Richard Munns is the man behind 48,000 meals this Pesach and he isn’t even Jewish. But as Jewish Care’s deputy director of operations, Mr Munns has the overall responsibility of providing clients with traditional Passover cooking.
In a brief break from his final festival preparations this week, Mr Munns explained that he had worked his way through the charity’s ranks “to take on the catering services for the whole organisation. I’m not Jewish but I love the community and I know what I’m doing. I’ve even earned myself the nickname ‘Rabbi Munns’.
“I don’t expect any chef to cook something that I can’t cook myself. I can cook all the Passover dishes and I love cooking them. It’s not the healthiest food but it is the tastiest.”
Because of the scale of the Pesach catering operation, “we start preparing in January. We do a workshop for all our catering staff. We have four Jewish chefs but the majority are non-Jewish.
“There is a huge amount of training that goes into getting them to understand the taste and what the food should look like. The Jewishness of the food is very important because we are serving it to people who know their stuff.”
The food training takes in favourites such as coconut pyramids and macaroons, cinnamon balls and charoset. Training extends to alerting chefs to local preferences. “I know Jewish food enough to realise that the chicken soup in Redbridge is very different to the chicken soup in north-west London. You have to know those nuances. The chicken soup in Redbridge has more vegetables and chicken in it be-cause that is how they like it. The soup in north-west London tends to just have lokshen or kneidlach in it. I’ve been doing it for a very long time, so I know about getting the flavours right for the location.”
Jewish Care’s festival catering commitment includes 32 communal Seders and buying the right quantities of food is essential. “We prepare 400 Seder plates and [clients] consume 14,000 matzah and 500 chickens. We use 220,000 egg whites and wherever possible we use Jewish suppliers. All our food is home-made.”
In general, keeping the culinary operation in-house helps the Jewish Care budget. “It was a huge undertaking for us, but since we did we have had such positive feedback — not only about the quality, but we’ve made a saving of £712,000 [over 18 months]. That is money that can go elsewhere to continue the great things we do.”
The festival further requires the charity to fit in over 2,000 additional cleaning hours. “A month before Passover, we enter our programme of cleaning. That includes everything from moving wardrobes, emptying kitchens, sorting the paintwork and cleaning the windows inside and out. And the kitchens are all re-koshered. We have 42 kitchens across Jewish Care and every campus gets the same treatment.
“I even spring clean my own house at Passover. You just get into it and it is good practice.” In his overseeing capacity, Mr Munns attends many of the Seders. “You go into a home where residents are very frail with high levels of dementia. But when the Seder service commences and they start singing Dayenu, you see people coming alive. You get a sense of relief then that you’ve achieved everything you need to. The residents are the heart of what we do so that is really important and lovely.”