An opulent showcase for kosher wines and food


“I’m not even Jewish!”

This is not the conversation I expected to have with an expert winemaker who has been involved with the production of kosher wines for more than a dozen years. But such was the case with the affable Philip Jones, senior winemaker and managing director of Goose Bay from New Zealand and the Pacifica label from Oregon. 

His Oregon pinot noir is certified kosher, and a terrific value for any Oregon pinot, really. The Bay Area native was raised Catholic but found himself intrigued by the idea of getting into kosher wine when a friend suggested it to him over dinner one night in Santa Maria, Calif., more than 20 years ago. 

The exchange I had with Jones, during which he talked about the challenges of bringing Jewish winemakers from Melbourne, Australia, to his remote New Zealand vineyard to produce Goose Bay’s kosher vintages, was one of the many unexpected pleasures of the Kosher Wine & Food Experience held March 2 at the Petersen Automotive Museum. 

Sample iconic French label Laurent-Perrier rosé and classic Champagnes, and taste vaunted Rothschild kosher wines? Nosh on short rib cavatelli and pastrami-style cured cod on a rye blini from the chefs at Herzog Wine Cellars’ flagship Ventura Country kosher restaurant, Tierra Sur? See the range of the famed enterprise’s kosher production, including reserve bottles and its special edition Camouflage blend that combines 12 varietals? All this, plus a chunk of Israel’s wine industry all present under one roof in L.A.? Twist my arm. 

For the sixth annual Los Angeles event that originated in New York City, organizer Royal Wine Corp. moved the tasting extravaganza with approximately 50 wineries and eight spirits brands to the Petersen from last year’s location at the W Hollywood hotel. Attendees tasted Israeli wines while snapping photos of Maseratis, rare alternative-fuel cars, vintage motorcycles and the like.

The Cask serves up kosher wines for connoisseurs


In the past, trying to put together a kosher wine tasting was a challenge because it seemed the major stores offered so few choices. A quick look at the inventory of some of the more sympathetic non-kosher wine shops around Los Angeles reveals a mere page of choices, but if you look a little further, there are only a couple each of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever varietal you choose. It’s like they looked at the broad spectrum of wine and decided it was better if they had one kosher selection of each varietal and left it at that. Look further still, and you’ll see only a couple of options that cost more than $30. On the one hand, the frugal oenophile may see this as a plus, but I see it as a kind of dismissal that implies kosher wines probably aren’t that good, so why go to the trouble of putting any of the more expensive juice on the shelf?

This lack of choice and of higher-end titles is self-perpetuating — you don’t get very good selections, or much of a selection at all, and it reinforces the sense that kosher wine overall — and Israeli wines in particular — aren’t very good. Well, there’s a case to be made that they weren’t very good for a very long time, but that the tide has turned, and a new crop of more artisanal winemakers has come into their own over the past several years. 

Winemaking has been part of Jewish history from the very beginning (Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in Genesis 9:21) and from the very earliest references to Israel. However, for generations in modern times, the landscape was completely dominated by Manischewitz, about which I will not write another word in the name of common decency.

Of course, making better wine is one thing, but selling it is another. Enter Michael Bernstein and The Cask on Pico. With a selection of nearly 500 wine titles, it is the largest and best all-kosher wine and spirits shop on the West Coast. 

Bernstein, 34, was looking for a “recession-proof” business and saw a void in the market for selling kosher wine to an evolving, increasingly sophisticated market. Four years later, and he’s loving it. “This is one of the best times I’ve ever had in terms of business. You meet very interesting people, whether it’s the winemakers or the customers. There’s a great camaraderie in the business. I can’t think of another industry that’s more fun.” 

Admittedly more of a “Scotch guy,” Bernstein (and his staff) has tasted every title in the store, and he’s developed his palate in the process. Although he prides himself on service and selection (he sells almost every bottle himself), Bernstein sees himself as equal parts educator and salesman. “People like to compare one bottle or vintage to another,” he said. His approach is to broaden the consumer’s horizons: “I love to get people to try more exciting things. If you liked that, you should really try this.”

The Cask’s refrigerated wine cellar behind the main sales floor holds some of the rarest and most expensive selections, including older vintages of Domaine du Castel (Judean Hills, Israel), Pontet Canet (Pauillac, Bordeaux) and Covenant (Napa Valley). Most bottles in this chilly little sanctuary sell for more than $65. The most expensive bottle it has sold? A 2003 Valandraud from St. Emilion in Bordeaux for $550. 

Best-selling title? Bartenura Moscato at $13.95, a title that has caught fire, in part, because its distinctive blue bottle was prominently featured in a video of the song “Do It Now” by half-Jewish rapper Drake. Evidently, Moscato rhymes with bravo, model and bottle. 

As for Manischewitz: Bernstein doesn’t carry it. “I’m a fan of tradition, but this,” he said, waving his hand at the handsome display of dozens of hand-picked bottles that adorn the walls in dark wood cabinetry that runs from floor to ceiling, “isn’t about that.”

What wine to pair with gefilte fish? “Who eats gefilte fish?” If you absolutely had to? “I hope I don’t have to.”

There is a full selection of every kind of spirit imaginable, including a wall of Scotch whiskeys — some of which do not carry a kosher designation on the label and the reason his store does not carry a kosher hechsher. “I’ve done my own research,” he says about the “disputed” titles, mostly having to do with a bit of arcana surrounding the kind of casks used for aging.

Bernstein is perhaps the greatest champion of kosher wine and spirits in Los Angeles. A back room is host to tastings with visiting winemakers and privately catered parties. Last month, he hosted a Scotch tasting at the SLS Hotel attended by more than 150 enthusiasts nibbling on kosher hors d’oeuvres and smoking presumably kosher cigars, part of an ongoing series of off-site events. “You get people’s honest opinions,” he says of comparative tastings. What’s the Yiddish expression for “In vino veritas”?

Here are some of Michael Bernstein’s Passover picks: 

Rose du Castel 2013 (Israel), $39.95

Capcanes Peraj Petita Rosat, $29.95

Barkan Pinotage 2011 (Israel), $70

Adir “Plato” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, $70

Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Napa Valley), $40

Hajdu Syrah 2012, $40

Malartic La Graviere Bordeaux 2005, $100

The Cask, 8616 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 205-9008.


Jeff Smith is the founder of Van Nuys-based Carte du Vin Wine Cellar Management and the author of “The Best Cellar.” He was formerly known as J.D. Smith. 

A reminder: Don’t pass over the post-seder meals


Planning Passover meals is always a wonderful challenge. For the seders, most of us focus on traditional family recipes because they are tried and proven, and because everyone likes them (and often asks for these favorites dishes).

But what about the remaining six days of meals? They must be considered.

Once the big seder meals are done, it’s nice to be able to eat healthy, simple and flavorful meals for the rest of the week. An abundance of vegetables, fruits, poultry, meat, fish and fresh herbs can be incorporated into cooking on Passover.

Here are some recipes that I make on Passover because they are easy to prepare and provide flexibility as to when they can be served — not to mention they are quite delicious.


CARROT-GINGER SOUP
Makes 8 servings

The apple and the ginger give this creamy soup, which is made without any cream, a bit of a bite. The ingredients are always available, so you can serve it in any season at any temperature — hot, cold or room. I must confess, though, that I love it best when the weather is warm.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, quartered
1 3/4 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced, plus 1 extra carrot for garnish
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled and sliced
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
5 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, apple and ginger, and saute for 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook, covered, about 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

Cool a little. Puree the soup in a blender, in batches, until smooth. Return it to the saucepan.

Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

To prepare the garnish: Steam the remaining carrot until just tender and grate. Before serving, sprinkle each bowl with the grated carrot.


HALIBUT CEVICHE
Makes 4 servings

Ceviche is a refreshing appetizer that I make with fresh fish marinated in lime juice. The juice “cooks” the fish in a very short time, allowing it to turn opaque and firm. It can be served on a bed of butter lettuce with slices of avocado. It’s a wonderful alternative to gefilte fish for an appetizer or makes a nice, light lunch.

Ingredients:
1 pound skinless halibut cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup lime juice, plus 2 tablespoons
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, finely chopped
2 scallions, including the green part, thinly sliced
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Butter lettuce
Slices of avocado

Preparation:
Place fish in a nonreactive bowl and season with salt. Pour juice over fish and press down so the fish is submerged in the juice. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until fish is opaque and firm.

Drain off and discard the lime juice. Add peppers, scallions and cilantro to the fish. Just before serving add the remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.


CHICKEN WITH POTATOES AND OLIVES
Makes 4 servings

I am always pleased to come up with a dish that is a meal in itself, one that combines either chicken or meat with vegetables. This is one of my favorites. I bake it in an attractive casserole so it can go directly from the oven to the table.

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
9 garlic cloves
Kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Leaves from 10 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
5 plum tomatoes
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
1/2 cup pitted black olives, quartered

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. With 1 tablespoon of the oil, grease a glass, ceramic or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold all the vegetables in a single layer.

Coarsely chop 4 of the garlic cloves on a cutting board. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and, using a knife, crush them into a paste. Place the paste in a small bowl and combine it with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, half of the thyme leaves and pepper to taste.

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper towels and season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with the mixture and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water; bring the water back to a boil and drain. Core the tomatoes and slip off the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half widthwise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds. (Some seeds will remain.) Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Thickly slice the remaining 5 garlic cloves and spread them in the prepared baking pan along with the tomatoes, potatoes, olives, the rest of the thyme leaves and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until almost tender.

Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn them over, spoon on some pan juices and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is slightly pink on the inside. Cover with foil for 1 minute.


ROASTED CAULIFLOWER
Makes 4 servings

Roasting is an easy and delicious way to transform this reliable standby into a wonderful dish.

Ingredients:
1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking pan with foil.

Cut the stalk and leaves off the cauliflower and discard. Cut the head into small florets. Place the garlic in the baking pan. Arrange the florets on top; drizzle with the oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, or until tender.


CHOCOLATE MERINGUE SQUARES
Makes 3 1/2 dozen squares

These meringue squares are like cookies, but they are light, chocolaty and surprisingly low in calories. They can be presented as cookies or cut into individual squares and served with either sorbet or fresh fruit on the side.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon unsalted margarine, for greasing the pan
1/2 pound blanched almonds
6 ounces good-quality imported semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 large egg whites (see note below)
1 cup sugar

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan with wax paper and grease the paper with the margarine.

Chop the almonds in a food processor, in 2 batches, until medium-fine. Transfer to a bowl. Chop the chocolate in the processor until fine and combine with the almonds.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, beat at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff.

With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites, making a motion like a figure eight with the spatula. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out almost dry.

Cool on a wire rack. Invert onto a cutting board and peel off the paper. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Notes: It is easier to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, when they are cold. Make sure the whites have come to room temperature before beating.

To freeze the squares, place them side by side in an air-tight plastic container, with wax paper between the layers.

New law mandates proper labeling for kosher foods going to pantries


Kosher and halal meals going to food pantries must be tracked and labeled as such under a new federal law.

An amendment to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act enacted last week mandates the tracking and labeling by the Department of Agriculture.

The department currently purchases kosher and halal foods but does not make a deliberate effort to label them as such, making it difficult to ensure that the meals end up in pantries and communities where they are most needed.

“We must take steps to help the neediest observant families and children get access to nutritious food during these difficult times,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) initiated the amendment.

Rabbi Abba Cohen, the Agudath Israel of America’s vice president for federal government affairs and the Washington director for the Orthodox group, said in a statement that the legislation is “a vital step forward for addressing the needs of the Jewish poor.”

David Frankel, CEO and executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York, noted, “More than one-half million Jewish New Yorkers struggle with food insecurity each and every day.”

Food trucks: Have kosher, will travel


Finding space to move inside the tiny kitchen of The Kosher Palate food truck is tough, but that hasn’t stopped owner Michele Grant from using it to cook up plenty of creative meals for her menu.

“Who doesn’t like tater tots?” asked Grant recently, as she showed off one of her favorite dishes, Shakki Tots — tater tots with shakshuka and quail egg, which came with added zest when dipped in sumac.

As students from the University of Southern California (USC) stopped for lunch between classes on what was a rare rainy day, Grant gave samples to newbies who hadn’t yet tried her modern kosher cuisine.

“We love giving out noshes. It’s our thing,” Grant said as she handed out portions of her Portuguese kale stew. “We can’t be a Jewish truck without being able to give out noshes.” 

On this October day, just three miles northeast of The Kosher Palate’s parking spot at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street on USC’s campus, sat what may be the only other full-time kosher food truck in Los Angeles, The Holy Grill, which opened up about three months ago.

Owned and operated by Adiel Nahmias, a 28-year-old native of Afula, Israel, and his partner, Dvir Botach, The Holy Grill’s truck — well, cart, really — was parked in the Fashion District on 15th Street between Los Angeles and Main streets, where it could cater to the Israeli and Persian Jews working downtown. Nahmias learned his trade as a chef in Israel and as a manager at Bibi’s Bakery and Café here in Los Angeles.

The most popular item among Nahmias’ patrons is the shawarma, but that’s not all that’s on his more traditional menu.

“The new schnitzel is doing — baruch Hashem — very good,” Nahmias said as he ran from the back of the cart, where he slices meat and vegetables, to the register at the front to take orders. Adjacent to the grill, Nahmias has set up seating and tables under a tent for patrons who want to take a bit of an extended lunch break.

The Holy Grill’s biggest costs are parking — for the location downtown and the nearby indoor overnight spot. Add in labor, food and the cost of kosher certification, and it’s no wonder that so few full-time kosher food-mobiles exist in Los Angeles. (Several have popped up in the past, only to fold later.)

At The Holy Grill, Nahmias’ day begins every morning around 7 a.m., when he drives to the Western Kosher market on Pico Boulevard to pick up fresh cuts of meat before opening for business at 9 a.m. When he and his four employees aren’t dealing with hungry customers, who usually come for an early afternoon lunch, they’re busy cleaning and preparing food. 

Although The Holy Grill (facebook.com/holygrillonwheels) closes every weekday at 5 p.m. (early for Shabbat), Nahmias said that on recent nights he has sometimes been out much later, scouting other possible locations that include Pico-Robertson and USC, and looking into purchasing additional carts. 

As for Grant — a former partner in the popular Grilled Cheese Truck — she’s brought her Kosher Palate truck (facebook.com/thekosherpalate) all over the city, debuting at the Celebrate Israel Festival in April in Rancho Park, and operating as far out as Tujunga, Chatsworth and West Covina. 

Sitting by a table about 30 feet from the truck, she excitedly described another unique menu item, the Mamalawach, which is malawach (a fried Yemini bread), with pepper steak, skhug (a Middle Eastern hot sauce), hummus with black-eyed peas, jachnun (a Yemenite Jewish pastry) and shaved tomato — all sautéed with honey and lemon pepper.

