Vatican hotel kitchen goes kosher for a day
21 January 2014, 08:35
Vatican City - For just one day, the kitchen of the Vatican hotel where Pope Francis lives went kosher.
Rabbi Jaakov Spizzichino oversaw the scrupulous cleaning of countertops, the boiling of utensils and the heating of the oven to render it fit for cooking under Jewish dietary laws.
The occasion? A four-course lunch Francis hosted for a dozen Argentine rabbis last week. It was another sign of his close friendship with Jews, despite some complaints in Israel that he's giving the Jewish state short-shrift on his upcoming trip to the Holy Land.
The Vatican has hosted kosher meals for visiting Jewish delegations on several occasions, and Francis famously provided kosher takeout for one of his best friends, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, when Skorka stayed with him at the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel last year.
But the 16 January luncheon in Santa Marta's dining room was a special occasion that warranted more - including the extensive, rabbinically supervised sterilising of the hotel kitchen that on-site kosher cooking entails.
The Vatican pulled out all the stops as Francis hosted Skorka and about 15 other rabbis from Buenos Aires who came to Rome to visit their old friend. It turned to Ba'Ghetto, one of the best kosher restaurants on the other side of the Tiber River, to cater the affair.
"I decided to do it simple, because the pope is simple," said Amit Dabush, Ba'Ghetto's Israeli-born co-owner. "But the menu was full: He had to make a 'bella figura'" - a good impression - on his guests.
To do so, however, required on-site cooking, and that required Dabush and Spizzichino, a kosher inspector with Rome's chief rabbinate, to sterilise the small kitchen off the main dining room kitchen.
A key issue was the oven: according to Jewish dietary laws, an oven in a non-kosher kitchen must sit idle for 24 hours and be cleaned and turned on full blast for an hour to sterilise it, Spizzichino said.
So on the morning of the luncheon, Dabush, some restaurant workers and Spizzichino set to work early: scorching the oven and burners, scouring the kitchen countertops and covering them with aluminum foil to prevent the kosher food from being contaminated.
They boiled and sterilised the big pots used for making pasta and set the tables with Ba'Ghetto's own plates and utensils.
"It was a kitchen that they rarely used, so it was very clean," Spizzichino said.