With buckets and blowtorch in hand, Rabbi Daniel Sayani arrived at the in-store kitchen at Bed Bath & Beyond (BBB) in East Hanover on Sept. 4 and got to work. For five hours he heated, boiled, scrubbed, scorched, and immersed every pot, pan, and utensil; every countertop, tabletop, oven, and sink, until the job was done and he could at last declare the facility kosher.
As he embarked on his task as mashgiach (the supervisor of the kashrut status of an establishment) and oriented himself in the kitchen — checking the burners and ovens, inspecting the countertops, examining items like tea and coffee pods that were sitting out, and doing a general walkthrough — Susie Fishbein, Livingston resident and celebrated chef and kosher cookbook author, sat on a stool at the counter with Lee-Anne Piloto, BBB’s kitchen co-coordinator, reviewing the ingredients and the choreography for a week of kosher cooking classes Fishbein would be leading the following week.
As the women discussed the fixings to make chili delicata squash with blueberry honey, pumpkin short ribs, and chestnut mushroom soup (with all ingredients to be ordered from Aron’s West Orange, a kosher supermarket that is partnering with BBB for the week), Sayani put on fire-safe gloves and got started, layering burners with foil first and turning them on high, heating the ovens to their highest setting, and filling a pail with water. After some minutes passed, he removed the foil from the stovetop and slowly blowtorched every inch of it. Then he covered the stovetop a second time with a pan, and turned the burners on again. Once that was completed on two different stovetop areas, he turned his attention to the pots, pans, and utensils. He set the pail of water on to boil, getting it ready to immerse smaller items, and started to blowtorch a strainer.
His first question had less to do with Jewish ritual than with observing safety precautions: “There’s a fire extinguisher here, right?”
Before Fishbein can stew, sear, chop, or deglaze anything, Sayani was charged with carrying out “hagalah,” “libun gur,” “iruy kli rishon,” and “even melubenet” — that’s kashering by boiling, burning, pouring, and heated stone — in the BBB kitchen. There is, by Jewish law, a specific way to kasher each item, depending on how it is used. It was Sayani’s job to assess which method to apply to each item — and to determine what could not be kashered at all.
It was no simple undertaking for BBB, a publicly traded company selling home goods, to offer kosher classes in a rabbinically certified environment. The first cooking school kitchen among all of the 1,500 stores was opened at the East Hanover location in November 2018.
“It’s a huge commitment on the part of Bed Bath & Beyond, a really nice nod to the kosher community that they wanted to go to this effort,” said Fishbein. “It’s not an inexpensive venture, and it’s not an easy venture.”
“It’s really about drawing people in and serving the community,” said Hank Reinhart, vice president of customer service for BBB. He declined to set a bar for success for Fishbein’s classes, but said he was pleased the six classes — which began Sept. 8, with the last one on the 13th — were nearly all sold out. (As of press time there was still room in the Friday morning class; the cost is $75 per class.)
As Randi Jeddis, BBB’s culinary events manager, said, the point of having the kitchen is to bring people into the store; participants at such events get to try out some of the many kitchen gadgets for sale.
In addition to paying the mashgiach to do the actual kashering, the store had to invest in new plates and pots (though some were donated by corporate partners), knives, and cutting boards that couldn’t be kashered, and staff members were assigned the role of ensuring that the rabbi’s meticulous work was not undone before the series of classes comes to an end.
Fishbein said she got the idea for the classes when she walked into the store last April and noticed the well-appointed kitchen. She’s led classes elsewhere in such locations as Macy’s De Gustibus Cooking School and Italy’s School of Culinary Arts “Cordon Bleu” that had to be kashered. So, she left her card at BBB and crossed her fingers.
Jeddis, a Fishbein fan, was intrigued. It took a few months to work out the details, and numerous calls to find a mashgiach. But it finally all came together.
Now Jeddis hopes to make the kosher cooking classes a recurring event, focused seasonally on Jewish holidays.
For this first foray Fishbein is offering six classes, with menus geared mostly to Rosh HaShanah. Several of the classes are being filled by groups, including Suburban Torah in Livingston (where Fishbein is a member), Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, and Caldwell Hadassah, but a few were open to the public. Some customers are coming from as far as Queens and Bergen County, according to registration lists.
Throughout the kashering process, Ginny Roth, a BBB kitchen coordinator who is also a member of Livingston’s Temple B’nai Abraham, where she sits on the ritual committee, was taking everything in, asking her own questions: “Should I tape up this shelf? Can we use this pitcher, which has only been used for water? If something we want to use is brand new, it’s good to go, right? Can we use the salt and pepper?”
And Fishbein had questions of her own. “Rabbi, on Friday we were possibly going to do some dairy,” she said, explaining that after the salad was made, she planned to add in goat cheese crumbles. “Is that acceptable?” she asked. “There’s no dairy going into the pots.”
You could see her contemplating veggie burgers and a root salad without the goat cheese crumbles as she waited for an answer.
Fortunately, the rabbi said it was fine.
But Fishbein was clearly disappointed that a Le Creuset enamel pot could not be kashered; Jeddis wasn’t worried. “It’s okay, we have new,” she said, and pulled one from the store’s stock and — voila, a kosher Le Creuset pot was ready.
Sayani’s list of steps was long: from immersing utensils in boiling water to pouring water over sinks and countertops, placing his hot stones into pots of boiling water and blowtorching baking sheets. But finally, he was finished.
And just like that, in the time it takes to cook a brisket, the kitchen at Bed Bath & Beyond was pronounced ready for a week of kosher stewing and sautéing, flambeeing and pureeing. Susie Fishbein’s instant pot chicken soup, anyone?