Kosher Kitchen Design with Expert Lisa Eisen
Designing a kosher kitchen requires a lot of nuances and understanding on how you want your kitchen to look while following kosher dietary laws. To clarify how to design a kosher kitchen, we spoke to an expert on kitchen design. Lisa Eisen has been designing kitchens for 20 years in Rockland County, specializing in Jewish kitchens. We took the chance to pick her very creative mind and see what goes into constructing a kosher kitchen.
We sent you a few images regarding an example of a kosher kitchen. How accurate were we with those images?
Lisa: Left wall looks really nice. Layout really depends on what the person wants, what budget they have and how big of a family they have. This set-up may not be good for someone who has a couple of kids running around since they can bonk their heads on an open oven door. Typically, when designing a kitchen, it’s better to separate the kitchen with a meat side and a dairy side. Depending on how devoted you are to kosher rules, if you use a space for meat, that space becomes a meat section, and you can’t use it for dairy. It’s better to try and keep the island neutral and have a dedicated meat section and dairy section in easy access so you aren’t constantly walking around. People want easy access to everything when cooking.
Can you go over the koshering process a bit on how to make a kitchen kosher?
Lisa: Each item needs to be cleaned. Ovens have a self-cleaning mode which works. Set it to go a couple of times and that counts. After cleaning everything, like, everything (utensils, fridge, oven, countertops, cabinets, etc.) then you pour boiling water on it. That’s what makes it kosher, cleaning it with boiling water. It can take anywhere from 6 hours to a full day to kosher everything.
Some Rabbis use a blowtorch as a heat source. I’ve done it once and it was a bit scary at first, but it got the job done. But that depends on what the Rabbi prefers to use.
Fridges you can just wipe down and cover the shelves. People like to buy separate ice makers and ice trays because your hands can get crumbs on them and contaminate the ice.
When moving to a new place, it would be good to ask how the dishwasher was used. Some might be okay cleaning it out and using it while others don’t want to risk it and just use it for something else.
Given the advice that it is better to have separate sinks, 2 ovens, 2 microwaves, etc. Are there any rules on where things should go? Are there any spacing requirements between the duplicate items?
Lisa: More space the better. People always want to have more space when upgrading. Some people want plenty of space between everything while others may not have the room for it, so they want it convenient. Things like dishwashers can be placed into cabinets and stacked on top of each other. Some people want their ovens next to their cabinets. The appliances can touch each other, but you can also forgo a 2nd dishwasher for more cabinet space. Then you can use more countertop space and have a deeper sink.
Is there a specific countertop material a client should buy when designing a kosher kitchen?
Lisa: In the past, people would use granite and pour boiling water on it. Lately, steamers work too, depending on what the Rabbi says and what people want. Some people want Marble, but that can come with issues like staining and cracking, and no one wants something they have to continually work on.
Then there’s the artificial one, quartz, which some say is kosher and others don’t because it’s not natural stone. Usually, a less porous natural stone works since things don’t get absorbed into it. Less porous the better, but people may not like the look of some quartz, or they may not see it as kosher because it’s not a natural stone. Some families find it perfectly okay and love it. It’s all based on personal preference, what the community says and what the Rabbi suggests.
How much countertop space do you need to keep meat and dairy separated? How much space apart should foods be prepared even if they are on different countertops?
Lisa: It can be a bit lopsided. Imagine you have a 10 ft. countertop. Typically, 7 ft. would be used for meat and 3 ft. for dairy. Meat usually requires more space because it can get messy.
In the old days, there used to be a piece of granite or stone used as a divider to separate everything. Honestly, it didn’t look that great. Modern kitchens want to incorporate everything, so nothing stands out. Instead of a divider, I can use burners or an appliance as a natural separator. Anything can be a divider really; sink, oven, burners, it all works.
Families know their kitchen well enough that they know how much space they may need for meat and dairy. If they use a specific section for meat, they will know that is the meat section. Different countertops are the easiest since one is meat, and the other is dairy.
Is it easier to convert a kitchen into a kosher one, or starting over from a blank room?
Lisa: Oh it’s easy to redesign any place. The most asked question I get is if they can put in another sink. Everyone wants a second sink because if they are doing a dinner party or cleaning up from the night before; they want that option of a second sink.
