The kitchen is said to be the heart of the Jewish home, but there comes a time when even old favourites have to be updated or renovated. This was certainly the case with my kitchen that had served me well for almost 15 years but that was showing definite signs of ageing and over-use. However, changing kitchens is an enormous project and can take a considerable time to plan and to implement.
With a kosher kitchen there is even more to consider: separate facilities for milk and meat means two of everything, from sinks to ovens and dishwashers, plus there is the need to have extra space for Passover crockery, etc. This not only affects the plans and design but also budgets, so this article, based on my own experience, is designed to help.
● Shop Around for the right partner
Choosing the right kitchen company is a bit like choosing a life partner - they need to be trustworthy, reliable, but still have that little bit of sparkle to add creativity to your plans. I suggest you check out at least five companies from the high street retailers such as Moben or Ikea, to the niche players such as Beyond Kitchens, www.beyondkitchens.co.uk. Each will have their own approach to your kitchen and although their prices will vary considerably you may be able extract some ideas or product features from one and merge with another. Plus you may be surprised at how door frames and cupboard carcasses can look quite similar even though prices from suppliers are miles apart. Do not be overawed by fancy computer graphics that take you on a journey around your own kitchen. Spend time with the plans, think about how you use your kitchen. Are all the items in a logical order and placed for ergonomic efficiency? Are cupboards at the right height and plugs in the right place?
Do not be seduced by fancy names and gadgets. You will be able to find a kitchen for your budget, but do be prepared for the extras that are inevitable. The pipes are never in the right place, the floor is never flat enough and the plaster under the wallpaper will always need replacing! Be firm, but also be understanding because these issues are not easy to spot in advance. Your supplier should manage the whole project for you so make sure that you get a day-by-day plan of work and ensure that they stick to it. Four weeks without a kitchen is bad enough, but eight is pure hell.
Two sinks are ideal for a kosher kitchen, but if you only have space for one, then using a washing up bowl for meat and having separate utensils is fine. Also be aware that although stainless and granite sinks can be koshered for Pesach, those made of china, porcelain and Corian cannot and will require the use of a bowl insert.
Several manufacturers now make ovens with a Shabbat setting. Essentially it means that you can pre-set the oven before Shabbat and it stays at a regular heat. But they also solve some of the issues we have when using a cooker on continuous low heat over Shabbat such as when making cholent: the oven light is not activated as the door is opened and the fan and the heater element does not restart as it detects a drop in temperature while the door is opened. I have to say I had this facility on my old Neff oven and it was so useful I have chosen a new oven with this facility.
If you are a keen cook, then gas is the answer. I have tried all the fancy ceramic and electric instant heat options and they just do not work for me. Although easy to clean on a daily basis, from a koshering point of view, ceramic hobs can be problematic in that only the burner area can be easily koshered (by putting them on high until they glow red), whereas the areas immediately adjacent cannot be koshered as they do get hot enough. Sheets of special mica material suitable for covering ceramic hobs are available from the Kashrut Division. Again this is only important at Pesach or if you move and inherit a kitchen with these facilities.
● Work Surfaces
Although fine for normal use, surfaces such as formica, plastic laminates or Corian cannot, according to the Beth Din, be koshered for Pesach and must be covered. Stone, metal and wood surfaces can be all be koshered as long as they are not composites and have a smooth surface.
Having made your choice on your appliances and kitchen you could now try to sell your old ones. I managed to sell nearly everything for reasonable prices on the Internet using sites such as EdgwareK, www.tukc.co.uk and www.preloved.co.uk
While your kitchen is out of use, try to plan a temporary kitchen in the dining room or wherever. We managed using a camping gas hob and a combi microwave oven interspersed with the occasional kosher takeaway and meal out. Plus invitations from family and friends will always be most welcome.
Good luck and be patient with the dirt, dust and noise.