Kosher dining returns to Clark

silvia Silvia Avinoam is in charge of Clark's kosher kitchen and serving area.

Clark University Dining Services operates with a sort of culinary conscientiousness that means the food is not only flavorful, but also nutritious, locally sourced whenever possible, and varied enough to satisfy individual dietary needs.

This semester, the menu has been expanded to include kosher dining.

According to David Coyne, director of Clark Hillel, the student group that celebrates Jewish culture, the introduction of a kosher menu meets a real need for those students of the Jewish faith who keep kosher. He says over the years he’s talked with prospective students who found Clark to be the perfect fit academically and socially, but who chose not to enroll because of the lack of kosher offerings.

“Their parents would have a simple question for me: How’s my son or daughter going to eat?” Coyne says.

Silvia Avinoam prepares fresh Kosher food. Silvia Avinoam prepares fresh kosher food.

With the support of President David Angel, Coyne, Heather Vaillette, Sodexo general manager of Clark Dining Services, her team, and business manager Paul Wykes spent several years planning the reintroduction of kosher dining at Clark (kosher food was available at Dana Commons years ago, but it was discontinued). Also assisting were Bernie Rotman, chair of Hillel’s advisory committee, and Rabbi Yaakov Blotner of the Worcester Vaad, the local kosher supervising authority, who continues to monitor the program.

Kosher dining follows strict guidelines for the preparation and consumption of food. For instance, certain foods, such as shellfish and pork, are proscribed, and the slaughter and cooking of meat and fish is regulated under Jewish dietary laws. There are also restrictions for what kinds of foods can and cannot be mixed (for example, meat and milk cannot be consumed together). 

At Clark, a former office off the main dining hall has been converted into a kosher kitchen, which serves meat and “parve” food (food without any red meat, poultry or dairy ingredients) and is led by Silvia Avinoam, a talented cook and native of Israel who ran a popular kosher catering business in Worcester. As a “mashgiach,” Avinoam is certified to oversee a kosher establishment.

The serving area is set in the rear of the dining hall with a barrier separating it from the nearby pizza/pasta bar to avoid the accidental mixing of non-kosher food.

Wykes says while there is some added cost to offering kosher food, the expense has been absorbed without passing it on to students.

In successfully bringing kosher dining back to Clark, Coyne says, three things were achieved:

  • The highest level of kosher certification was granted;
  • No student has to sign up to eat from the kosher menu, or pay a premium;
  • Students keeping kosher eat with other Clark students.

“At some other schools it costs students extra or they have to eat elsewhere, separate from the dining hall,” Vaillette says. “We did not want that to be the case here.”

An added benefit, Coyne says, is that kosher is close to the halal dietary guidelines observed by many Muslims. “This offers a point of access to food that wasn’t available before,” he says.

preparing acorn squashClark’s kosher meals have earned high marks not only from students who keep kosher, but also from other students, he noted. Diners from outside Clark have also been taking advantage of the kosher offerings (“There’s no kosher restaurant in Worcester,” Coyne notes), and Dining Services has been doing some in-house catering of kosher meals.

“The response has been phenomenal,” Coyne says. “The participation levels are higher than we anticipated.”

Brittany Klug ’16 said when she learned of the new kosher menu she was wary that the food would be subpar, but has found it delicious.

“Silvia does a wonderful job preparing the meals,” she said, adding that her friends who don’t keep kosher also enjoy the food. Klug ate a vegetarian diet her first year at Clark, and said the addition of a kosher menu “has weighed on my decision to stay here. I think this has made Clark a more inclusive school.”

Vaillette points out that several major food suppliers now offer kosher food. She says executive chef Denis Gagne and production chef Patrick Nascimento spent a year nailing down the details of purchasing and preparing food that meets kosher requirements.

The kosher kitchen is open for lunch and dinner Sunday through Thursday, and for lunch on Friday. Boxed lunches and dinners may be prepared in advance for the weekend meals by request. Hillel serves a kosher dinner on Friday night.