Mashgiach Ronnie Berman at Pure

Pure Kosher and Allergen-Free Dining Facility Opens at University Park

For Jewish students at Penn State University Park, keeping kosher just got easier. Pure, Penn State's first certified kosher kitchen and food allergen-free dining operation, opened on August 22 in the recently renovated East Food District in Findlay Commons.

As well as offering kosher food options that meet Jewish dietary principles, Pure is sensitive of common food allergies and intolerances, serving food with no dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, gluten, and sesame.

"We worked hard to get Pure ready for its fall opening," says Lisa Wandel, director of Residential Dining, "and it was exciting to see it become a reality. For the first two weeks, we invited members of Jewish organizations to be there to greet the students and help educate them about Pure. We want people to understand kosher and at the same time we wanted to give Jewish students the opportunity to talk with the folks from Hillel or from Aish Penn State."

Pure is operated under the supervision of a mashgiach, a rabbi who ensures a restaurant or food producer complies with Jewish dietary laws. Mashgiach Ronnie Berman oversees the daily operation of Pure, inspecting all the ingredients to ensure adherence with kosher guidelines. "He's the only one with a key to the kitchen," Wandel explains. "He opens and closes the station each day, turns on all equipment, inspects the food, and trains employees."

Pure is open for dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, as well as brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. Pure is open to the entire community, including students, faculty, staff, and guests.

Customers can choose from menu options such as herb roasted turkey with gravy and mashed redskin potatoes, steak Italiano with Tuscan garden vegetables, grilled Jamaican jerk chicken with mango chutney, and corn/rice pasta with tomato sauce. Dessert includes Aquafaba ice cream (using the liquid from canned chick peas) made by Pure chefs.

Food is served buffet style on disposable dinnerware to prevent contamination, and no outside food or drinks are permitted in the station.

Aaron Goldberg, a senior majoring in industrial engineering and a member of the Jewish student organization Aish Penn State, was instrumental in getting Pure started. "Students were dropping their commitment to kosher because it was difficult at Penn State," he says. "Everyone said I was crazy to try to change something as big as Penn State, but together, we did. It all started with a phone call."

Says Wandel, "Aaron approached us last September with ideas for serving our Jewish students, and he offered to do whatever he could to help." Throughout the year, Food Services worked with Goldberg, student leaders, faculty, a few local Jewish families, and students and staff members from Penn State Hillel and other student organizations to make Pure a reality.

Pure started out as a "worry-free zone" for diners with common food allergies or intolerances, but with the suggestion for a kosher station came the idea to combine the two concepts. Chefs did some reworking to the menu to ensure all ingredients meet kosher guidelines.

On opening day, Goldberg was the first customer. "It was important to him to be the first one," Wandel says, "and he was there for almost every meal in the early weeks, helping out. He's been talking to fellow students and has been a wonderful proponent of Pure."

David Gray, senior vice president for Finance and Business, sees Pure as a step in the right direction when it comes to diversity. "Penn State's commitment to diversity and inclusion extends to the food experiences we offer in our on-campus dining facilities," he says. "We hope Pure will be a place for students, faculty, staff, and community members of all backgrounds and faiths to share conversation and experience new dishes and cultures."

Because Pure is a one-year test pilot program, throughout the year, Food Services staff will assess the program as well as ask students for their input. "If Pure continues to grow," Goldberg says, "I can see some students choosing Penn State over other schools because Penn State provides a great education and is very accommodating to students' various backgrounds."

For now, Pure is enjoying a warm welcome to the lineup of dining options on campus. "The first night, we were serving Southwestern steak with corn and black bean salsa, Cajun potato wedges, and grilled vegetables," Wandel says. "Because Pure is still so new, there wasn't much of a line. When we said, 'We're serving steak over here!' students got excited and came rushing over to try it."

Adds Goldberg, "With each day we're seeing more students stopping by Pure. In the beginning, it took a while for students to understand what kosher is and what being allergen free means. I've been collecting feedback from students about how they like Pure so far, and a common theme is that they really like the taste and nutrition of the food served at Pure.

"This was an amazing collaborative effort among many students, rabbis, community members, and faculty who want to see our university and community grow," he continues. "So many people have helped bring Pure to fruition. It's hard to believe that we've achieved so much in one year."