Friday, March 23, 2007

Le Marais Kashrut in Question

Repost from the Maalot Yahoo group:

Le Marais Kashrut in Question
Thu Mar 22, 2007 4:43 pm (PST)
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it looks like a mashgiach from le
marais resigned over some kashrut related weirdness, and is demanding that
the OU take action...

Is this the (temporary) end of "warm chocolate cake"?

note: I have not called the OU for their side of the story. I would
encourage others to do so.

Personally, I love Le Marais. Its one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Their food is good and their steak, fries, salad for $17.95 is one of the best deals in town. When you come from a non-kosher background where you could go to Sizzler and get the steak, shrimp, and all-you-can-eat salad bar for $9.99, the Le Marais meal doesn't sound that great, but still, its tasty. I'm saddened by the news but it will hopefully be resolved soon.


G6 said...

I take no sides, but in the interest of full disclosure, here is the OU's (rather long) response, as posted on The Yeshiva World...

A few months ago, a mashgiach at Le Marais restaurant, Mr. Isaac
Bitton, alleged that on several occasions, one of the chefs at Le Marais
intentionally compromised the kashrus at Le Marais, and that he had been
fired from his previous employment for that very reason as well. Mr.
Bitton insisted and demanded that the chef be fired.

Over a period of months the OU carefully researched and investigated
every accusation, and we spoke to all parties whom Mr. Bitton claimed had
information. Obviously, the presence of an individual who is hostile to
our kosher program would seriously compromise our ability to provide
reliable supervision. At the same time, fairness dictates that if
allegations are made against a Jew or non-Jew, the accusations must be
independently verified before one is dismissed from his position.

The OU found no evidence of intent to compromise kashrus by this chef.
People quoted by Mr. Bitton resolutely denied statements attributed to
them. For example, Mr. Bitton claimed the chef was fired from Levana
for kashrus infractions, and the management would verify that this was
the case. We spoke to the management of Levana and they emphatically
stated that this was not true. Mr. Bitton then said a sister of the
management would confirm his allegation. She too said she had no knowledge of
this matter. Mr. Bitton then claimed that he secretly tape recorded a
conversation with the sister and she admitted and confirmed that the
chef was fired for Kashrus reasons. The OU staff listened to the tape and
at no point did she confirm the above. Initially, she denied that the
chef was fired for Kashrus violations. After Mr. Bitton relentlessly
pressed the issue, she said he should pursue the matter further with the
appropriate parties, if he so desired. Mr. Bitton maintained that not
denying the allegation was tantamount to confirming it. We considered it
a misrepresentation to characterize this as a confirmation.

Other individuals who worked closely with the chef, such as the second
Mashgiach at Le Marais, gave no support to the allegations. With the
exception of Mr. Bitton, everyone found the chef to be cooperative.

Mr. Bitton developed amazing conspiratorial theories involving crime
organizations to explain why people denied his allegations, and
attributed dark and evil motives to sincere and honest individuals within the

Mr. Bitton was dogmatic in his interpretations of situations and did
not acknowledge the legitimacy of other opinions. We explained to Mr.
Bitton that he was entitled to his opinion, but we do not have to agree.
He insisted that his viewpoint is fact and not an opinion.
For example, in one instance the chef purchased dairy margarine for the
restaurant (though it was caught before it was used). There is no
evidence that the chef did not make an honest error. Indeed, the OU receives
numerous calls from people who accidentally used OUD margarine in a
meat dish. Mr. Bitton insisted the chef bought the product with malicious
intent. In another case, a delivery of non-kosher fish (which was also
not used) was dropped off at the restaurant over Shabbos while the
store was closed. Mr. Bitton insisted that the chef made the order, though
there was no evidence linking the chef to the order, and the fish
company advised the OU that the delivery was made in error to the wrong
customer. Once again, Mr. Bitton maintained that his interpretation was a
fact and not an opinion.

Mr. Bitton threatened to make a public expose of this "cover-up?. The
OU took a principled position and did not acquiesce to threats and

In protest of our decision to not have the chef fired, Mr. Bitton
voluntarily resigned from his position at the restaurant. Since then, Mr.
Bitton and others have circulated e-mail allegations about this matter.
Many of the statements are patently false, such as the accusation that
the chef physically assaulted Mr. Bitton and intentionally placed
insects in the food. In a private conversation with an OU staff member, Mr.
Bitton admitted that this was not true. Another allegation is that the
OU chose to defend the chef for financial considerations. This
accusation is absurd. Had the OU insisted that the chef be dismissed, it would
have had no financial impact on the OU, as Le Marais would readily have
complied. Indeed, the easiest course for the OU would have been for the
OU to ask the restaurant to dismiss this chef, and the whole matter
would have been put to rest. The OU did not take this course of action
because we felt that the kashrus of the restaurant was properly served and
to dismiss a chef without just cause was unethical and immoral.

