Just as we must select pure, excellent foods to offer to Krsna, so we must also prepare them purely. To prepare food for the Lord, one must meticulously observe the rules for cleanliness and take the utmost care to prepare the food properly, maintaining the correct consciousness so that the Lord will accept the offering.
Because the consciousness of those who prepare food enters into the food—especially where cooking is involved—cooking for the deities is restricted to devotees with brahmana initiation. If a devotee shows brahminical qualities of cleanliness, purity, and steadiness—and thus appears qualified to cook for the deities—it may be appropriate for him to approach his spiritual master to request brahminical initiation.
Srila Prabhupada stressed that only brahmanas should cook for the Lord. He writes:
Regarding the cooking, a non-brahmana may assist but he cannot cook.110
You should see that the deity is tended for and cooked for only by the duly second initiated brahmanas.111
As far as possible non-initiated devotees may not enter the kitchen or deity area. They can help from outside.112
Unless one is initiated they cannot cook. They must be regular disciples then they can do deity worship. So there is no question of the outsiders cooking in the New Delhi temple.113
Regarding kitchen affairs, as a rule those who are not initiated may not enter into the kitchen affairs, but uninitiated members can work under the guidance of another initiated member when there is great need. So the direction which you are giving to the willing girls to help with the kitchen affairs is not objectionable.114
In our Krsna consciousness society, unless one is twice initiated – first by chanting Hare Krsna and second by the Gayatri mantra – he is not allowed to enter the kitchen or Deity room to execute duties.115
The Hari-bhakti-vilasa underscores this point:
Food (especially grains) which is cooked by non-Vaisnavas or by sinful people, or which has not been offered to Visnu, is the same as dog meat.116
One should clearly understand the principles of cleanliness—how a person or object becomes contaminated, how contamination is transferred, and how things are purified.
The consciousness of the cook enters into the food he prepares, and therefore he should strive to be Krsna conscious while in the kitchen. The kitchen, where the Lord’s food is prepared, is an extension of the deity room, where He eats. So the same high standard of cleanliness should be maintained in both places.
Kitchen should be considered as good as the Lord’s room …117
Srila Prabhupada emphasized that devotees should always maintain the strictest standards of cleanliness. He writes:
The main thing is that whenever prasadam is offered to the Lord, everything should be very respectfully and cleanly presented and prepared. In Jagannath Puri, the Lord eats fifty-six times. So the Lord can eat as many times as you can offer. But the only thing is, whatever is offered must be with respect and devotion … food which has been offered should never be put back into the refrigerator with the unoffered foods, or brought back into the kitchen … Refrigerator should always be very clean and pure … If there is any food extra, that should be kept separately; and if there is a separate refrigerator, not within the kitchen and not having in it any unoffered foods, then you may have such special refrigerator for leftover prasadam … One should never eat within the kitchen; there is ample place to eat, so why should one eat in the kitchen? Kitchen should be considered as good as the Lord’s room, and nobody should wear shoes in the kitchen. Smelling and tasting of foods being prepared for the Lord should never be done. Talking within the kitchen should be only what is necessary for preparing the prasadam or about the Lord, and dirty dishes (those taken from the kitchen and eaten from) should not be brought back into the kitchen (but if there is no other place to wash them, then they should be put into the sink and washed immediately), hands should always be washed when preparing prasadam, and in this way everything shall be prepared very cleanly and purely. What is the difficulty of enforcing these rules? They are rules, and they are simple rules, and must be followed. One must be prepared to follow the rules for Krishna. Otherwise where is the proof that he loves Krishna. And they are not very difficult to follow.119
It is very offensive to the deity to allow stored foods to go rotten before using them for offerings. Cooks should know which items are available and use them while they are fresh. Srila Prabhupada writes:
In the kitchen you should please see that nothing is wasted.120
If, in the cooking process, food falls on the floor, if it is raw and can be washed nicely, then it can be offered. But if it is prepared and cannot be washed, then it is not to be offered, but can be eaten rather than be wasted.121
The following rules apply within the kitchen:
- Both men and women must cover their hair to avoid any hair falling into a preparation. If there is even a single hair in the food being offered to the Lord, it is a great offense.
- Do not wear wool in the kitchen.
- All clothing must be clean—i.e., must not have been worn in the bathroom, when eating or sleeping, or outside the temple grounds.
- Always be freshly showered, wearing tilaka and neck beads.
- Wash your hands when first entering the kitchen, and wash them again if you touch your face, mouth, or hair, or if you sneeze or cough (having hopefully covered your nose and mouth).
- After organizing the ingredients for cooking, wash all vegetables and fruits and anything else that can be washed.
- If something raw or unprepared, and washable falls on the floor or in a sink, wash it off; if it is prepared and cannot be washed, it may not be offered on the deities’ plate, but can be put aside and honored later. Discard any bhoga that falls on your feet, even if it is washable.
- The cook should cover all preparations as soon as they are cooked. If an animal sees a preparation before it is offered, it must be rejected. No one except the cook and the pujari should see the unoffered food.
- The kitchen staff should cover the ghee used for frying when it is not in use. Old ghee should be replaced regularly with fresh ghee.
- Make sure that all ingredients are properly stored in closed containers.
Kitchen and utensil cleanliness
- Devotees who serve in the kitchen should thoroughly clean it regularly, including inside and outside the stoves, ovens, and refrigerators.
- Scrub the pots after they are used. The sooner they are cleaned after use, the easier they are to clean.
- No one should eat or drink in the kitchen; nor should anyone use the sink for spitting into or drinking from.
- Remove all garbage from the kitchen at least once a day. It is best to empty and wash all garbage receptacles just before closing the kitchen at night.
- Do not store prasada in the kitchen. As soon as possible after the offering, and after the offering plates have been washed, remove all the prasada from the kitchen.
Maintaining proper consciousness
The deity kitchen is considered to be an extension of the deity room. Just as good consciousness is important in the deity room, it is equally important when cooking for the deities. The following points may assist you in developing and maintaining proper consciousness for serving the Lord:
- Allow yourself enough time to prepare the offering in good consciousness. “Haste makes waste.”
- Conversation should be restricted to krsna-katha.
- Do not play recordings of popular-style music in the kitchen. Traditional bhajana and kirtana recordings are appropriate.
- The simultaneous presence of men and women in the kitchen should be avoided as far as possible.
- Usually only initiated devotees are allowed in the kitchen, since only trained devotees can properly understand and follow all these rules .
Cooks are encouraged to learn recipes that are pleasing to the Lord and cook those preparations for Him.
A picture of Srila Prabhupada cooking and/or of the temple’s main deities can also be placed in the kitchen. Some devotees find this helpful for their consciousness while cooking. When devotees come into the kitchen to cook for the deities, they may perform acamana and offer obeisances to the deities before starting to cook and meditate on cooking for the pleasure of the Lord.
As far as possible, cooks should avoid using plastic utensils or containers. Spices are best stored in porcelain or clay containers, or may be stored in brass or stainless steel containers.
Bell metal and copper pots, unless tinned on the inside, should not be used for any sour preparation (those containing tomatoes, yogurt or tamarind), but are very good for all other preparations. Cast iron, if not rusted, may be used for frying but never for boiling; stainless steel, although not considered very high class, may also be used. Cooks should avoid using aluminum pots (they are rather toxic) or those made of enameled steel, which can chip and contaminate the offering.