Translating in the kitchen

It just occurred to me that I approach adapting my favourite French recipes (to make them Kosher) in very much the same way I adapt, rather than translate word for word, English texts into French.

Translating is not substituting one word or expression for another. It is rendering context, feel, style, intent, rhythm, sound, pace, and of course, meaning. In the same way, when adapting a recipe for a Kosher kitchen, simply substituting systematically one ingredient for another can only lead to a complete disaster disappointment.


There are simply no substitutes for ingredients like butter, milk, crème fraîche, or pork. Soy milk in a Béchamel is not a substitute, it is a cop out.

It betrays both a lack of imagination and a lack of appreciation for what Béchamel is supposed to be, just as “rétroaction” is a lazy and inaccurate translation for “feedback”, though approved by official instances it may be (there, I said it).

In translation as in adapting recipes, the goal is to produce a result that can stand on its own merit and do justice to the original. There is no point in going through the exercise otherwise.

Kosher or not Kosher, that is the question

I keep Kosher in my home. Unless you ask most people, in which case, I don’t. Let me explain: Torah commands Jews to eat only animals that chew their cud and have split hooves. No horse or rabbit on the menu and, of course, no pork. It also commands us to eat only fish that has both fins and scales, so no shellfish, and no unagi (eel sushi). Finally, it forbids us to cook a kid (baby goat) in its mother’s milk. Although this latter point seems to have been more about which rituals were appropriate than a dietary prescription per se, its spirit, which was to avoid cruelty and to keep life and death separate, has spilled over into Kashrut, for the better.

No moral or ethical explanation is given alongside the dietary commandments in the Torah, but since Torah itself is essentially a Code of ethics, it stands to reason that Kashrut is first and foremost about being holy.

Kosher chicken parmesan, anyone?

Not only do I follow the dietary rules laid out in Torah as mentioned above, I expand on them a bit by not mixing any meat from any mammal with dairy, hot or cold. But I do mix poultry and dairy, hot and cold, because a chicken does not equate milk with life, or with its mother, therefore I see nothing unethical or cruel in my “escalopes de poulet à la crême”.

I also tend to treat fish as meat (according to traditional Kashrut, it is considered “parve”, i.e. neither meat not dairy).

Kosher or organic?

That one is a real struggle for me. If Kashrut is about eating in an ethical and healthy way, meat that is produced within our current mass agriculture system should not qualify. I feel the same way about fruit and vegetables that have been doused in pesticides and other chemicals known to be toxic to humans, by the way.

Even the rules of shechitah (ritual slaughter of animals that is meant to ensure as little pain and distress as possible) seem to have fallen victim to the demands of the market, what with machines flipping cows upside down in front of a giant blade… eesh.

I am not naive, I understand that with the demand for Kosher meat as it is, the idea of a lone shochet slaughtering hundreds of cows is not the most realistic. And yet I wonder if that is not the only way we are supposed to eat meat: a healthy animal raised in its natural environment, slaughtered humanely and in a dignified way by a local shochet, processed and sold by a community butcher. We would eat a lot less meat, we would eat much better meat. Right now, I feel it is more ethical, more “holy”, to eat organic meat than Kosher meat. I wish I could find meat that is both Kosher and organic, but the eco-Kosher movement has not yet gained enough ground to make it an option, at least, I haven’t come across a good one yet.