“If somebody tries our food, they are buying our food,” she said confidently.

The Kosher Palate started parking at USC in early October, setting up shop there every Tuesday (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Wednesday (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).  According to Grant, the USC Office of Religious Life has been instrumental in bringing The Kosher Palate to campus, encouraging its presence and even helping to pay for a parking spot in an effort to provide kosher alternatives.

 “It’s really exciting to have more kosher options by campus,” said senior Avital Shoomer, as she walked away with the Jacob’s Ladder, Grant’s spinoff of the hamburger — topped with tater tots, a fried onion ring and a quail egg. 

“It’s such a nice change from the classic burger,” she added. “I eat kosher meat only, so I’m usually a vegetarian when I eat at the campus center — so it’s really nice to have some meat options.”

After-school kosher kitchen nourishes body and soul


It was Stephanie Levi’s first time with her two sons enjoying an early dinner at the new after-school kosher kitchen in Pico-Robertson. She plans on coming back for more. 

“It’s really helpful to fit it into the routine after school,” said Levi, whose children go to school around the corner from the kitchen, which is located at Tiferet Teman, a Sephardic synagogue on Pico Boulevard.

Created to serve children of families experiencing financial hardship, the kitchen, which opened on Aug. 26, serves free, hot meals to any Jewish children who come, and to the parents, siblings or guardians who bring them. The kitchen is open from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and offerings include schnitzel, meatballs, chicken, potatoes, matzah ball soup, tilapia and pastries.

“We are happy to accept anybody from a Jewish family,” said Ifat Shlomi, one of the kitchen’s lead organizers. “Whoever needs it can come and enjoy the food.”

The kitchen was opened by Shlomi, Sharon On of Bazilikum Catering and Rabbi Moshe Yazdi, who lives in Jerusalem and runs two similar kitchens in Israel. He also leads American Friends of Amude Hashalom, a nonprofit group based in Los Angeles that serves those in need in the Jewish community.

On a recent Thursday, about 15 parents and children filtered into the synagogue to fill their plates with food. They sat down to eat dinner as a family, and even played with the dozens of toys that the kitchen provides.

One of Levi’s children, Yosef, came over from playing with his brother to shyly discuss his food of choice on his inaugural visit to the kitchen: “the soup.”

The food is prepared daily by On, the caterer, just around the corner at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy. She cooks food for about 400 children daily for school lunches, and now also for the roughly 30 children that have shown up most days at Tiferet Teman.

“I want to come up to 100 kids every day and give them homemade food and fresh food,” On said.

One mother, who asked that her name not be used, said that the new kosher kitchen saves her significant time every day preparing dinner for her six children.

“I work in the morning, and then I go to pick up my kids, so you don’t have a chance to prepare the dinner,” she said.

Another mother, who also asked that her name not be used, said that her youngest daughter prefers the taste of the food at Tiferet Teman to the food at home.

“She eats very good [here]. At home she doesn’t,” the mother said. “I’m a single mother, and it’s a lot of help.”

Yazdi, speaking over the phone from Israel, said he envisions this project eventually extending beyond only providing meals, including providing things like cookware and clothing to those who need.

“It doesn’t end with the food,” Yazdi said. “We see these kids as our own kids. We want to take care of them from A to Z.”

A kosher kitchen compromise


My boyfriend of four years and I finally decided to move in together. But there was one problem: What to do about the kitchen.

Dov was raised in a Conservative Jewish household in Los Angeles where milk and meat never mixed. I grew up in a Reform home in New York where chicken kebabs were marinated in yogurt and saffron. When we spent our weekends apartment hunting in Manhattan, we looked not at the brownstones before us but stood stuck on the sidewalk debating whether our new kitchen would include my great-grandmother’s Descoware Dutch oven.

“Well, the pot is not kosher because it’s been passed down through non-kosher homes,” Dov said.

“Does it matter?” I argued. “It belonged to my great-grandmother. I’ll store it in a separate area of our kitchen.”

“But then our kitchen wouldn’t be kosher,” he said sadly.

I had imagined that moving in with my boyfriend might include the delightfully self-indulgent arguments from romantic comedies. I pictured purging outfits from my closet to make room for “his stuff” and paring down the nine perfume bottles that adorned my vanity. But I found the one boyfriend who wanted me to clean out my kitchen cabinets.

Before I met Dov in my mid-20s, my interaction with kosher food was limited to Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs. My Iranian mother, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, converted to Judaism when she married my dad. My parents spent their weekends shimmying past one another in the kitchen as herbs and beef sauteed on one burner and rice steamed on another. Although we mostly ate Persian food, my parents could cook anything.

Sure, we ate traditional Jewish foods around the holidays, but my feelings toward those dishes were somewhat similar to the way Nora Ephron described her tzimmes recipe: the medley of sweet potatoes, carrots and dried fruit “is delicious with a pork roast.” In our home, tzimmes was served alongside roast beef and Yorkshire pudding during our traditional Christmas Eve dinner with our longtime Jewish friends.

I had started cooking as a teenager, making chicken cutlets stuffed with prosciutto and spinach-and-meat-and-cheese lasagna. Giada De Laurentiis and Mario Batali were like my surrogate Italian aunt and uncle, and I browned and broiled my way enthusiastically through their Food Network shows.

But when I met Dov, I realized that even though our interests aligned on nearly everything, I lamented that he would never be able to try my specialty — chicken parmesan.

“Well, you can make it with non-dairy cheese,” he said brightly.

Milk and meat lived so harmoniously in my kitchen — and my stomach — that the thought of separating the two rattled my belief system more than I would have anticipated. Could  I embrace kashrut for Dov? After all, he knew that I would never be one to keep Shabbat, so he’d altered his lifestyle from keeping the tradition. He also moved to New York City to be with me, despite his love for living in California. So maybe I could bend, too.  There was a chance I might even enjoy it.

No such luck. A year into our relationship, I roasted my first-ever chicken — a kosher one — in my inaugural attempt into treating meat and milk like separate lovers. I turned to Ina Garten’s perfect roast chicken recipe for guidance. I followed the directions so closely that without thinking twice, I threw a half stick of butter on the stove to melt. I stood over my beautifully stuffed kosher chicken holding a spoonful of culinary liquid gold.  Then I saw the flying cow image on the Horizon Organic butter wrapper and I panicked: Until that moment, I’d never considered butter dairy, but a class unto itself, like tofu. Separating these two food groups felt deeply unnatural; it was like seasoning a dish with just salt and not pepper.

Still, despite those disasters, Dov still wanted to share a home with separate sets of everything — pots, pans, plates and silverware. I understood that kashrut was key to Dov’s Judaism. But eating kebabs with rice and yogurt was key to mine. Granted, I didn’t have the Talmud behind me, but I had the “Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.” And even though keeping kosher was consistent throughout generations of Dov’s family, why didn’t the recipes and cookware that were passed down through my family — major aspects of my heritage as a multicultural Jew — carry the same weight?

So we did what most stubborn 20-somethings would do: We compromised on a “kosher-ish” kitchen. No separate sets of dishware, and my great-grandmother’s Dutch oven would be grandfathered into our new home. We would use glass plates (a kosher get-out-of-jail-free card, if you will, as they don’t “absorb” meat or dairy). No shrimp or pork in the house, which I could accept, since these are the only forbidden foods I admire but am particularly unskilled at preparing.

