Sunday, March 25, 2007

Le Marais Restaraunt: Kashrus Issues Debated..

If you thought that Gourmet Glatt was a Kashrus debacle, there is a new Kashrus problem that is sure to make an even bigger stir!I refer to the famous Steak House in NYC: Le Marais. The former Mashgiach, Yizchak Bitton is alleging that the chef is a Jew-Hater and that he had smuggled in non-kosher food etc. He even started his own blog and website to further his cause. The OU which gives the Kosher supervision for this establishment, states that they had looked into every accusation proposed by Mr. Bitton and found that NONE of the allegations were credible.

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 OU. 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.

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 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.


Chaim said...

nu ... but what do YOU think?

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...

I just got this by email.

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.


Jewish Blogmeister said...

It doesn't really worry me since I haven't eaten there in years and it's not one of my all time favorite places. However there is no question that this will take a chunk of business away from them. I'm trying to investigate this further to see where all the pieces will fall.

Chaim said...

I'm not so easily convinced. I have been hearing through the grapevine that this Chef has had a history of fighting with Mashgichim dating back to when he worked at Lavana. I think it's important to investage every allegation.

I think that there was a story at the OU some years back (not Kashrut related but still) where someone was in hot water at the OU and they defended him not matter how much evidence there was. I think that the OU and La Marais stands to lose millions and millions of dollars if an allegation like this were true.

I think that we have seen a history of frum organizations cover things up and I dont think we should just patently label this guy a nut job and move on.

I'm not saying we should boycott the place and just believe him because he says something. But I would like to see some sort of independent third party investigation.

Jewish Blogmeister said...

Perhaps a congressional hearing? A third party investigation is interesting but I'm not sure we'll see that happening here.

muse said...

It makes me miss the old days when people only ate at home.

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.


Jewish Blogmeister said...

Well one thing is for certain this Mashgiach will not go quietly into the night...

Anonymous said...

In response to the recent allegations in regard to the Kashrus at Le Marais, as the Mashgiach representing the OU I would like to share my position on this issue.

I have been employed as a Mashgiach for close to 11 years, I have been at Le Marais for close to 4 years. I have a good relationship with the chef and do not believe that he is the type of person to want to inflict harm – spiritual or physical – on anyone, including Jewish people. I find him to be a decent man trying to make a living like the rest of us, and he is as shocked at the allegations being raised as I am. Many of the issues raised also can hurt the chef’s ability to get another job even in a treif restaurant, so it doesn’t make sense that he would have done these things to purposely hurt anyone.

My job as Mashgiach is not to be the Rav HaMachshir, hence my position is to enforce the policies of the Rav HaMachshir and the Kashrus agency. Therefore, whenever I have presumed that there is an issue which has to be addressed I would report it to my superiors at the Kashrus Agency which I was working for at the time. At times my concerns were issues where the RC or Rav HaMachshir did not feel any action has to be taken, and at other times I would take action under the guidelines of the OU or any other Kashrus certification organization that I worked for. At Le Marais, the problems of sneaking in treif, mixing milk and meat and placing bugs in the food did not happen.

When an individual comes out in public to undermine his colleagues, superiors, and businesses, great consideration has to be taken regarding the damage and effects which his action can cause. I am not sure that consideration was given here. In my situation for instance, if tomorrow, I would have to start pursuing a new job in Kashrus or in any other field it would likely be a great challenge due to the publicity which the blogs and e-mail circulation generated and the way my work and attention has been characterized.

I hope this clarifies my position that I know this chef and know that he is a decent man, and that at all time I make it my priority to enforce the policies and regulations of the Kashrus agency which I am working for, and not to enforce my personal opinions or code of restrictions relating to rules of Kashrus. Additionally, I believe that I needed to speak out in order to defend myself and my reputation which is being damaged by the erroneous publicity.

All the best,
Chag HaPesach Kosher Vesomeiach

Avrohom Keller

Ezzie said...

Le Marais has sued him.

Anonymous said...

Whoever would like to donate money to the Yitzchak Bitton Freedom of Speech Defense Fund, as I have, can do so at the following link:

Support justice, support freedom, support kashrut.

Jewish mother said...

I also donated as much as I could.

Pesach is a really tight time of year for most families, but even $5 will help, it adds up.

Hag Kasher v'Sameach

Shmuel Levin said...

Le Marais was busy on Chol HaMoed - many frum Jews still have faith in the OU and Le Marais' current masgichim.

jewish mother said...

I attended a Shabbos simcha along with hundreds of "frum" Jews at an Orthodox shul. While waiting to enter the social hall, we watched in full view 2 Gentile employees light the flames under food warmers on Shabbat. Then trays of cooked food, still warm (they were using pot holders) were carried from a truck that pulled up right in front of the shul. They were placed on the food warmers. Another Gentile carried in a coffee pot and plugged it in to heat water.

During this whole time another Gentile was mopping the floor in the vestibule.

Among that particular black hat crowd no one said a word.

My husband and I were the only ones who left.

Metal said...

First of all, I read that New York Post article and there are several glaring mistakes made by the OU and Le Marais.

1. you are not allowed to leave meat alone with a goy - if you do, it is treif.

2. The OU hired Rabbi Bitton and I am sure that if they were so careful in everything like they claim to be, they would have noticed if his hashkafa was crazy. How long did he work for the OU? Why would they let a crazy rabbi go represent them in the first place? Sounds to me like they are just making it up in order to cover their tracks.

4. If bugs are in food, it is treif! what is this twisting
The restaurant is owned by goyim, who have a treif restaurant across the street. Is there no shortage of Jewish- owned restaurants to eat at, that we need goyim to open up a restaurant and we trust them with our meat, over a rabbi who the OU thought well enough of to hire in the first place, who has quit his job (I heard he has twelve kids) in order to do what he is commanded by halacha to do - protect people from eating treif!!!!!!!!

Why would they sue him for 10 million dollars if he was a nobody wacko?

Jacob Krohn, they are not Jewish, they are not "rayecha," that's basic definition, hello???

Who are you trusting over meat? An honest, decent rabbi who was originally hired by the OU, who must have done extensive research into his background before hiring him, over a goy, when Eisav sonei Yaakov?

I am sure there is a lot of money involved in this for the OU and that there are people involved here afraid to lose their jobs.

Anonymous said...


Did you actually write this? nope.
it was overheard that this was written for you.
The OU people write pretty well, but toned it down a bit to make it seem like you wrote this.

At any rate, you should be ashamed of yourself. Even signing off on such a letter and letting the OU Croonies post it on blogs (SINCE WE KNOW WELL THE OU HIRES PEOPLE TO DO JUST THAT AND PERHAPS MORE) everything stated in that letter is wrong and you basically twisted and fact that could have been in "your" letter.
You sir, are a sad, strange person.

you're more worried about this chef finding future employement? do the research...who made this as public as it has become???? the NY POST article did! and who alerted them??? well, how it works, my little yid...: pay attention:
when a party files a suit in BROOKLYN SuPREME Court for $10mm that usually raises eyebrows...but...who funneled the court documents and suit to the blogs and sites????
do the homework - if you can.

and if you do write a follow up letter, make sure it's yours. we'd really like to see what you have to say.