Kashering the White House Kitchen
FIRST, spritz the kitchen’s stainless steel counters with disinfectant. Scrub vigorously.
Next, wrap counters in tinfoil, tight, tight, tight.
Now stretch plastic wrap over the foil and seal with masking tape.
Then repeat for every surface that could possibly come into contact with food — yes, even the hanging pot rack.
And so began the fastidious frenzy to make the White House’s kitchen kosher last week, a nearly four-hour drill that started at 10 p.m. Wednesday. A deadline approached: a truckload of kosher food was due Thursday at 10 a.m.
The Obama administration’s holiday reception season was in full swing. Leftovers from a party earlier Wednesday evening had already been removed.
The following night would bring the Hanukkah party for 550 guests, politicians and Supreme Court justices among them. Rigorous koshering (sometimes called kashering) would ensure that the kitchen would be in compliance with Jewish dietary laws. Guests could eat without qualms, knowing their religious commitment had been respected.
‘We do the basic cleaning,’ says the White House’s executive sous-chef, Tommy Kurpradit, as he directs five workers (he learned about koshering from Bush White House Hanukkah celebrations). ‘Then the rabbis do the super-cleaning.’
Imagine the earnest anxiety of non-Jews eager to please the observant; the exacting scrutiny of the observant, dedicated to ancient laws; a ticking clock; and a soupçon of Marx Brothers.
Into the kitchen rushes a Lubavitch SWAT team of three rabbis and an intern. Three men, wearing aprons and industrial-strength rubber gloves, take on the ovens and burners. The fourth, in a suit and a black hat, is Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). He is the supervisor-in-chief.
He takes a long look around. He frowns.
‘Who opened the brazier?’ he asks, referring to the lidded counter-high vat, like a giant stainless steel pot, used for searing, reducing stock and braising meats. ‘The rabbi?’ he asks, pointing to a colleague.
‘No,’ replies Chef Tommy, as his staff calls him.
‘You’re kidding me,’ Rabbi Shemtov says.
They huddle by the brazier. Rabbi Shemtov issues orders. The rabbis spring into action.
What happened, Chef Tommy?
‘I’m a Buddhist,’ he says, acknowledging that some of the finer points elude him. ‘But whatever he wants me to do, I’ll do.’