But it was still the fundamental request that made me almost lose my appetite.

“Could we please avoid mixing meat and dairy?” Dov asked. “I’m just too uncomfortable combining the two. Could we keep all the recipes that have been in your family that don’t combine meat and milk, since there are so many?”

I fell in love with Dov for reasons that had little to do with religion. He was brilliant, thoughtful and a stellar guitar player who already traded in his rock star aspirations for law school applications by the time we met. But I also admired his respect for tradition. If I cooked yogurt-marinated kebabs in our shared kitchen, he wouldn’t eat them.  I wasn’t moving in with my boyfriend to eat dinner alone.

Regardless, I found it tremendously difficult to hold myself to the standard that I was expecting of Dov.

“He can live with one set of glass dishes, but I need to round out the flavors in my Bolognese sauce with two tablespoons of butter,” I thought to myself, simultaneously committed to my rationale and yet embarrassed by my childish obstinance.

“We can try,” I said. And as we unpacked all our stuff — my nine perfume bottles spread out untouched across the vanity, our new glass dishes in the kitchen next to my great-grandmother’s Dutch oven — I understood that it was compromise, not kashrut, that we would have to work on: to be less like the families we came from and more like the family we would create together.

Has the era of the kosher cheeseburger arrived?


When the world’s first lab-grown burger was introduced and taste-tested on Monday, the event seemed full of promise for environmentalists, animal lovers and vegetarians.

Another group that had good reason to be excited? Kosher consumers.

The burger was created by harvesting stem cells from a portion of cow shoulder muscle that were multiplied in petri dishes to form tiny strips of muscle fiber. About 20,000 of the strips were needed to create the five-ounce burger, which was financed partially by Google founder Sergey Brin and unveiled by Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

PETA hailed the event as a “first step” toward humanely producing meat products. A University of Amsterdam study shows that lab-grown meat could significantly reduce the environmental impact of beef production.

For kosher-observant Jews, the “cultured” burgers could open the door to radical dietary changes — namely, the birth of the kosher cheeseburger.

That’s because meat produced through this process could be considered parve – neither meat nor dairy — according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division. Thus under traditional Jewish law, the burger could be paired with dairy products.

Several key conditions would have to be met to create kosher, parve cultured beef. The tissue samples would have to come from an animal that had been slaughtered according to kosher rules, not from a biopsy from a live animal, Genack said.

The principle underlying this theory is much like the status of gelatin in Jewish law: Though it is derived from an animal, it is not meat (the OU certifies some bovine-derived gelatin as parve).

Genack noted another source for viewing cultured meat as parve: a 19th century Vilna-born scholar known as the Heshek Shlomo wrote that the meat of an animal conjured up in a magical incantation could be considered parve. It may not be too much of a stretch, then, to apply the same logic to modern genetic wizardry.

But kosher chefs aren’t heating up the parve griddles just yet.

The lab-born burger, which cost $325,000 and took two years to make, is still a long way from market viability, kosher or otherwise. If mass produced, it could still cost $30 per pound, researchers said.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Jeff Nathan, the executive chef at Abigael’s on Broadway, a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. “Until it’s in my hands and I can touch it, smell it and taste it, I don’t believe it.”

Even if cultured beef became commonplace, consumers still might not be interested, said Elie Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Empire Kosher, the nation’s largest kosher poultry producer.

“Parve burgers made of tofu and vegetables have been on the market for years,” Rosenfeld said. “But customers are still looking for the real deal, a product that’s wholesome and genuine.”

Nevertheless, Nathan sounded an enthusiastic note about the potential for parve meat.

“I’m all for experimentation and science,” he said. “Let’s see what it tastes like!”

Give Polish Jewry a kosher choice


Remember “Had Gadya”? What satisfaction when, onto the scene of carnage, walks the Holy One of Blessing, and destroys the angel of death that slew the butcher that killed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid. And what relief! But only momentarily. For where are we in this lineup of violence? It is forever, for us, the question of what am I, now, an angel of death or the little white kid that daddy bought for two zuzim? And can I be both? And do I have to be either?

To be human is to be aware of one’s own morality. To be able to act morally, we must have the freedom to choose to do or not to do so, which demands we have the freedom to reject morality. Without that freedom, we are but tools in other people’s hands. 

In the recent debate on the Polish government’s decree de-legalizing shechitah, or kosher ritual slaughter, we hear strident voices from many sides. Some say the only motivation for the decision was to prevent needless animal suffering. Other voices argue that skillfully performed shechitah causes the animal less pain than all the other feasible methods of killing it. Others still express discontent, outrage or fear, due to the fact that discontinuing kosher slaughter effectively makes it impossible for observant Polish Jews to eat meat altogether.

I do not know which is worse: a shochet’s knife to the throat, or a killing machine in a meat plant. I know that, kosher or not, slaughterhouses are cruel places, where overworked butchers have to do their quota of killing, and helpless animals experience horror and pain. While I realize that Poland cannot, for reasons of its largely agriculture-based economy, its traditions and customs, opt out of mass production and consumption of meat, I would like government experts to conduct an inquiry into all killing of animals — not just the preparation of kosher meat — to ensure that animals’ deaths can become less traumatic than they are now. As important is an inquiry into how these animals live before they find their deaths in Polish slaughterhouses. I imagine a national commission, made up of Muslim leaders, Progressive Jewish leadership, Orthodox rabbinate, philosophers and ethicists, as well as animal behaviorists and farm engineers, working together to design ways to lessen the severity of pain we inflict on livestock as it is reared, handled and killed. 

Once a viable system is designed and a door is opened about kosher (and halal) slaughter, it may be easier to open it for all slaughter. So what I imagine as a solution now is a law that would keep wholesale butchering for export markets outlawed, but would ensure that Polish faith communities that require kosher (or halal) meat are enabled to butcher the chickens, the calves, the cows and the kids whose meat they want to eat. In other words, I want a law that, while keeping the ban on mass killing for foreign markets, would ensure the existence in Poland of slaughterhouses producing meats for local communities and provide for this meat’s fair distribution. 

My current choices don’t really give me a choice. Could the sages of our government work with our rabbis to devise a law that would return to Polish Jews the freedom currently enjoyed, at least potentially, by non-Jewish Poles, of pondering in meat shops the decision of whether to participate, with just a flick of my credit card, the animal hecatomb people have carried on since Noah and the flood, or refusing to do it? For Jews to be able to exercise such a choice, the meat bought or rejected must be kosher meat. 

We are a complex people. We embrace our diversity. Given the freedom to choose, some of us will want to go and butcher that kid that they can buy for two zuzim. Some will let it live. Some will focus on whether the kid can live a life where it is treated with care and regard for its needs, and whether it dies as painless and humane a death as possible. Some will flicker between choices, depending on a myriad of reasons why. Even though I hold with one of these choices only, I respect them all. After all, only the Knower of Secrets, the Holy One of Blessing, knows what lies deep at the root of our choices and how we arrive at our decisions. And it is only when He, the final player in the “Had Gadya” we sing here on Earth, says so, will the world break up the cycle of violence. In the meantime, each Polish Jew should be granted the freedom to choose for herself or himself whether they will or will not become, by virtue of buying their meat or refusing it, the halef — an instrument that transforms life into death.


Dr. Joanna Auron is a new board member of Beit Polska, the Poland-wide Progressive Jewish umbrella organization of Jews affiliated with the European Union for Progressive Judaism and the World Union for Progressive Judaism. She lives and works in Poland.

