Planning a kosher F&B event requires a lot of careful planning with the right partners. Even the best-intentioned event planners can make mistakes, which can be quite disturbing to observant attendees. Take heed of these words of advice, observed during my 24 years in the kosher catering business.
Start with a clean kitchen All kitchen equipment, including ovens, must be clean to begin with. It cannot be covered in grease and food. Hotel staff must clean and polish all items before the supervising kosher agent (mashgiach) starts his routine. The mashgiach is really sanitizing the equipment and utensils. There is a false idea that the mashgiach is blessing the equipment with holy water; in fact, he is cleaning it. Have you ever put "clean" silverware in boiling water for 30 seconds? You would be surprised at what you see in the water. I recommend that the kitchen and equipment be cleaned thoroughly before the mashgiach starts. All of that must be taken into consideration when a hotel has a lunch buffet or daytime party, and books a nighttime event afterward. If we share the same kitchen, is there enough time for the turnaround? To enter a kitchen at 2 p.m. for a 5 p.m. kosher event is impossible. For this reason, kosher satellite kitchens are sometimes rented, or built in an outside area -- but this can be very expensive for the client.
Keep an eye on everything Depending on the size of the event venue's kitchen and the layout of the kitchen and dining room, more than one rabbi or mashgiach may be required. Why? One mashgiach will stay in the kitchen -- not that they don't trust the caterer, but many things can go wrong, The other will keep an eye on the transport of the food from the kitchen to the dining room and supervise the servers -- and also make sure stubborn guests don't attempt to get real milk or butter, which cannot be served with a meal that consists of any meat. Even though the event is kosher, not all of the guests keep kosher; some will attempt to tip very nicely for real milk for their coffee after a good meal.
Allow time for proper cleanup The mashgiach has to stay until the end of the event to make sure all equipment or dishes, if provided by the hotel, are cleaned and locked up. If the caterer provided dishes, the mashgiach must ensure that all of his equipment is put away and not mixed up with hotel items. Kashering equipment can take two to four hours, depending on the guest count and equipment needed.
Consider ready-made meals One other option is for a hotel to have a strong relationship with a good kosher caterer and chef, who can sell the items for hors d'oeuvres by the piece, either raw or heated and served. Kosher caterers often do that for hotels, and can even make their signature entrees or any other requests. It's more cost-effective than having a mashgiach sit on-site for so many days while the staff is making hors d'oeuvres or a beef stock on Tuesday for a Sunday dinner. And that's assuming they even have a kosher kitchen to work from on Tuesday.
Nir Weinblut, a restaurant consultant and president of La Gondola Restaurant and Catering in Beverly Hills, Calif., works with hotels to help them understand kosher food preparation.