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I'm a non-Jewish professional chef in a restaurant, and I am marginally aware of kosher dietary restrictions. I know that the food itself, as well as the pots, pans, and other utensils used in preparing the food have to meet certain requirements, and of course certain food items and combinations are not allowed. I have heard that some Jews don't eat bread baked by non-Jews, but I don't know much else about what goes into working at a kosher restaurant. To be specific, I'm a line cook/sous chef, not an executive chef, so I'm a worker, not a manager.

As I understand it, there are restrictions on what a non-Jew may cook for a Jew; eg., it would be ok for a non-Jew to cook any kind of food for mixed clientele (i.e., Jews and non-Jews). It would be ok for Jews to cook average, everyday food for Jews or mixed clientele. But it would not be ok to cook fine cuisine for an exclusively Jewish clientele. I'm curious how this works in a kosher restaurant with non-Jewish cooks, so assume that the executive chef is Jewish, if that matters.


My question:
What rules need to be followed in order for a non-Jewish professional chef to cook Kosher food for Jewish customers (eg., in a restaurant setting)?

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I'm going to assume that you are talking about just cooking and not managing a restaurant or other food business.

The kosher Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood is supervised by the local Va'ad Harabbanim (Rabbinical board.) Nearly all the chefs are non-Jewish Chinese, though I think one might be Jewish (He does speak Hebrew well but with a Chinese dialect. And he wears a "Shmulke Bernstein" yarmulke.)

The place has a mashgiach (supervisor) who is there constantly. The mashgiach or one of his assistants turns on the stove and supervises the deliveries, the food prep (inspects veggies for bugs) and watches the cooking process. One specific item that you may not be allowed to touch is wine. However. most kosher restaurants serve yayin mevushal (boiled wine) which avoids the problem of a non-Jew handling it.

This link, from Star-K, one of the main Orthodox kosher supervising companies in the U.S. explains the rules of bishul akum - cooking by a non-Jew. The mashgiach has multiple duties, as mentioned, above, and he may add his own stringencies in addition to the rules mentioned. It is important to know, that even if the food itself is kosher in its raw or delivered form, bishul akum might make the food non-kosher. The linked article is for information purposes. The mashgiach makes the final decision on what is or is not considered bishul akum, so it's critical to follow his instructions.

In some areas, one may not allowed to eat his 100% kosher lunch anywhere in the restaurant if his lunch is considered chametz or non Kosher for Passover. This may sound strange, and it is rare, but there are caterers, esp. commissaries, that may not serve the public, directly, but prepare packaged food for industrial use, such as airlines or kosher meal plans for hospitals, etc. Passover has an additional restriction to year-round kosher rules in that no leavened products may contact any food. So, the factory may insist that if you eat pastrami on rye for lunch, you must do so outside the factory itself even in January. This way, their products are guaranteed to be "Kosher for Passover" constantly. They do this for two reasons, mainly. 1) Cleaning a factory for Passover is a laborious time-consuming expensive process, and 2) Since these products are packaged and shrink-wrapped and perhaps frozen long term, the consumer / airline, etc. can buy these well in advance of Passover and if there is left-over, they may use it on Passover, as well.

In short, as long as you follow directions of the mashgiach, have fun and cook their food as much as you want!

Please inform me if I understood your scenario to be limited to just cooking using their utensils and not your own.

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    You understood me perfectly. I'm a grunt, not a head chef. – Wad Cheber Aug 21 '15 at 17:50
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    I don't like using any knives but my own, but I'd be willing to bear the pain. – Wad Cheber Aug 21 '15 at 21:24
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    Out of curiosity, what if I visited you at home and cooked dinner, using your kitchen and cooking utensils? Would that be accepted? – Wad Cheber Aug 21 '15 at 22:13
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    @WadCheber You can have your own knives that no one else uses, but you wouldn't be able to use it privately. If you'd cook in my kitchen (and I was around to make sure everything's alright), I'd have no problem eating it. – user613 Aug 22 '15 at 9:27
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    @WadCheber I would probably have to turn on the broiler. But, if you tell me what ingredients to buy for a good lamb roast, I (and esp. my wife) have no problem if you cook for us ;-) – DanF Aug 23 '15 at 1:40
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There are a few interesting points to address here. I am not going to go into a long discussion on all of the halachot of kashrut here because those can be found in depth around this site and elsewhere. The fact of the matter is, if you are a grunt in the kitchen of a kosher restaurant, the ingredients and utensils provided to you will be kosher and you don't have to worry about those particular issues. Since we are talking about a kosher restaurant and not a non-Jew cooking for a Jew at his private place of residence, there will be a kashrut supervisor in the kitchen called the mashgiach who is hired by a kashrut supervisory agency, and you should just do as the mashgiach tells you.

