Every morning, when Ruben Diaz arrives at the soup kitchen where he has worked as the head chef since January 2013, he is not allowed to turn on the oven.
“I feel strange,” Diaz said. “It’s a little bit hard.”
Diaz, the head chef at Masbia, the most robust kosher soup kitchen network in New York, is not Jewish and must wait for his supervisor to turn it on for him.
It’s one of several religious rules Diaz follows as he prepares 500 meals a day for a mixed community that will eat at the soup kitchen later in the evening. Diaz also cannot crack his own eggs or check vegetables for bugs, which are not kosher.
Masbia is one of several food pantries and soup kitchens in New York that is seeing more clients ever since food stamps cuts went into effect in November.
“Sometimes we don’t have enough money to buy chicken. Sometimes we don’t have enough money to buy produce,” Diaz said. “These are real problems.”
Diaz, 28, came to New York about 10 years ago for a better life.
He started as a waiter for Masbia in 2006 and worked his way up. The organization funded Diaz’s kosher cooking classes at a local Borough Park culinary school.
He grew up Catholic and said he didn’t know many Jews in his hometown of Bogota, Colombia. As for kosher rules, he knew just that Jews didn’t eat pork or shellfish.
“I didn’t know there was kosher and not kosher. For me, food was food,” he said.
“Now some people tell me, ‘you’re more Jewish than me’ because I know all the rules.”