Kosher food is on the roll


In a way, Michele Grant’s unfortunate Hollywood ending — she experienced an injury on a movie set while serving as an assistant director — turned into a beautiful beginning for the Los Angeles kosher community.

While she had been passionate about cooking since her childhood, when she learned the art from her grandmothers — one who taught her to bake rugelach, cakes and cookies and the other who first showed her how to debone a chicken — it wasn’t until after the injury that she took on cooking professionally. Grant served as a private chef for people in the entertainment industry, particularly those with special diets, and picked up other cooking gigs on the side.

Today, she is the owner and founder of The Kosher Palate, which serves up kosher sandwiches, soups, desserts and side dishes at farmers markets across the city every week. The mobile food station opened last fall and makes appearances at the Sunset Strip, Mar Vista and La Cienega farmers markets, doling out pareve food cooked on the spot. 

A truck that has both pareve and fleishig items launched in April. Grant said it has stopped in Santa Clarita, Burbank, West Los Angeles, Pico-Robertson and many places in between. There are plans to expand to places like Long Beach and the South Bay as well, she said. 

The next stage will be turning the truck into a hybrid of a gourmet food truck with made-to-order cuisine and a mobile epicurean shop carrying a line of prepared food items and specialty kosher products, according to Grant.

The menu includes shakshuka, an African and Middle Eastern stew with tomatoes, red peppers, onion and turkey meatballs that she serves in a mamaliga (polenta) bowl; tomato bisque and butternut squash soup; roasted beluga lentil salad; lemongrass almond pudding; a baked tempeh sandwich; and tuna Nicoise. The food is sourced from the farmers themselves, and is all-natural. 

“We’re using extraordinary ingredients,” Grant said. “It’s from local farmers who love what they do and know their products.”

“When something has just come from the ground or the tree, it’s at its height in nutritional value and flavor,” she said. “It’s reflected in the food we make.”

Earlier in her culinary career, Grant, 46, learned the ins and outs of the mobile food business as a partner in the popular Grilled Cheese Truck and doing cooking demonstrations at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Then she decided to combine her interest in cooking with her reverence for kosher standards. (A secular Jew, Grant grew up attending an Orthodox school and learned about kashrut, or Jewish dietary laws.) 

“It was always so curious to me that I never saw a lot of the frum community at the farmers markets,” she said. “At the farmers markets, you go to buy your fruits and vegetables. It’s social, and you get a nosh along the way. There was never anything for [observant people] to nosh on. We solve that problem.”

Certified by the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), the Kosher Palate, which is run by Grant and three full-time workers, follows strict standards of kashrut. For example, the booth cannot be located next to another booth that is also cooking food because of possible cross-contamination with treif vapor.

Michele Grant. Photo by Martin Cohen Photography

Cindy Szerlip, chief financial officer of the Kosher Palate, also is Jewish and interested in the sustainable, artisan food movement. When she had kids and started going to the local Jewish center, she found the kosher food everywhere to be disappointing. 

“It was unimaginative, and it was the same food over and over again,” she said. “I ate food at gourmet restaurants that could absolutely be prepared in a kosher style without losing quality or excitement.” 

Szerlip said that it’s important for everyone, Jewish or not, to understand the level of quality involved in kosher food.

“It’s clear, and more regulated than foods you get on the street or in supermarkets. It’s highly inspected, and there are rigorous standards,” she said. “The time has come, considering the food problems in our system. It’s another level of security and quality that most people should really have in their lives.”

Since Kosher Palate kicked off with a latke party last fall at the Mar Vista Farmers Market, manager Diana Rodgers said it has struck a chord with patrons. 

“People assume it’s just kosher food and not their food, but when they taste it, they change their mind. It’s an offering for everyone. It’s a learning curve for people. They’re very happy when they taste it,” Rodgers said. 

Grant said that the experience of running a kosher food booth has, so far, been a positive one, even if it’s not always easy. 

“I love being able to get back to my own roots in terms of food,” she said. “To be able to cook the food of my history and to celebrate my own culture through food is amazing. I can honor my grandmothers because I feel them with me in the kitchen every day.”

Schwartz Bakery leaves RCC for Kehilla


Schwartz Bakery, a kosher bakery and caterer with six retail locations across Los Angeles, has dropped the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) as its kosher certifier. The 59-year-old family-owned business announced the news on May 20, posting on its Facebook page a photograph of a Kehilla Kosher sign hanging in the window of one of its shops.

“All Schwartz Bakery locations are now under Kehilla supervision,” the Facebook post stated, referring to Los Angeles’ other prominent Orthodox kosher agency. 

According to its Web site, Schwartz is “the first kosher bakery in Los Angeles.” It is the third kosher establishment to leave the RCC in the wake of the recent scandal that has tarnished the certifier’s reputation, and the largest to do so thus far. 

The move was announced almost exactly eight weeks after the RCC revoked its certification from Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats, which had been the largest distributor of meat under its supervision. In March, Doheny’s owner was videotaped allegedly bringing unidentified animal products into his store at a time when the RCC’s kosher overseer was absent. The breach was discovered by a private investigator not affiliated with the RCC; the agency revoked its certification on the eve of Passover and has been trying to mitigate the damage to its reputation ever since. 

Speaking to the Journal at his store on Pico Boulevard on May 23, Marc Hecht, whose family has owned Schwartz Bakery since 1979, confirmed the change in supervision but declined to comment further about the decision to leave the RCC, which had supervised the bakery for decades. 

In addition to its retail business, Schwartz Bakery caters events, sells packaged baked goods to retailers across the Southland and runs the lunch program at Yeshivat Yavneh, an Orthodox day school near Hancock Park. 

RCC President Rabbi Meyer May also declined to speak about Schwartz’s departure. In an e-mail to the Journal on May 26, May said he was “much more interested in speaking about the unilateral decisions the RCC has taken to elevate our community’s kashrus.” 

May and Rabbi Jonathan Rosenberg, chairman of the RCC’s committee overseeing kosher certification, outlined those “unilateral decisions” in a letter May sent to the Journal on May 27. 

According to the two-page letter, the RCC has hired or appointed at least eight different rabbis to oversee various aspects of its kosher operations. 

What impact, if any, the described changes will have is hard to predict. The letter says the RCC has “addressed the issues raised” during its own internal review of the establishments under its supervision, and noted that the RCC had also received recommendations from the Orthodox Union’s kosher agency. 

But the letter does not list specific changes to RCC policies, beyond a pledge from May and Rosenberg that the RCC “will adhere to universally accepted kashrus standards recommended by the Association of Kashrus Organizations,” a Chicago-based umbrella organization for kosher certifiers.

May declined to answer any follow-up questions about the letter, including whether the higher standard of kosher the RCC says it is aiming for will cost merchants — and consumers — more money. 

“The RCC Update statement is all we have to say at this time,” May wrote in an e-mail on May 28. 

With neither the RCC nor Schwartz’s owner speaking about the bakery’s move, individuals have been left to speculate on what may have motivated the switch. 

“RCC is not as good for the bottom line as the other hechshers,” Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, the rabbi of the Pacific Jewish Center, wrote on his blog, FinkOrSwim. “The only real reason a restaurant will switch is to increase business,” Fink suggested.

In the wake of the Doheny scandal, Fink writes, even merchants who have never been certified by the RCC are going to notable lengths to put their customers at ease. Fink reported that Shiloh’s, a steakhouse on Pico Boulevard, has put up a “splash page” on its Web site that assures customers that they are and always have been “under the supervision of Kehilla Kosher.”