It also depends on the budget and how you use your kitchen. Some kitchens and families may not be very big, so they don’t need large space. They can get a cutout of 2 burners for dairy and 4 burners for meat. If they have the budget to upgrade later they can. It’s pretty easy to upgrade and redesign these days, although things have gotten very expensive.
Which method would be more cost effective for someone wanting to turn their kitchen into a kosher kitchen? Upgrading over time for all at once?
Lisa: Unfortunately, since Corona hit, everything has doubled. Everything is so expensive now that no matter what you’re doing, it’s going to cost you a lot. I think eggs tripled in price recently, it’s insane how expensive everything is. Depending on how much income you have, how large your family is, how much upgrading you want to do; it’ll cost you a lot, but it’s possible. People are doing it all the time.
Do you have any tips on how to arrange having 2 of the larger appliances like ovens, fridges, microwaves?
Lisa: Similar to how I mentioned what I liked about the photos, it really depends on family size, age of occupants, and how often you cook or bake. Typically, it’s good to have 5-6 feet of a prep area. Sinks on both ends of the island and a burner in the middle. Store ovens and dishwashers in the wall or cabinets. Putting stuff like dishwashers in cabinets has gotten popular lately.
Also, you have to consider the number of entrances. Is there a garage entrance? Is it attached to a dining room or living room? Where are the heavy traffic areas? Do you want to sit down and eat in the kitchen or just dedicate it to cooking and cleaning? There’s a lot to consider on how you want things to be arranged.
Sometimes I like to start with the fridge and oven. Fridges don’t need to be near the cooking area since it just stores things. When designing the cooktop area, you want your burners, spices, and oils close by. Have it convenient so you can just grab your seasonings and start cooking. The more accessible everything is, the more comfortable people are.
What’s your opinion on double bowl sink installation? Are those considered okay in kosher kitchens?
Lisa: Years ago, everyone had them. But they tend to splatter, and water can splash between the sinks. Sometimes it can be used for neutral foods like fruits and veggies.
I have a lot of people asking for those big 30-36 in. sink basins. For them, it’s easier to have a large sink where deep pots can sit flat to be cleaned instead of holding it at an angle and scrubbing in uncomfortable positions. If they see a chance for a bigger sink, they’ll usually go for one of those.
If someone had a smaller kitchen and they couldn’t fit 2 fridges or 2 ovens, how would you help a client in making their kitchen kosher?
Lisa: Manhattan kitchens are like that. They are pretty small and compact that you really can’t fit 2 fridges in there.
In that case, sometimes having them in a C-shaped or U-shaped kitchen helps see where to put things. Sometimes sinks go on the right and left, burners and ovens stay on one side of the unit. Wall ovens are always easy to install. Burners always make for good dividing zones. Some Half L shaped kitchens will have dairy on one side and the other be for meat. Use the countertop to prep on and know where you stand when preparing meat and dairy.
Are there any specific layouts people often request when you are designing their kosher kitchen?
Lisa: Not really. There are no cookie cutter kitchen designs since everyone has different tastes and preferences with how they want their kitchen to come out. Every kitchen design has their pros and cons. Like some people may enjoy having all their appliances on the left side wall because it feels easier for them, while someone else may not like it because they have kids, pets, or other things they need to watch out for.
Sometimes people would want a window wall with a lot of cooking space, which they dedicate as a meat wall. Sinks and burners can be in 1 location to keep everything close together. Some want to keep their islands neutral and place in a 3rd sink for veggies or as a mini prep sink where meat is on the right and dairy is on the left.
Having burners on an island may work well for someone in a small home, but someone with kids could get more concerned since kids like to play on islands.
Then there are other things to consider like, how many family functions do you host? Do you have a big family to cook for or have small gatherings? It always comes down to what you are using the kitchen for and how you want it to look which helps me come up with the best layout. Plus, there are always new trends popping up that people want. It’s constantly changing.
I love having a spice drawer near the sink for easier access when I’m at the cooktop. Knives, spatulas, and spices are near the burner because that’s where I use them. I won’t be using those things when something is cooking in an oven.
Lisa Eisen can be reached on her website for business questions regarding kitchen design in the NYC area. She is also Co-President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies as well as a lead for the U.S. Jewish, Gender and Reproductive Equity Portfolios.