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Chefs prep kitchens for Passover

Apr 6, 2012 - The Associated Press

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- The Jewish springtime holiday Passover is known as a festival of freedom, but its hallmark is a litany of dietary restrictions centered on not eating leavened bread for a week.

The rules are so elaborate that chefs who want to observe the ritual law must prepare weeks before, removing every last crumb, buying up new sets of kitchen utensils and planning menus without bread or wheat flour.

At Liliyot, one of Tel Aviv's most prestigious kosher restaurants, chef Noam Dekkers oversaw his staff on Wednesday, their last regular day in the kitchen before the annual Passover scrubdown -- a process he calls "logistical mayhem." The holiday begins Friday at sundown.

At the end of the day, Dekkers' cooks threw away leftovers like chopped vegetables and fish. Then, they stored plastic cutting boards and boxes, locked grains away and scrubbed all steel cooking ware.

The following morning, city rabbis oversaw the final sterilization, when the restaurant staff blowtorched grease off the grills and dunked all the metal and glass cooking utensils into cauldrons of boiling water. As of Thursday night, Liliyot was kosher for Passover.

"Tel Aviv is a secular city," said Dekkers, a non-observant Jewish Israeli. "But quite a big part of the community keeps the Jewish religious traditions, especially of the holidays."

The preparations at Liliyot are part of a nationwide frenzy as Jewish Israelis prepare for Passover with a binge of cleaning and shopping culminating in a holiday dinner Friday known as the seder.

Passover celebrates the biblical Exodus story of the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt.

God killed the first-born boys of Egypt after the pharaoh refused to release the children of Israel from bondage, but "passed over" the houses of the Israelites. Distraught over losing his son, the pharaoh let the slaves free, and the Israelites fled so quickly they did not have time to wait for their bread dough to rise before baking it.

So on Passover, observant Jews avoid bread and instead eat thin wheat crackers called matzoh to recall the Israelites' flight.

Beyond the injunction on bread, observant Jews also refrain from eating grains like wheat, spelt, rye and oats on the holiday unless they're in the form of matzoh. And Jews whose ancestors come from eastern Europe also steer clear of legumes and rice.

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