“A significant number of people have been spooked by the kashrus scandal,” Fink wrote, to the point that they are effectively rejecting the ruling by Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, a noted halachic authority with the OU. 

When the Doheny scandal broke, Belsky declared that all meat purchased from Doheny before 3 p.m. on March 24 was kosher according to religious law. Furthermore, individuals and businesses that had bought and used Doheny meat before that time did not, according to Belsky, have to kasher their utensils or kitchens afterward. 

But while the RCC relied on Belsky’s ruling, Kehilla, its chief competitor, has so far declined to either affirm or reject it. The May 20 post on Schwartz Bakery’s Facebook page, however, made explicit mention that Kehilla, in taking over the Schwartz Bakery hechsher, also “kashered” the Schwartz deli on Fairfax Avenue.

Genetically engineered salmon: Coming soon to a bagel near you?


Do you want to be experimented on by eating sushi or bagels and lox made with a new type of salmon with eel genes in it — salmon which hasn’t been adequately tested for safety of human consumption?

If not, then we in the Jewish community need to speak up now, for the sake of our health, the environment, kashrut, and to ensure that there will be native salmon left in the future.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking public comments through April 26, on whether to approve the first genetically engineered (“GE” or “GMO”) animal species: Atlantic salmon with chinook salmon and ocean pout (eel, non-kosher) genes forced into its DNA. 

Manufacturer AquaBounty plans to sell it without a GE label.  You won’t know you are eating it.

Over 300 consumer, health, fishing, environmental, parent, and animal rights groups are opposing FDA approval.  The Los Angeles City Council unanimously opposes it.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s pledge not to sell it.

Here’s why I am taking action, and I hope you will, too.

HEALTH

Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) writes that the FDA determination of no additional significant health risk is based on manipulated data and inadequate studies. Allergy risk findings were based on only six fish, and those allergic to finfish could experience severe allergic reactions.

Friends of the Earth writes, “GE salmon are unhealthy and suffer from skeletal deformities, jaw erosions, inflammation, lesions, increased susceptibility to disease, and increased mortality, raising serious … human health concerns from eating sick fish.  Overall, GE salmon have 40% higher levels of IGF-1.” 

“IGF-1 is a hormone that has been associated with increased risk of a number of cancers, especially prostate, breast, colorectal and lung,” adds Dr. Hansen.

The Center for Food Safety summarizes that the science is not there to say these fish are safe to eat.  Further research is needed.

KASHRUT

The Orthodox Union says GE salmon is kosher, because it has fins and scales.

However, even though some authorities currently state that this fish is kosher, there are Jews who will reject it, saying, “I definitely won’t eat it – it’s not kosher to me.”  Views ranged from an ethical sense of kashrut to “it’s not the natural, healthy food G-d created for us.”

Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz of Netiya said the Torah prohibits eating swimming animals that do not have both fins and scales. Eel lacks scales, suggesting GE salmon might not be entirely a salmon, and therefore may not be kosher. Also, creation of a part-fish, part-eel seems impermissible as a violation of the Torah’s prohibition to mix species.

Brooklyn Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Serebryanski said, even though a small amount of a non-kosher food doesn’t usually render a food non-kosher, it does when it becomes an intrinsic part of the food.  It is prohibited to genetically engineer salmon with eel genes because such boundary crossing is prohibited by the Creator. Using genetic engineering to cross boundaries set up by the Creator creates an imbalance and distortion, disrupting a person’s connection with the Creator.

ENVIRONMENT

GE salmon raises serious concerns about the survival of native salmon. AquaBounty says its fish will be infertile and cannot escape their controlled, land-based environment.  But the FDA allows for 95% sterility, and there will certainly be fertile fish that produce the GE eggs.  Fish and eggs can escape through land-based water recirculation systems. Market competition may potentially push all fish farms to buy and raise AquaBounty’s GE eggs.  Most farms are on coastlines. Thousands of farmed fish escape annually.

Could escaped GE salmon out-compete native salmon for habitat, food and mates, causing extinction of native salmon?   Would eating GE salmon cause illness, infertility or death to bears, whales, seabirds, etc., that rely on them as food?  AquaBounty and the FDA have not done adequate studies.   

The FDA is accepting AquaBounty’s assurances.  Instead it should honor requests from California Senator Feinstein and others, for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement, and from experts like Dr. Anne Kapuscinski, professor of sustainability science at Dartmouth, for a quantitative failure mode analysis.

ACTION

Friends, if this salmon is approved, you and I may have to stop eating salmon completely to protect our health and/or Jewish practice. Even doing so might not protect our ecosystem from disastrous consequences.

We can make a difference on this issue!  Comments to the FDA may be made until April 26 at: http://tiny.cc/in82qw. To help stop this fish from entering the market by getting stores and restaurants to pledge not to sell it, contact www.gefreeseafood.org or the author.


Lisa Kassner is the San Fernando Valley co-coordinator of the Label GMOs Campaign.

Doheny Meats owner said to be involved in previous kosher controversy


Thirty years ago, in 1983, Rabbi Pinchas Gruman, an esteemed scholar of Jewish texts who also holds a doctorate in philosophy, was the chair of the Rabbinical Council of California’s (RCC) committee dedicated to enforcing Jewish dietary law at establishments under its supervision.

On November 3 of that year, acting on a tip, Gruman, who still lives in Los Angeles today, drove to Orange County to visit a kosher retailer, Los Alamitos Kosher Meats and Poultry, where he found kosher meat and poultry in the freezer placed alongside some non-kosher animal products.

In an interview this week, on March 31, Gruman alleged that the person who opened the freezer for him was Mike Engelman, who today is the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats in Los Angeles. Last week, the RCC withdrew its kosher certification from Doheny after being shown video footage of Engelman and his employees, on multiple occasions, bringing hundreds of pounds of unsupervised products into Doheny Meat’s Pico-Robertson retail and distribution outlet.

Unlike the current scandal, which was sparked by film shot by a private investigator and involves boxes whose contents may have been kosher, Gruman said the situation at Los Alamitos Kosher in the 1980s was rather straightforward.

“I’m telling you, he [Engelman] was caught with trayf [non-Kosher] packages, a goyishe [non-Jewish] company,” Gruman said. “I did not do any detective work as I did in other stores. This was, you walked in, he opened up the refrigerator, you opened up the freezer, you pulled it out. It was no difficult clandestine work on my part.”

Gruman, now 82, is not certain of the name of which brand of non-kosher products he saw that day, nor could he recall whether they were poultry or beef. And Gruman was also uncertain whether Engelman was a part-owner of the store or merely an employee.

An article that appeared on the front page of the Orange County Register on Nov. 11, 1983, does not mention Engelman, but describes another individual, Elya Kleinman, as “one of the market’s owners.”

But Gruman said he remembers Engelman, who declined to comment for this article on the advice of his attorney, as the only person he met during the inspection.

Others also said they remember seeing Engelman at the Los Alamitos store, as well.

Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, who served as director of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, Calif., from 1971 until 1989, said he believes Engelman was a partner in the shop.

“I’d seen him in the store, so I know that he had a role,” Schusterman said in an interview on March 31. “

By the end of November 1983, the Los Alamitos store was sold to another owner. About two years later, Engelman purchased Doheny Meats on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Meyer H. May, the RCC’s current president, a post he has held for more than 13 years, said that neither he nor Rabbi Avrohom Union, who has been the RCC’s rabbinic administrator since 1990, knew about the Los Alamitos incident prior to being informed about it by a reporter. May said he is surprised that the RCC, after finding non-kosher products at the Los Alamitos store, allowed a person involved in the running or ownership of that store to take on another RCC-certified kosher establishment.

