PAWTUCKET – Garden Grille Vegetarian Café is now a kosher restaurant.
Why go to the trouble of making a vegetarian restaurant kosher?
“It’s about reaching out to the community, offering something [people] need,” said owner Rob Yaffe, who also owns Wildflour Vegan Bakery & Juice Bar, in the same Oak Hill shopping plaza at 727 East Ave., and The Grange, a vegetarian restaurant in Providence. Last year, Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Congregation Beth Sholom, an Orthodox shul in Providence, worked with Yaffe to make Wildflour kosher.
The idea of kashering the Garden Grille gained impetus this year when chef Jordan Goldsmith, who is Jewish, was put in charge of its kitchen. When Yaffe suggested it, Goldsmith, a four-year employee before becoming executive chef, was enthusiastic.
Echoing Yaffe’s comments about fulfilling the community’s needs, she added, smiling, “Some of my family members [keep] kosher so they’re very excited.”
“It absolutely was inspired by Rabbi Dolinger,” said Yaffe. “He kept the discussion going.”
The process began about four months ago, when Rabbi Dolinger examined the café’s food stores. With an all-vegetarian or vegan menu, most ingredients – fresh fruits and vegetables – are naturally kosher, and most purchased spices and flavorings were already certified kosher, so only a few changes were required. Some cheeses had to be replaced with kosher equivalents, said Goldsmith, who needed to also find new sources for vinegars and wine-based products as well as items in vinegar.
With no significant cost difference, Goldsmith said, “Either way it’s a win-win, because you’re getting a better quality product [with kosher food].” The staff has always carefully inspected vegetables for insects, another requirement for kashrut.
The Garden Grille closed for the day, June 23, when the kashering occurred. On that day, 10 giant pots of water boiled on the commercial-size stove and utensils and cookware are lined up, awaiting Rabbi Dolinger.
He got an early start on being a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) while still a college student, as he served as head mashgiach for the University of Pennsylvania’s Hillel. Ordained by a seminary associated with Yeshiva University in New York in 2011, Rabbi Dolinger spent one full calendar year, 60 hours a week, while in the seminary, studying kashrut laws.
When he came to Rhode Island two years ago, people spoke with wistfulness about days gone by – when Providence used to have kosher restaurants. “But that will never happen again,” they said.
His response? “That’s ridiculous; we should have kosher food options.”
In addition to Wildflour and Garden Grille, he also supervises the kashrut of Veggie Fun Restaurant in downtown Providence. These restaurants will all bear the rabbi’s hekh- (mark of kosher certification). Although this hekhsher is not a national mark, such as OU, from the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, the rabbi said that his hekhsher meets all legal kashrut requirements.
Rabbi Dolinger began with a lesson. Items become kosher in two ways, he explained, citing the principles of ha’agalah (boiling) and libun (white-hot, as in an oven’s extreme heat). Items needing kashering are subjected to one or the other in the same way that they originally came into contact with non-kosher food. For example, a frying pan used on a stovetop will be kashered with boiling water on a stovetop. Glass and glazed ceramic items, which do not absorb non-kosher substances, merely require thorough cleaning.
The action moved into the kitchen, where Rabbi Dolinger, Goldsmith and staff member Luz Prew immersed all metal utensils, silverware and small metal tools into the boiling pots a handful at a time, then withdrew and rinsed them under cold water.
Although the process exposed all involved to burn spatters, Rabbi Dolinger joked, “People should know what we go through for kosher food in Rhode Island!” Other items went into industrial ovens at 500-550 degrees. The rabbi poured boiling water over countertops, other surfaces and the sinks. As only kosher food has been in the kitchen during the past few months, cleaning was straightforward.
“Bishul Yisrael” is the kosher requirement that a Jew perform the actual cooking. These days, the rabbi explained, if a Jew lights the pilot light and examines the kitchen periodically, the law is considered fulfilled – although rulings vary between Askhenazic and Sephardic practices. Goldsmith blew out the pilot lights on the 10-burner stove and Rabbi Dolinger relit each one carefully.
Later, Yaffe signed a contract giving temporary ownership of the restaurant to a non-Jew for Shabbat and all other Jewish holidays, the final step in the process. The Garden Grille is now kosher and can display Dolinger’s certificate of kashrut.
“I’m excited,” Yaffe said with a hint of mischief. “Pawtucket, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, will now have two kosher restaurants. It’s got to be the first time in Pawtucket’s history.”
Garden Grille: gardengrillecafe.com or 726-2826.
Naomi Lipsky (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Judaic artist in Johnston, is a freelance writer for The Jewish Voice.
This is one of a series of occasional stories about local businesses, some of which advertise with The Jewish Voice.