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CALTECH KITCHEN - IT'S KOSHER.

Byline: Martin S. Gonzalez Staff Writer

The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena prides itself in attracting the best scientific minds in the country. In fact, it is said that the university built a $70,000 kitchen just to make sure one of those minds would attend Caltech. Determined to win over a promising graduate student who kept a kosher diet, the university built a kosher kitchen within its dining facilities to accommodate his dietary needs.

With such specialized service, of course the promising graduate student decided on Caltech. The school is now one of the only universities on the West Coast that provides students with a fully operational kosher kitchen and dining facility, certified by the Rabbinical Council of California.

``The university was very accommodating in terms of setting up the kitchen,'' said certified kosher chef Joel Weinberger, who is the one-man team that supervises the kosher facilities. Although the space is small, only 70 square feet, Caltech pulled out all the stops, stocking the kitchen with all new appliances, utensils, pots and pans.

New equipment made the job of creating a kosher cooking environment much easier, said Weinberger, because there was no need to kosherize used pots and appliances. Used equipment would have to be kosherized through a process depending on the item's use.

``With a pot, for example, that is normally used to boil water, I would boil water in it and let the water boil over,'' Weinberger said. ``After sitting idle for 24 hours, the pot would be rendered kosher.

``It's really a matter of exposing the item to its most extreme use and then letting it sit idle for at least 24 hours,'' explained Weinberger.

Weinberger, who is also a certified kosher inspector, prepares between nine and a dozen lunches and dinners for students daily throughout the school term. It's a small operation, but Weinberger also takes special orders from campus faculty and prepares meals for Orthodox Jews on staff at the nearby Jet Propulsion Lab.

The kitchen, now in its third year of operation, is also accepted as hallal, meaning it meets Muslim dietary requirements as well. Three Muslim students on campus this year are taking advantage of the kosher meal plan.

More than simply maintaining a kosher environment, preparing kosher meals involves following a complex code of what foods are permissible and how they are prepared, said Weinberger. Familiar tenets of the kosher diet include never mixing dairy and meat products in meals, as well as the exclusion of pork and shellfish, but the list of rules is long. Most critical to the kosher diet are the rules that govern how permissible meats are butchered and prepared for consumption, according to dietary laws laid out in the Torah.

Each meal prepared by Weinberger is also specially packaged with a seal from the Rabbinical Council ensuring its kosher content.

Because meat and dairy products must be prepared in separate facilities and he is limited by space, Weinberger maintains a nondairy kitchen, opting to prepare lots of beef, chicken and fish dishes.

The kitchen is kept under lock and key, to ensure its kosher integrity, and Weinberger is always present during meal preparations, as mandated by the Rabbinical Council. The kitchen is also inspected on a regular basis by the council.

``The university staff is extremely devoted to its students,'' said Rabbi Nissim Davidi, Kashrut Administrator at the Rabbinical Council. ``We are proud to work with this premier institution to provide first-class kosher supervision.''

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1) Chef Joel Weinberger: ``The university was very accommodating in terms of setting up the kitchen.''

(2 -- 3) The 70-square-foot kosher kitchen at Caltech, one of only a few of its kind on the West Coast, is strictly supervised and prepares only nondairy meals.

James Ku/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 25, 2001
Words:632
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