“It’s hard to imagine that anyone would get two strikes,” May said. 

On March 24, the RCC issued a statement to the community saying that all meat bought from Doheny before the store’s certification was revoked at 3 p.m. that day could be considered kosher. In reaching that decision, May and more than half a dozen other local Orthodox rabbis on the board relied on a concept in Jewish law that allows a mostly kosher set of objects to be considered entirely kosher.

(The timing of the revelation – the eve of Passover – and the fact that the boxes seen in the video being brought through Doheny’s doors had originally come from a strictly kosher slaughterhouse, may have helped shaped that decision. According to attendees present at the meeting on March 24, when the decision was made, Engelman personally spoke to the rabbis, and asserted that all the meat he brought into his shop was kosher, albeit not to the RCC’s higher “glatt kosher” standard.)

But back in the 1980s, after Gruman found non-kosher animal products in the Los Alamitos freezer, community leaders instructed Jews to cleanse their kitchens and cooking utensils.

“We had a kosher-in,” Schusterman recalled. “We had a large vat and we went through a koshering process for many of these people. It was a very unpleasant event.”

Schusterman remembers his reaction, three or four years after the incident at Los Alamitos, to hearing news of Engelman’s purchasing Doheny.

“When I found out that Moishe Engelman has a role, in some manner, in kosher meat, it astounded me, because the type of violation is not just a financial violation,” Schusterman said. “It is a religious violation.

“That that person can be rehabilitated,” he continued, “I don’t believe, in halacha [Jewish law], that there is a rehabilitation for him.”

Gruman himself, as chair of the committee on kosher law, was involved in authorizing the RCC to continue certifying Doheny when Engelman purchased the shop 28 years ago. The RCC’s policy at the time, Gruman said, was to allow an individual whose business had had its certification removed to get back into the good graces of the council by handing over total control to an on-site kosher supervisor.

That supervisor, known as a mashgiach tmidi, is charged with overseeing all operations at the store and is given the only key to the door, so that he is the first to arrive and the last to leave.

“It was under the total supervision of RCC, with the mashgiach, with a key and all that,” Gruman recalled. “The idea was generally to promulgate responsible kashrut in the community, and he [Engelman] fit the picture.”

Gruman also said that the fact that Engelman had not been the sole owner of the Los Alamitos market – and may not have had any ownership stake at all – could have impacted the RCC’s decision to certify Doheny under Engelman’s ownership as kosher.

May said he understood why the RCC decided in 1985 to act as the certifiers of Doheny, when Engelman bought the store. He also said that leading rabbis involved in the kosher industry place great faith in the system of constant supervision.

“When I spoke to [Rabbi] Menachem Genack [about Doheny],” May said, referring to the CEO of the Orthodox Union’s respected kosher operation, “he said, ‘You had a mashgiach tmidi, what else could you do?’”

Nevertheless, May said that even though he believes the primary blame should fall on Engelman, he believes the RCC is responsible for a “monumental failure” in their supervision. Engelman appears to have been given a second chance decades ago, but May said there will surely not be a third, no matter what “bells and whistles” might be put in place.

“I can’t trust him, and I wouldn’t trust him,” May said. “It’s done. And now that I know about Los Alamitos, it’s nauseating.”

EXCLUSIVE: Surveillance video of Doheny Meat scandal


More video to follow.

Southwestern Steak Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing

Times
Prep Time : 10 minutes min
Cook Time : 15 minutes min
Ready Time : 25 min

Servings 4

Ingredients

For salad:

2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 Teaspoon garlic powder
1 Teaspoon chili powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 pound New York strip steak
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup frozen corn, defrosted
1/2 cup Cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
4 green onions, chopped
2 heads romaine lettuce, washed and chopped

For dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro or 1/2 teaspoon dried coriander
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, salt, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder and cayenne and stir well. Rub spice mix all over the steak, coating well.
3. Heat olive oil in a large ovenproof pan over medium high heat and add steak. Sear on each side for 4 minutes or until a nice dark crust forms, 8 minutes total. Transfer pan to the oven and cook 5 minutes for medium rare doneness or 8 minutes for medium.
4. Let steak rest 5 minutes before slicing.
5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine beans, corn, tomatoes and green onion and stir. Add lettuce and toss to combine.
6. In a small bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and whisk well. Pour over lettuce mixture and toss. Distribute salad between 4 bowls and add sliced steak on the side.

Greek Salad

Times:
Prep Time : 15 min
Ready Time : 15 min

Servings: 6

Ingredients

2 lemons, juiced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups garlic croutons
1 1/2 cups sliced English cucumber
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup pitted Greek or black olives, halved
3 tablespoons capers, drained
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, oregano and olive oil and set aside. In a large bowl, combine croutons, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, feta, olives and capers and mix well. Toss with dressing and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and let sit 20 minutes before serving.

 

Lawsuit accuses Hebrew National of unkosher practices


A lawsuit filed against Hebrew National alleged that its hot dogs and other products are not actually kosher.

The class-action suit, filed in May in a federal court in Minnesota, accuses ConAgra Foods — the business designation of Hebrew National that is certified kosher by Triangle K — of several transactions that would render the meat being processed as not kosher.

The suit also accuses the company of mistreating its employees, especially its kosher supervisors and slaughterers. The firm AER provides the kosher slaughtering services at Hebrew National facilities in the Midwest.

Employees who complained about the inappropriate actions were fired or transferred, the suit claims.

Among the complaints is that non-kosher meat was packaged and labeled as kosher meat. The complaints also said that the lungs were not inspected well enough for imperfections and that some cows were slaughtered incorrectly.

The suit also alleges that the employees were paid in violation of American tax laws.

Shlomoh Ben-David, the owner of AER Services Inc., denied the charges in an interview with The Failed Messiah website.

The story was first reported last week by the American Jewish World.

Trader Joe’s comes up against some tough cookies


Trader Joe’s got slammed last week by a combination of hysteria and hoarding by kosher bakers when word leaked out that its semisweet chocolate chips were going from pareve to dairy.

“It’s just really sad,” said Shana Fishman, a Beverlywood mother of four who stocked up on 20 bags of chocolate chips at the Trader Joe’s in West Hollywood last week. “It means that I’ll have to use bitter chocolate chips in my cookies, and it means that I’ll have to pay more for my chocolate chips.”

Trader Joe’s semisweet chocolate chips were widely valued as the best, most affordable non-dairy chocolate chips on the market. Until now they have borne an “OK pareve” designation, essential for kosher consumers who do not eat meat and dairy products in the same meal. But the supplier for Trader Joe’s has changed its production procedure, and the chips will now be designated as dairy by Brooklyn-based OK-Kosher Certification.

“We are meeting with Trader Joe’s and encouraging them to go back to the old protocol and get those chips back to pareve,” Rabbi Chaim Fogelman, director of public relations at the OK, said on May 21. “So far, there is no movement in that area, but we are working on it.”

Trader Joe’s released a statement last week defending its chocolate chips.

“The ingredients used in our semisweet chocolate chips have not changed, there are no dairy ingredients in the item, and the chips are made on equipment dedicated to non-dairy chocolate,” a company statement said.

