What does it take to make your kitchen kosher?To those who aren't Jewish, making one's kitchen kosher looks a bit like giving it a thorough deep-cleaning. Countertops, sinks, and cooking surfaces are scrubbed, dried off, and then scalded with boiling water. Refrigerators are cleaned out and wiped down. Pots, plates, platters, and utensils are dipped in boiling water. The grates on top of burners are covered in heavy-duty aluminum foil in order to trap heat and burn off impurities; and ovens are cleaned, left unused for 24 hours, and then turned up to the highest heat for at least an hour before being considered clean enough to cook in again.
The reason for the ritual stems from the Jewish laws of Kashrut which, among other things, dictates that dairy and meat products must be stored, prepared, and consumed separately, and that certain types of food should not be eaten at all. Kosher isn't a style of cooking; it's a term that means that the food has been handled in accordance with the Jewish laws.
Even though the first night of Hanukkah was December 20, the White House celebrated the Festival of Lights earlier this month. Before serving a kosher meal to 550 guests, including Supreme Court judges and politicians, the huge White House kitchen had to be made kosher. Rabbi Levi Shemtov oversaw a team of rabbis, interns, and chefs during the four-hour process; he also helped the Bush administration kosher the White House kitchen before their 2008 Hanukkah celebration.
"We do the basic cleaning," White House executive sous-chef Tommy Kurpradit, who is a Buddhist, told The New York Times. "Then the rabbis do the super-cleaning."
"The white house kitchen generally is not kosher," Shemtov explained. "Therefore, in order for it to be used for a function which provides food that can be considered kosher it has to be Kashered, or kosherized, or made appropriate for kosher food."
The tradition of holding a White House Hanukkah party started in 2001, when President George W. Bush hosted a celebration featuring a 100-year-old menorah borrowed from the Jewish Museum in New York. "Tonight, for the first time in American history, the Hanukkah menorah will be lit at the White House residence," he said at the time.
It's been done every year since, and on December 8, President Obama continued the tradition. "This Hanukkah season we remember a story so powerful that we all know it by heart - even us gentiles," he told guests. "It's a story of right over might, of faith over doubt."
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