Residents and their guests at the Moldaw Residences senior living facility in Palo Alto, Calif., can now get freshly prepared, certified kosher meals prepared in the community’s own kitchen. The initiative was spearheaded by Executive Chef Allain Bernabe, who was dissatisfied with the options previously available from the nearby Jewish community center, which had to be transported over in carts.
“The major issue was that the food was not hot enough or fresh enough and the quality was not really good or met our quality standards for our residents,” Bernabe says, “so I [decided] that [we should make] part of our kitchen a kosher kitchen.”
After talking with the local rabbi, Bernabe forged ahead.
“We divided a space in the corner of the kitchen [and equipped it] with a movable tabletop oven as well as its own pots, pans and [utensils], and then trained a couple of the cooks to do kosher cooking,” he says.
Kosher ingredients and supplies are kept in a separate section of the storeroom in a couple of storage cages Bernabe purchased for the purpose. The items are purchased from a couple of specialty purveyors.
The menus are announced a week ahead so residents can preorder; “That way we know how many items we should purchase that week,” Bernabe says, though he generally produces a few extras just in case someone decides late or changes their mind.
The kitchen averages 10 to 20 kosher dinners a night, except Friday, when counts can creep up past 20 as some of the independent living residents order extras for guests coming to celebrate Shabbat.
“They bring their families here because they know the kosher food is really good,” Bernabe says proudly.
The kosher option represents only a small proportion of the facility’s dinner business, which averages around 220 a night, but it is an important specialty service for those residents who wish to observe kosher dietary laws. The meals are available not only in the main dining room but are transported to residents in Moldaw’s assisted living and memory support areas as well.
Because kosher laws prohibit the mixing of meat and dairy, the menu alternates meat and dairy days so “we only cook dairy items without any kind of meat on dairy days, and on a meat day our dishes don’t have any kind of dairy, or if it [requires it] we can use non-dairy items,” Bernabe explains.
Popular dishes turned out by the kosher corner include matzah balls, stuffed cabbage, lamb shanks, arctic char, rainbow and golden trout, salmon and traditional roasted chicken.
“I have a lot of kosher cookbooks here in the office and a lot of friends and colleagues who used to cook for kosher residents [from whom] I got advice,” Bernabe says regarding his sources for recipes. “I’ve also asked residents for their favorite recipes.”
He also draws on his own experience, which includes a year of cooking in a kosher establishment.
In the end, Bernabe says the establishment of a kosher production area in the larger kitchen operation was no big deal.
“At first I was told that it’s not doable, but I thought it was and convinced them it could be. Really, I don’t find it any problem at all.”