The OU stands firmly behind its supervision of Le Marais and the
kashrus there is maintained in full accordance with OU standards.

Rabbi Yaakov Luban
Executive Rabbinic Coordinator

Rabbi Menachem Genack
Chief Executive Officer

Kashruth Division
Orthodox Union

Just a Cihlul Hashem said...

Not knowing the facts, and just reading this post, it would seem that anyone who blindly boycotts the establishment on the account of an unproven word is, whether admitting it or not, feeding in to exactly what the accuser wants. Not the truth, necessarily, but the destruction of a business and the reputation of the owner. I would think we need to be smarter and above it and not hurt someone so wantonly.

What is bizarre about this is that if all it takes is someone’s accusation of wrongdoing to make good people stay away in order to "not take a chance" than anyone at any time can seek revenge for a bad meal, poor waiter service, personal gripe, bad hair day, rejected shidduch date, etc, and hurt an innocent business in the process.

Not sure that is what G-d has demanded of us Jews at Sinai. Not sure our sages through the ages would want us to take a man's parnossa with such casual shrugs

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

The email that we have all been receiving about the unkosher activities occurring at Le Marais is pretty descriptive and disturbing in its allegations.

In addressing my own concerns I have contacted the OU and Le Marais to find out what is really going on.

Here is the story:

The evening mashgiach and the chef had a big falling out. When the owner would not fire the chef, the mashgiach resigned and started a smear campaign against the restaurant. The OU is still giving certification to the restaurant and has investigated the issues and found NO HALACHIC VIOLATIONS.

1) Shellfish- The rabbi alleges that the chef ordered shellfish and used it in the restaurant. In reality a new food delivery company for a restaurant next door made a mistake and dropped off the wrong package on a day Le Marais was closed to patrons, but open for construction. The box containing the shell fish was never even brought into the restaurant but left at the door. The delivery company admitted the error and has the invoice to prove it.

2) Unkosher Margarine- The chef of Le Marais ran out of margarine and went to a supermarket up to get some more. Upon his return the mashgiach saw that the chef had purchased OU-Dairy margarine. The dairy margarine was brought right back and NEVER came near ant food. The chef realized the mistake and since then has been even more careful, and relies on the mashgiach’s advice for everything purchased in an emergency situation.

3) Strawberries- The claims that strawberries that had not been properly checked were used. This is just not true as the morning mashgiach, Rabbi Avrohom Keller, had cleaned and checked all the strawberries.

4) Turning on the flame- the daytime mashgiach, Rabbi Avrohom Keller, has never ever seen this in his experiences with the chef.

5) Beetles in the lettuce- The rabbi claims that the chef intentionally placed bugs in the salad. It is the mashgiach’s responsibility to check the lettuce for bugs before it is served; yet, the chef he directs his anger wasn’t even at the restaurant the night he claims it happened.

Again the OU has investigated and found these to either be slander or misunderstandings. The OU is still giving their certification.

I hope that you will trust the OU here as we do on so many of our products and trust the integrity of the owners of le Marais, who have been slandered for no reason other than the anger of a disgruntled mashgiach. What the allegations amount to is a bizarre reversal of the old Jewish “blood Libel” canard, as the chef and the owner of Le Marais are not Jewish, and are being accused of intentionally feeding Jews treif to satisfy some perversion.

After speaking with the owner of Le Marais and meeting Rabbi Avrohom Keller, a good man and trustworthy mashgiach, I hold them in much esteem for being so thorough in their investigation to get to the bottom of this. The daytime mashgiach stated very clearly that the evening mashgiach was warned repeatedly by the OU to stop making up his own rules about kashrut and stop the rumors and gossip he was creating, and to stick to the kashrut guidelines of the OU.

Rabbi Yakkov Luban and Rabbi Dov Schreier at the OU, prepared a defense of Le Marais and disgust over the slander. I have enclosed it with this email.

If anything changes I will be sure to let you know.

Avra K

Jacob Krohn said...

It is patently unfair and not particularly a Jewish ideal to simply allow the word of one, uncorroborated, to set a boycott (if only temporary) in motion.

Any mashgaich, any patron, any one for that matter, can just declare on a blog that something is awry, raise the specter of wrong doing and suddenly, a business that may not have done much wrong cans ee itself fail.

I for one think it is a lousy hashgafa and anyone who decides "he will stay away in the meantime" is just as culpable in the crime of gossip and hate mongering.

Were Hillel to stand on his foot and repeat "V'ahavta Laraicha Kamocha" I suggest everyone who advocates boycotting le Marais should kick Hillel's leg out from under him.


SusQHB said...

Wow, its sooo much fun when people post long elaborate comments on your blog without without reading your original post whatsoever. Stop searching the word Le Marais and commenting on everyone's blog without reading what they wrote you idiots!