Based on the second paragraph of your question, I understand you to be asking about the issue of bishul aku"m (cooking of idolaters), although you may not have been familiar with the Hebrew expression. Although aku"m is an abbreviation which means "idolaters," in this case it actually applies to all non-Jews even if they do not worship idols.

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 35b) prohibits eating food that was prepared entirely by non-Jews in order to reduce the amount of interaction Jews had with non-Jews to prevent inter-marriage. This is mentioned in some of the other answers, but not properly addressed. There is dispute among the rabbis about what is considered "entirely prepared by non-Jews." In this regard, Ashkenazim are generally more lenient that Sephardim. I have heard lenient rulings simply requiring that the pilot-light have been lit by a Jew and allowing a non-Jew to even turn the stove/oven on from this Jewish-lit pilot light. I have heard rulings as stringent as requiring a Jewish person to actually participate in some meaningful way in the actual cooking (not just the preparing) of the food such as stirring the pot occasionally. I have not heard of an opinion that requires the Jew to do almost all of the cooking; however, I am not discounting the possibility that such an opinion exists. The restaurant's mashgiach will tell you what his agency's standards are for the requirement of Jewish participation in the cooking.

Your understanding about cooking for mixed/Jewish clientele and ordinary food vs. fine cuisine is not exactly correct. The prohibition of bishul aku"m exists regardless of who the chef was cooking for. It is prohibited even if the chef intended to cook for a mixed crowd of Jews and non-Jews. You are correct, however, that there is a difference between ordinary food and food "fit to be raised up to the table of a king" (Avodah Zarah 38a). Again, there is a dispute over what is considered such food. The Chazon Ish holds that any food which a king would eat falls under the prohibition of bishul aku"m. Therefore, since the King of England eats canned sardines for breakfast, canned sardines that are prepared by a non-Jew are not kosher. Rav Soloveitchik, on the other hand, has a more lenient position. He holds that only food suitable to be served at a state dinner has the prohibition of bishul aku"m. Therefore, pretty much any canned (otherwise kosher) food is permitted according to this position, even if prepared by a non-Jew.

My understanding of your question (based on the question's title) is that you were asking about this particular issue of kashrut and not about all of the rules of kashrut. That more comprehensive question is probably too broad to address on this site. As DanF says in his answer, as long as you follow the mashgiach's instructions, you will be just fine. This has been an attempt at explaining some of the issues that come into play when a non-Jew cooks for a Jew.

  • Your understanding is correct. I would be a grunt on the line, not in charge of anything. The supervisors, and presumably many of the other cooks, would be Jewish. – Wad Cheber Aug 24 '15 at 20:12
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You need to be Jewish, or you need to have a Jewish supervisor, who will make sure that the law is followed and who will light the flames. Kosher laws are very complex, chef must be very proficient with those. For a start, it seems you are not aware you will need two separate kitchens. And even if you learn it all, it does not matter, you will still need a Jewish supervisor, because no one can be sure that you will really follow them if those laws don't mean anything to you.

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    @WadCheber Actually, even restaurants owned by Orthodox Jews need a mashgiach (kosher supervisor). And it's preferable that the supervisor is being paid by and works for the kashrus company (supervision company-they normally supervise a lot of companies), so he won't be worried of losing his job if he makes problems, as opposed to working for the restaurant – user613 Aug 21 '15 at 1:32
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    @user613 - So I wouldn't need a Jewish executive chef, because I'd have a Jewish mashgiach? Even better. Problem solved. Where do I send my résumé? :) – Wad Cheber Aug 21 '15 at 1:39
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    @WadCheber Kosher restaurants are not necessarily run by Jews or owned by Jews. It's often just a business decision. (Those with Jewish-ethnic food are usually run by Jews, yes. But your local Kosher Chinese place probably isn't.) – Double AA Aug 21 '15 at 2:30
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    To the best of my knowledge any restaurant needs a supervisor regardless of the religious status of because the normal presumption of honesty is not relied upon where someone stands to profit through dishonesty. – mevaqesh Aug 21 '15 at 2:59
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    "You need to be Jewish" I think the OP stated that he just wants to cook. You've never been to a kosher take-out place that has non-Jewish cooks? – DanF Aug 21 '15 at 14:12

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