Keeping Kosher

Kitchen & Bath Business (KBB), February 2006 Issue

Despite popular belief, it requires more than just dual appliances

What makes a kitchen kosher? Strictly speaking, it’s the way the kitchen is used and maintained, rather than the design or materials, although some materials may be preferable. Ritual Jewish law and practice dictate separation of meat from dairy, and this extends to having entirely distinct sets of dishes, silver, cutlery, cookware, sinks, appliances and countertop areas. Add in another dimension when dishes et al. are changed yet again during the week of Passover, and it’s clear to see that observant Jews—particularly those with sufficient space—are in the market for additional cabinetry, as well as all of the other accoutrements that make a kitchen convenient and appealing.

In the real world, however, not every home is large enough to accommodate doubling or tripling the kitchen space, nor is every customer affluent enough to handle such a large investment. Those with severely modest means may have to box up Passover tableware and utensils and store them in closets for the other 51 weeks of the year. Sometimes a double sink will have to stand in for two separate units (even a single sink can be permissible, provided it is not of porous material and is properly cleaned before switching from meat to dairy or vice versa). A single dishwasher also may be acceptable to some authorities provided it has a stainless-steel interior and the racks are changed depending on what dishes are being washed.

Under the circumstances, it’s obvious that any kosher customer with the means is going to want to make their kitchen as large and as workable as possible. Other clients may also want large, easy-to-use kitchens and more than one dishwasher or sink, but for the kosher-observant, it is almost a necessity.

One of the more significant differences between a kosher and non-kosher kitchen, noted Rabbi Chaim Fogelman, rabbinical coordinator in charge of restaurants and catering for the Brooklyn, NY-based OK Kosher Certification organization, is that most conventional kitchens are predicated on an invisible work triangle defined by the placement of one sink, one refrigerator and one range. “In a kosher kitchen, what you have instead is an invisible Star of David, with two overlapping triangles and, ideally, two sinks, two refrigerators and two ranges,” said Fogelman, also an accomplished woodworker who built his own home.

But, as mentioned, there is more to designing a kosher kitchen than just adding extra appliances. Lev Eynisfeld and Lev Moscovitz, co-owners of Arte Kitchens & Baths in East Brunswick, NJ, have installed about a half-dozen kosher kitchens, and as with conventional designs, they realized that the ability to make every inch of space count is a highly valued skill.

Accordingly, they and their on-staff designers advise customers to:

If space allows, the next “upgrade” would be completely separate sinks. This addition usually can include that second dishwasher for the dairy dishes. A double-drawer dishwasher can accomplish this in the space of one for a smaller family. A compromise to two sinks is a three-compartment sink with a ‘traif’ (non-kosher) sink in between.

Eliminate soffits and run cabinets all the way up to the ceiling.

Make use of under-sink space by creating a squared-off, U-shaped pullout drawer that surrounds the plumbing on three sides.

Replace standard shelves and drawers with modular wire shelves and baskets that can be configured in a variety of ways to maximize the available interior cabinet space.

Use “magic corner” snap-out wire basket drawers to open up dead corners (and facilitate cleaning in those corners).

Or perhaps as an alternative to the “magic corner” mechanism, construct a line of extra-long drawers that feature a V-shaped face and fit into the corner on a 45-degree angle (the V-front preserves the look of a standard corner, while the extra length of the drawers offers bonus storage space in an area that tends to be under-utilized).

Erika Weiss, who trained as an architect and who has owned and operated Brooklyn-based Erika Weiss Space Planning & Design for 33 years, said, “No one tends to have kitchens as large as those who keep kosher.” Among her tips for kosher kitchen designers are the following:

Recommend appliances that feature a Sabbath mode. With refrigerators, for example, this means a unit that allows the automatic fan to be turned off from Friday sundown to Saturday night (or to stay in a constant “on” position), thus releasing the residents of a household from inadvertently causing initiation of power usage during the Sabbath period when such activity is enjoined.

Recommend stainless-steel sinks and steel or granite countertops and work surfaces for customers who can’t or won’t have fully discrete areas for meat and dairy. Make sure that the material is a pure granite or stone. Sometimes they are really “composites” and therefore cannot be kashered. These non-porous surfaces, Weiss said, can be used for both, provided that they are thoroughly cleaned and that boiling water is poured on them in between meat and dairy operations.

According to Star-K, which provides kosher certification, wood may also be kashered as stainless steel if it has a smooth surface and no cracks. Kosher law does not, however, allow kashering of plastic or materials with plastic components.

When it comes to choosing appliances, whether the kitchen can accommodate two sets or not, it is important to keep kosher tenets in mind. Case in point, according to Star-K, kashering a glass, Corning, halogen or Ceran electric smoothtop range can be a difficult process, as it is hard to kasher the area surrounding the actual burners. On a gas range, however, the cast iron or metal grates upon which the pots sit may be inserted into the oven after they have been thoroughly cleaned. The grates can then be kashered simultaneously with the oven, making this an easier process (and possibly a better choice) for the homeowner.

Of course, if there are any questions that arise during the design of kosher kitchen, Weiss suggested that customers should be encouraged to ask for rabbinic guidance. —Seth Mackenzie