But the chips are bagged on machinery that also bags milk chocolate chips, and the supplier recently switched from a wet to a dry cleaning regimen on the bagging machine. “These changes … triggered the need for an FDA regulated, dairy-related allergen statement, and this in turn brought about a change in the Kosher certification for our item — going from ‘Kosher Parve’ to ‘Kosher Dairy,’ ” the statement read.

An officer at OK Kosher Certification said supervising rabbis can no longer guarantee that no errant milk chocolate chips are included in the semisweet bags.

“Currently, the monitoring of the level of separation between pareve and dairy is no longer sufficient to meet the requirements of OK Pareve,” a statement released by the OK read.

As the news leaked out through mournful Facebook posts, kosher bakers — along with vegans and the lactose intolerant — flooded Trader Joe’s with an unprecedented barrage of calls and e-mails. A petition created on change.org had 4,100 signatures as of the middle of this week.

Trader Joe’s locations reported that consumers were buying 20, 80, even 170 bags at a time.

While many so-called “haimish” brands – Jewish companies that make only kosher foods — produce pareve chocolate chips, those chips are generally waxy and flavorless. The silky, rich Trader Joe’s morsels melt to perfect consistency in cookies and taste like actual chocolate. They are good enough to almost make up for the fact that kosher bakers have to forgo real butter in cookies they serve after a Shabbat lunch of grilled chicken, roasted vegetables and quinoa salad.

Chocolate manufacturing requires cocoa butter and cocoa, but those are expensive ingredients when not purchased in massive volumes. Small kosher brands know their consumers aren’t willing to pay what it would cost to produce premium chocolate chips, said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, director of the Kosher Information Bureau.

“They often can’t even legally call it chocolate. It’s ‘chocolate flavored,’ ” Eidlitz said.

Whole Foods carries Enjoy Life chocolate chips that are kosher pareve. They run $4.99 a bag, while the Trader Joe’s chips are $2.29 a bag. Kosher brands range between $2 and $4.

Some consumers were hoping the Trader Joe’s chips would be designated as the less restrictive DE, which stands for dairy equipment, signifying that the chips were manufactured on equipment also used for dairy.

But OK said the chips have to be considered actually dairy because milk chocolate chips could end up in the bags. Eidlitz said because the chips are complete units that do not fully dissolve into the other ingredients, the “one-sixtieth rule” that can be used to nullify trace amounts of dairy does not apply.

But Eidlitz is holding out hope. In 2006, Duncan Hines cake mixes went dairy, and consumer blowback brought the pareve label back. Same with Stella D’oro cookies, which in 2003 nixed a plan to switch to dairy after a kosher outcry.

A spokesman at the OK said the story is not over.

“We are working to rectify this issue with the manufacturer, and hopefully we will have good news soon,” the OK officer said.

On May 17, Trader Joe’s issued the following glimmer of hope: “We are evaluating our options and although we cannot guarantee a specific outcome at this time, we realize that for some of our customers this is an important issue.”

Kosher for Passover Coke barred from California


Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola has been barred from California.

California’s new state laws on toxic chemicals are keeping kosher for Passover Coke out of the state, a company spokesman told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Coke was required to change the way it manufactures caramel due to the high levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, which California has listed as a carcinogen under its new guidelines. The manufacturing changes in California affected the kosher for Passover status of the cola, according to reports.

The company expects to offer the kosher for Passover variety of Coke in California by 2013, the newspaper reported, citing the company spokesman.

The Passover version of Coke uses sugar in place of corn syrup, which is not kosher for Passover for Ashkenazi Jews.

Some kosher stores in California carried limited amounts of kosher for Passover Coke, which bears a yellow cap, that was imported from other states.

This year, more Angelenos than ever get Passover aid from local agencies


This year, more than 1,000 Los Angeles families in need received food from organizations that provide assistance specifically for Passover.

During the weeks leading up to the first seder, on April 6, visitors to distribution sites set up by agencies, synagogues and organizations took home essentials for the holiday — wine, grape juice, matzah, gefilte fish, horseradish, eggs and more — so that they could have seders and kosher food for the eight days of the holiday.

Low-income families received assistance from Tomchei Shabbos, Global Kindness, Valley Beth Shalom, JFS/SOVA, the Israeli Leadership Council, the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and elsewhere. Social workers from Jewish Family Service, a nonsectarian social service agency, referred many individuals and families in need to food-giving agencies. Tomchei Shabbos, which provides donations of kosher food to Los Angeles Orthodox families weekly, served additional families for Passover.

The majority of recipients this year were people who’ve lost their jobs in the recent recession, including, said Rabbi Yona Landau, executive director of Tomchei Shabbos,  “people who got sick and couldn’t work, people who were abandoned, women who were abandoned by their husbands and they have to care of the family themselves.

“There’s a lot of different cases,” Landau said. “If they didn’t get our food, they wouldn’t have any food.”

Others receiving food assistance for Passover included immigrant families of Persian, Israeli and Russian descent; seniors with disabilities; and some divorcees, all facing major financial challenges, according to Debbie Alden, a board member of Valley Beth Shalom’s Sisterhood and Nouriel Cohen, CFO of Global Kindness. Many of the recipients were formerly volunteers at these agencies and organizations — people who used to be middle-class — but are now reliant on charity.

“We had people who were donating to us a little bit, and now they are asking, which is really sad,” said Shahla Javdan, president of the IAJF.

Because of privacy concerns, no recipient families gave their names for interviews.

On the night of April 2, an elderly woman living in West Hollywood receiving a delivery from two volunteers in their 20s, told of her problems with sciatica. “Not well,” she replied to a volunteer who asked how she was doing as they brought the food into her home.

Tomchei Shabbos volunteers delivered some of the food for Passover to recipients’ homes. Some requested that the food be left at their doorsteps.

Other recipients parked at the curb at Pico Boulevard and Weatherly Drive, the site of the organization’s storefront, waited to receive the boxes filled with produce, which they loaded into the backseats of their minivans and the trunks of their sedans with the help of eager volunteers.

Tomchei boxes were marked with only families’ initials so as not to give away their identities. Valley Beth Shalom’s distributors employed a similar method for their food giveaway.

In the days leading up to Passover, people strapped for cash shopped at Pico-Robertson grocery stores Elat Market and Glatt Mart using food coupons from the IAJF. The stores cooperated with the IAJF, selling $25 and $50 coupons at a 25 percent discount to the IAJF, which then distributed the coupons to community members.

SOVA, a program of Jewish Family Service, differentiated Passover packages for Ashkenazi and Sephardic families. Ashkenazi families received gefilte fish and horseradish, while Sephardic families received rice and dates in addition to matzah ball soup mix, macaroons, eggs, walnuts and matzah.

“They will be able to do a nice seder with what they receive,” Fred Summers, director of operations at JFS/SOVA, said. “Some of the things will last longer than one night, [but] it will probably not be an eight-day supply.

The numbers of those in need might surprise some. JFS/SOVA provided for approximately 700 individuals and families for Passover, according to Summers. Tomchei Shabbos served around 600 families, estimated Landau. VBS distributed 124 boxes filled with Passover items, Global Kindness helped nearly 350 families, the Israeli Leadership Council provided assistance for more than 100 families, and the IAJF distributed between $30,000 and $50,000 in food coupons, Javdan said.

More families requested Passover food this year than in previous years, Javdan, Landau and Cohen all said, and the agencies couldn’t meet all the demand. Despite news reports that the economy is improving and new jobs are being created each month, Cohen said more people are in need this year than ever before. “Not only for Passover, but for other holidays also.”