity:
Restaurants make a large investment in new utensils, including sheet pans, on which the food is placed in the oven, as well as for china and glasses. Customarily, Rabbi Schreier explains, at Passover restaurants will replace their breakage from the year with the new items; following the holiday, about half will be retained for year-round use, with the remainder locked up under the supervision of the OU rabbi and stored in the restaurant or in a warehouse.
As the cleaning process continues, convection ovens are purged (with torches), stove tops kosherized with high heat and covered with foil, tables are set with a lining under freshly laundered tablecloths, and recipes are checked for ingredients. Once, Rabbi Schreier found a recipe that included peas and carrots – which are kitniyot, that is, legumes – and are prohibited for Ashkenazi Jews during Passover. The offending ingredients were quickly removed.
The whole process takes between ten and fifteen hours, Rabbi Schreier says, with an OU supervisor being present, along with the masgiach temidi, the whole time.
Passover Do’s and Don’ts for the Staff:
At some point Rabbi Schreier will also meet with the restaurant’s staff about “the do’s and don’ts” of the holiday – “you can’t bring in food, drinks, chocolate bars and the like,” he informs them. Management is very cooperative. “Proprietors are interested in a quality product and don’t want headaches from keeping kosher,” Rabbi Schreier explains. “They say to their staffs, ‘No playing games. You must follow the rules.’”
Then there is the matter of food. Presumably the restaurant has used up all its pre-holiday food. What remains is sold to a non-Jew using a rabbinic formula. The sold food is then sealed in boxes and locked up under the OU rabbi’s supervision to prevent its use by mistake. Most OU wines are Kosher for Passover, but only unopened bottles may be used on the holiday.
Clearly, given such preparation, restaurants will raise their prices at Passover – the food and ingredients they use have become more expensive as well. But the result of the time and expense will be worth it at OU certified restaurants – both for management and the customer.
“If anyone goes to an OU certified Kosher for Passover restaurant,” Rabbi Schreier declared, “he or she can be confident that the kosherizing was done properly and that everything is in accordance with Jewish law.”
Or, as he might add, “Chag Kasher v’Sameach” – a Kosher and Joyful Festival.