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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Koshering, Or How to Make the Radisson Safe for Judaism

For most people, kosher refers to food that is permitted according to Jewish law. For Arieh Wagner, it is also a verb.


With over 600 Jews set to gather at the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel for Wednesday's Russian Jewish Congress, Wagner, the director of an international kosher catering company, flew in from Switzerland to kosher the kitchen.


After getting a call from Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt, Wagner came to Moscow last month to peruse the facility and plan the menu for the three-day conference. He made a list. He checked it twice.


"After all, you only have one chance," said Wagner. Indeed, in spite of great leaps in consumer-friendliness, Moscow is still not the place to find a ton of kosher beef on short notice.


By some miracle, a container of kosher food -- including the aforementioned ton of kosher beef and more than 200 pounds of kosher chocolate -- arrived from the United States and France in only two weeks. "It normally takes eight months," Wagner added happily.


But once the food had cleared customs, his work had just begun.


Arriving in Moscow two days in advance, Wagner got right to work koshering the kitchen. He and his team of supervisors sorted stacks of new dishes. They immersed hotel cutlery in boiling water and set pots and pans over a steady flame. They even blow-torched the stoves to bring them up to kosher standards.


That is where they ran into a little trouble with the hotel management. "We had our first fight over that," the hotel's executive chef Ian Field said in mock indignation as he pointed to some permanent torch signs on one of the stoves.


"That was my fault," Wagner countered, admitting that the instrument had temporarily fallen into wrong hands. "You've got to be really careful with a blow torch."


But aside from the occasional mishap, Wagner exudes the easy confidence of a man borndinto the profession. His family, he said, has been in the kosher catering business for 70 years.


"This isn't the first kitchen I've koshered," said Wagner. "And it won't be my last."