Penn State to open its first kosher and allergy-friendly kitchen 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A pilot of a new kitchen and dining station will help Penn State University Park students keep kosher starting this fall. The kosher kitchen, named Pure, will be the first certified-kosher kitchen and dining facility at the University and will be located at the recently renovated East Food District at Findlay Commons. In addition to offering kosher food options, which meet Jewish dietary principles, Pure also will be an allergy-friendly station with no dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, gluten and sesame on the menu. 

In the Jewish tradition, kosher food is ritually prepared or blessed and meets guidelines for how it is sourced, delivered, handled and cooked. Generally, kosher chefs only buy products that are certified kosher, keep meat and dairy separate, and remove any questionable food that may have come in contact with non-kosher utensils, equipment or food. Those who keep kosher do not eat pork, shellfish, and meat and dairy together.

Kosher observance is a historical, communal and personal commitment, and adheres to dietary guidelines clarified over the centuries by rabbinic authorities in Jewish law. While Penn State has offered kosher for Passover meals to Jewish students for more than a decade, other on-campus kosher food options have been limited, and there are no kosher-certified restaurants in State College, according to Diane Andrews, assistant vice president for Housing, Food Services and Residence Life. 

“From our conversations with students, we know there is demand for kosher dining from current and prospective students, and the hope is that this pilot program will enable us to provide a menu for Jewish students and other community members,” Andrews said. “The kitchen also will play an important role in ongoing efforts to offer a variety of faith-friendly and allergy-friendly food choices throughout the University.”

The kosher station came about thanks to ongoing discussions with Housing and Food Services and students and staff members from Penn State Hillel, University Park Undergraduate Association and other student organizations. In the fall, Penn State President Eric Barron got on board after a conversation with local rabbis at the kick-off event for “All In at Penn State,” an ongoing University initiative aimed at spotlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion. 

“The University is committed to supporting cultural and religious diversity among its students, and we are very excited to be creating new spaces for students to come together to share meals, customs and ideas,” Barron said. “The kosher kitchen is a positive example of what can come from creating opportunities to have open dialogues about how to foster a welcoming campus environment. In just one casual conversation, we became aware of a desire for a kosher setting, and that’s a really powerful statement about the importance of bringing different voices to the conversation.”

With the opening of Pure, Penn State will join a growing number of universities that are putting kosher on their menus. Within the Big Ten, the University of Illinois and Northwestern University have fully certified-kosher kitchens, while others have a Hillel student center or Chabad house, on or off-campus, where students can use their meal plans. 

“Kosher is a new concept for us and we’re busy setting up the kitchen, developing menus and testing recipes that are delicious and made from high-quality ingredients,” said Lisa Wandel, director of Residential Dining. “Pure will adhere to all of Penn State’s food safety procedures as well as such kosher rules as having self-contained production and service areas and following specific procedures for a more controlled food production.”

Like with any kosher food establishment, a special rabbi, or mashgiach, will help manage the facility to ensure adherence with kosher guidelines. He will open and close the station each day, turn on all equipment, inspect food items and train employees.

According to Wandel, the kosher and allergy-friendly concepts were combined in one station because the needs of customers who are kosher and/or are allergic to common allergens are better served with a self-contained production and service area. Food will be served buffet style on disposable dinnerware to prevent contamination, and no outside food or drinks will be permitted in the station.

While the menu — which will feature herb-roasted turkey with gravy, Southwest brisket with corn and black bean salsa, curries, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables and more — is specifically designed for people who have allergies and/or who keep kosher, it also will likely appeal to a broader group, including Muslim students who eat Halal.

“On any given day, students dining on campus have their pick of a mix of culturally diverse and faith-friendly options — from Greek and Ethiopian to Korean and Mexican recipes — as well as gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options in our dining facilities,” Andrews said. “We hope students are just as enthusiastic about this kosher and allergy-friendly option. We're piloting the kitchen this year, but if it goes well, we'll continue the program while expanding the menu and developing new recipes.”

Along with the kitchen, Housing and Food Services is ramping up efforts to offer more grab-and-go multicultural options in campus convenience stores. In addition, they've partnered with the Muslim Students' Association to move forward on plans to serve Halal-certified chicken in the dining commons.

“Penn State is committed to diversity and inclusion, and this responsibility extends to the food experiences we offer in our on-campus dining facilities,” said David Gray, senior vice president for Finance and Business. “Students, faculty, staff and community members of all backgrounds and faiths are welcome in this new kosher kitchen. We hope it will not only be a place to grab a quick bite, but a place students of all backgrounds and faiths can share food that reminds them of home or experience new dishes and cultures.”

Pure will open in East Food District in Findlay Commons in August, and will serve dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, as well as brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.

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Last Updated May 09, 2017