How to design a kosher kitchen

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Kosher cookbook author Paula Shoyer washes dishes in her sink, which has two sides, one for meat and one for dairy. Photo by Josh Marks
Kosher cookbook author Paula Shoyer washes dishes in her sink, which has two sides, one for meat and one for dairy.
Photo by Josh Marks

Kosher baker Paula Shoyer, author of The New Passover Menu, takes us into her Chevy Chase home for a tour of her 308 square foot kosher kitchen that was remodeled in 2003. What makes for a well-designed kosher kitchen? Here she is in her own voice, as told to WJW reporter Josh Marks. The following is edited for length:

The one thing I always tell everybody when they are designing any kitchen is that everybody has to design the kitchen for their own lifestyle. Kitchen designers are people who spend their day in offices designing kitchens. But when you are designing a kitchen for yourself and your family, you have to think about how you use it.


I have a husband who didn’t grow up kosher. It’s always been really important to me to make sure that it was really easy.

It also means that whoever comes to visit your house, in one minute you can explain ‘this side’s dairy. This side’s meat. This is where pareve is.’ And that way nobody is going to make mistakes.

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Dairy Side:
We are standing by the bay window facing outside. Everything on this side I decided to do dairy because of breakfast. Everything in this cabinet is dairy. What I did for my kids was that I have all this cereal and then all the dishes and from the time they were little I had all of this low for them so they can always reach everything — so my kids could get their placemats, their bowls, their cereal, their spoons, from the time they were 4 or 5 years old. That way you don’t have to sit there and say, ‘Where are the dairy bowls?’ every day. They are right where they are eating breakfast. That’s why the toaster’s here. That’s why coffee and tea are here. Everything you need for breakfast which is typically dairy is going to be one area of your kitchen.

Dishwasher:
I have two dishwashers. Not everybody can do that I appreciate that. I had only one dishwasher for a really long time just for meat because for Shabbat when I had more people over I needed a dishwasher for me. I have twins and when my twins were little and I had to wash 14 bottles a day I said that was it. I went and bought the cheapest dishwasher I could find for dairy and got that installed in my kitchen. Having two dishwashers really does make a big difference. It makes life very easy.


Sink:
If I would have to tell a person designing a kosher kitchen the one feature more than anything they need is two sinks. Two sinks is critical. The reason two sinks is critical is if you are starting Shabbat dinner at 8:00 in the morning on a Friday, your kids can still put their breakfast dishes in another sink so that you keep those separate. To switch sinks from dairy to meat or dairy to pareve, whatever, you have to scrub it, rinse it, and boil hot water and pour boiling water over it. That’s just a lot of steps for me and I want to be able to, if I’ve already started marinating my steak and I’m rinsing those things on one side and I can put the breakfast dishes on the other side. It just helps you not feel that you have to wait to start making your meat meal, whether it’s a dinner meal, a Shabbat meal, a holiday meal, until everybody’s done with breakfast or done with lunch.  For me the key thing was the two sinks.

Countertop:
Granite was important to me. For Passover, all I have to do after I clean it is pour boiling water … over granite to kosher it for Passover. That was really important to me. I didn’t want to have a countertop that I could not kosher for Passover.

Meat Side:
This side of my kitchen is basically the meat side of my kitchen. These are all my meat pots. And the thing about having a kosher kitchen is that you have so much stuff. You have to really think about that when you’re building a kitchen. I don’t believe in designing a kitchen and then you move back into it and then you figure out where things go. My view of the world and designing a kitchen is that you have to think about what you have and where it’s going as you design your kitchen. You don’t wait for later. What kind of drawer do you need near what? My pots are right here. utensils and lots of knives, but all on one side.

Oven:
I have two ovens. Some people dedicate one for dairy, one for meat, depending on somebody else’s customs and whatever. But very important for me having a counter really close by. Some people will have stovetops and then counter but you just need a place where you can put your big cookie sheets the second they are coming out of the oven. That was really important to me.

Pareve:
I know a lot of people do pareve. I find pareve complicated because once again I have a dairy sink and I have a meat sink. To do pareve means I have to switch one sink over. I have very few pareve things. My baking is in my meat section even though it really is all pareve. What I ended up doing is anything pareve, I put in between — my salad spinner, my glass mixing bowl that I might use for both.

Pots and pans:
The other thing is that since kosher people tend to entertain a lot we have some really big roasting pans and soup pots, bigger stuff than your average cook will have. You have to make a list of things to tell a kitchen designer – and say, ‘In my kitchen I have a chicken soup pot and I have a gefilte fish pot, both of which you can bathe a small baby in. They are gigantic pots.’ Kosher people, we might be making soup in that pot every other Shabbat.

Related: In search of simple recipes

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for this article. It was helpful to me as an Architect designing a major home renovation for a young, kosher family of seven. The wife’s mother is a kitchen designer professionally, so she will be handling the details. But I am the one making the space where she will put her details. I can use as much information early on in the design process as I can get. I showed them a scheme with about three or four times the space I have in the kitchen I use for myself, my husband, and our 12 year old. I thought my design was fabulous, I would love to have a kitchen like this; and my clients’ response was, “It needs more storage!” I have designed for large Jewish families before as an associate, but this time is the first I’m doing it on my own as the Registered Architect so now I am in the position to get to know this family more intimately. I am enjoying learning about a lifestyle different than my own to make hopefully a really awesome house they will love for many many years. Thanks again, as this helped my understanding of the project I am working on.

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