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Soul Food

Ezriel Yudkowsky

The kitchen is his kingdom, but the beis medrash is his focus. For the kitchen director at Yeshivas Chevron, satisfying the bochurim — be it with special menus, personal-sized bags of milk, or extra veggies for the dieters — is part of the larger mission to ensure that bochurim want nothing other than to stay in yeshivah and shteig

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

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“WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?” In Bentzi Mangel’s kitchen, cleanliness and advance planning are key to keeping Chevron’s bochurim satiated. Three times a day, the staff turns out balanced meals for the appreciative boys (Photos: Elchanan Kotler)

The question “what’s for lunch?” is never unnerving for Bentzi Mangel. Even when that lunch has to feed 1,400 hungry teenagers. 

“From my decade-plus in the food business, I’ve learned that the most important things in catering are organization and advance planning,” says Mangel, the kitchen director at Yeshivas Chevron. “If you’re smart and plan in advance, there are no disasters.” 

Bentzi came by those lessons honestly. He worked in a huge catering business for more than a decade, turning out more than 20,000 portions a day for any numbers of events and institutions. Along with the art of cooking, he also learned about sourcing raw ingredients, directing kitchen crews, and all the Health Ministry’s safety measures. When he was invited last year to direct Yeshivas Chevron’s new kitchen facilities, he brought a wealth of experience to the job — along with the personal stake of a Chevron alumnus returning back home. 

FOOD MAY BE THE PURPOSE of his role, but much of Bentzi’s job is people-centered. From his perch in the Givat Mordechai campus of the yeshivah, he directs a cooking staff of about ten cooks and assistants, who prepare three meals a day for the yeshivah’s 1,400 students and staff, plus meals for other branches of the yeshivah off-campus. He estimates their total output at 5,000 meals per day. There’s also a cleaning staff that works in the kitchen, and a serving staff that deals with setting, serving, and clearing. Bentzi’s duties also include setting up the dining room and assigning tables to each “vaad” (Chevron lingo for classes). 

Last but not least, Bentzi also liaises with an official student representative who has free access to the kitchen. His job is to convey the students’ preferences and requests to the staff. 

“We don’t skimp,” he says proudly. “There’s soup every day in the winter. Fleishigs five times a week. A protein, carb, and fresh salad at every lunch. The rosh yeshivah, Rav Moshe Chevroni, travels the globe raising money for the yeshivah. Along with our new kitchen, he built a dining room that’s so beautiful and spacious, it could probably double as a wedding hall.” 

Bentzi’s kingdom is a sparkling expanse of close to 1,000 meters of stainless steel, with appliances and fittings at very high standards. The kitchen is divided into several sections, including areas for dairy, meat, fish, salad, hot dishes and cold ones. 

“Seder v’nikayon is alef bet in the kitchen,” he says, and he keeps a running count of all ingredients at all times. Once every month or two, the yeshivah dispatches mashgichim Rav Berel Friedman and Rav Eliezer Mendelsohn to supervise a special round of chicken shechitah. “Rav Mendelsohn is actually our kitchen mashgiach,” says Bentzi. “He sets the standards for vegetable checking and is on site every day.” 

Yeshivah food may have a greasy reputation, but Bentzi tries to keep his offerings healthy. “No soy oil, only canola,” he says. “We try to minimize the use of soup mixes, and we avoid processed foods. We’ll skip the ready-made schnitzel and work harder so the bochurim get healthier food.” 

For those bochurim with special dietary needs, Bentzi’s willing to work even harder. “There are about 20 bochurim in yeshivah right now with special diets — celiac, allergies, diabetes. The administration tells these boys to come talk with me, and I make sure that we accommodate their needs. For the boys with celiac, I make a special version of schnitzel without crumbs.” 

And when boys reach shidduch age, those who want to lose a few extra pounds enlist Bentzi’s help in the cause. He’s more than happy to fortify them with extra fruits and vegetables, so they can cut down on the schnitzel and still have what to eat. (Excerpted from Mishpacha’s Behind the Scenes, Pesach Mega-Issue 5777)

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