By Mr. Beni Pollet, Barry-Callebaut
Barry Callebaut is a Belgium-based worldwide producer of gourmet cocoa products. Barry Callebaut has been certified kosher by OK Kosher Certification since the 1960s.
Tall man, white hair, white beard, black long overcoat — a proud man, a very gentle person, a friendly face.
The first contact between Rabbi Levy, ob"m, and Callebaut was established through Mr. Witte (Callebaut’s representative living in Chicago) at the end of the 1960s. The first contact person in the Callebaut factory at that time was Mr. Willy De Schepper. My contact with Rabbi Levy intensified strongly in 1983 when Mr. Richard Callebaut moved to the United States and took over the American business from Mr. Witte. During that period the development of the business in the United States began and the importance of kosher certification greatly increased.
At the same time, kosher compliance was transferred to the product management department, so I, Beni Pollet, came into contact with Rabbi Levy. My knowledge and understanding of kosher was very poor but Rabbi Levy taught me step by step. Along with the activities of Richard Callebaut in the United States, my involvement with kosher compliance was the real start of a booming kosher business for Callebaut.
Rabbi Levy’s visits were always a special event for Callebaut. There was no Internet or mobile phones at the time, so the rabbi informed us when he was in Antwerp and requested a driver to take him to the factory for his inspections. Mr. Honoré Ledegen (formerly the private chauffeur of Mr. Charles Callebaut) was always sent to Antwerp to meet the rabbi and drive him to the factory. I remember Honoré always being very nervous when he had to pick up Rabbi Levy, although there was absolutely no reason to be. On the contrary, Rabbi Levy was always very kind. But it was the "unknown".
As we were not aware of all kosher practices we welcomed the rabbi with coffee and milk and wanted to offer him a meal. We were very surprised that he gently refused to drink or to eat unless it was bottled water or coffee in a plastic cup. It took a really long time before we understood this practice!
I remember the many times I had to give instructions (plastic cup, can of soda, bottled water) to the personnel of the canteen who prepared the food and drinks for the visitors to Callebaut. They thought we were not treating him very well by only offering basic refreshments!
There is one experience I will never forget during which my respect for the rabbi grew considerably. It was during an inspection round in the factory and the rabbi wanted to inspect the milk powders and the preparation of the chocolate mix. I wanted to go the usual way, by elevator, but to my surprise the rabbi said, "No, no, no, lets go this way," and we took a stairway that I had never seen before and did not even know of its existence. The result was that we entered through the storage place behind all the bags of milk powder, which allowed him to check that nothing was hidden behind the bags. This proved to me that he was the perfect inspector.
During his many visits we learned from Rabbi Levy about kosher dairy, kosher pareve, Passover, and gradually we better understood what it meant to meet a certain kosher qualification. This allowed Callebaut to improve both the production standards and specifications for the different ingredients used in our products.
I hold very good and dear memories of Rabbi Bernard Levy and will always remember his smiling face and his special way of being a gentle, but nevertheless, very strict and correct teacher.