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A Super Kosher Decision

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When I had my restaurant in New York, my staff and I would take breaks outside the Sony Building. We would people watch and try and catch some fresh air before going back in for another wave of diners. I was always fascinated by two hot dog stands that were on the corner of 55th and Madison. One of the stands was kosher and the other was not. I used to watch people go out of their way, even waiting extra traffic light changes, to get to the kosher hot dog stand. The line at the kosher hot dog stand was always several people deep and at lunch time, the line was very long for a mid-town street food cart. By the way, writing this makes me miss New York very much.

I looked at the eager hot dog enthusiasts and I could easily identify those that obviously kept kosher by their kippot, those that maybe kept kosher, and then some who probably did not. I am, of course, making an educated guess about the kosher consumers. Either way, the line at the kosher stand often easily tripled that of the non-kosher stand.

One summer day, I ate my first New York street food. In Chicago we do not have street food carts so I am not in the habit of purchasing food from street vendors and I’ve also been frightened by my New York kitchen staff and years of watching David Letterman’s stories of the annual changing of the water from the dirty water dogs. But, I was curious about the kosher dogs so I got in line. After ordering my dog, I asked the vendor why his dogs were so much more popular than the other stand’s dogs. He told me that kosher dogs were healthier and that they were blessed. This guy was a savvy business man; people were scarfing up the kosher dogs while the other stand was almost empty.

I talked to my non-kosher staff and asked why they thought people like the kosher dogs better. They said they were under the impression that the food was blessed and they knew that kosher food was closely inspected and healthier.

At a recent demo for my second book, Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes (John Wiley and Sons), I had several attendees who were not Jewish but followed Jewish dietary laws. They were insistent that kosher food and the kosher lifestyle was healthier and that a multitude of health problems could be cured simply by keeping kosher. They pointed out that pork was not a healthy meat and that combining cheese and meat was hard on the digestive system.

I am not sure if they are right, but I was glad for the extra attendance at the demo and for the book sales.

For the first time ever, Glatt Kosher food will be sold at football’s biggest game on February 7, 2010. The New York Times nails the issue right on the head. Some people eat kosher food simply because they are kosher, observant Jews and that is what they do. Others eat kosher food because they believe that the food is healthier and/or higher quality.

As a professional chef who has been serving strictly kosher food for over 13 years, I can say that I have never dealt with a recall on beef, poultry or other meats. I watch as my fellow chefs in our company pull tainted meat from their coolers and freezers and then send it back to the distributor and then scramble for safe products. We, like everyone in the country, had to stop using peanut butter and have had to pull spinach, cilantro and various other vegetables occasionally from our production when there were e. coli scares. But, for the most part, we have never had any health or safety concerns. While kosher meat and poultry seems to have had less recalls than non-kosher products, we have had our share of woes with the Agriprocessor debacle and the shame and shortages that followed from the raid of the Iowa plant.

Last summer I wrote a post about the new poultry line at Whole Foods. I urged all my fellow kosher, observant readers to purchase and congratulate Whole Foods on their decision to carry what I call the exacta or win-win of kosher food. Not only is the poultry kosher, but it is organic (I am still thrilled by this). While several other kosher poultry providers have organic products, Hain-Celestial Group seems to be the most successful and has been able to keep up the demand for their products. I have reached out to Whole Foods to ask them why they decided to sell kosher products and I am awaiting a response. I know that Trader Joe’s has also started carrying kosher poultry products, as have many local and neighborhood stores.

For whatever reason the food vending folks at the big game have decided to sell kosher food this year, I hope that whether or not you keep kosher, you buy some kosher food. If you do not have tickets to the game, maybe you can drop them a line or two regarding their excellent decision to have kosher food available. I fear that if we do not support this decision, just as the square footage in the poultry case has decreased for the kosher poultry line at Whole Foods, kosher food will also disappear from professional sports.

Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here. For more articles by Laura, click here.
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2 Comments »

  • Kosher Fan says:

    A lot of people think that the kosher food is blessed, but I don’t see a rabbi sit in a restaurant with a Torah scroll and bless every plate that comes out of the kitchen. The quality control is definitely a great bonus though. I am not Jewish, but spent some time working at a kosher place in NYC while in college and I learned a lot about the food. I’m not Jewish, but I like kosher food. It can be pretty great. I still eat from time to time at a kosher place called Talia’s Steakhouse on the Upper West Side. My office is nearby and they have wraps and burgers and ribs. I’ve met people there who try to eat kosher steak on purpose, relying on the quality control to provide better meat. The place is nice, romantic, but they also advertise themselves as a sports bar. Every year they do catering packs for the Superbowl and special menus for Valentine’s Day. It’s fun to see all those orthodox people get some grub and get all exited about football! And some of them sometimes look at me trying to figure out if I am Jewish or not. Not wearing a yamika doesn’t help :).

  • Larry K says:

    There may be a valid hechsher on the chickens, but to me, the entire Whole Foods store/chain went treyf when the CEO went very public with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal opposing health care reform. I don’t really care all that much whether food is ritually kosher — I do care that if not be treyf.

    I have no problem with non-Jewish or non-kosher customers who buy kosher because they have convinced themselves the food is healthier and has been blessed — but I would have a problem with a vendor of kosher products who sold on that basis. His deception would, in my eyes (and mouth, and pocketbook) render his food treyf.

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