Q & A With Moshe Wein

All-inclusive Passover hotel programs cost anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000 per person and take place all over the country — from ski resorts in Utah to the legendary scene in Miami. Most have one thing in common: Lots and lots of good food.

Moshe Wein and Elisa Septee Lunzer at Kosher Travels Unlimited have been running programs for 23 years in Southern California, at locations like La Costa and the Desert Princess in Palm Springs (now the Doubletree). This year the program is at the Rancho Bernardo Inn near San Diego, where they are expecting around 450 people, many of them extended families.

Aside from the hotel chefs, waiters and other hotel staff assigned to the program, Kosher Travels Unlimited brings in a panel of scholars and entertainers, 10 kashrut supervisors, about a dozen counselors for the day camp and another dozen staff members for other tasks.

The quantity of food is enormous, when taken as a total: 400 pounds of handmade shmurah matzah, 350 pounds of other assorted matzah, 1,500-2,000 pounds of chocolate just for the 24-hour tea room, not including what is used for baking.

Jewish Journal: Tell me about this 24-hour tea room.

Moshe Wein: I fast and pray for three days before I order the cake and the candy and all the junk for the tea room so that I should order enough. We have dried fruit, fresh fruit, chocolate, candy, cake, soda, potato chips, baked goods — anything you can think of. It’s a kid’s dream and a parent’s nightmare. We’ve had kids sneak down at 3 a.m. to look to see what new things will be out for the next day. Every day we put new things out — a new chocolate or gum or candy. We keep them wondering.

JJ: Do you ever run out of food?

MW: No. Never. No. That is my worst nightmare, so I make sure it never happens.

JJ: But you must have some leftovers at the end of the holiday. What do you do with those?

MW: They go to Tomchei Shabbos [which distributes it to needy families]. Some years I truck the leftovers up to L.A., some years to San Diego, depending on how much it is and who wants what.

JJ: How do the chefs feel about having to work within the laws of Pesach?

MW: The chefs are extraordinarily excited by the opportunity. A person who is really a master of the art and a professional is not afraid of something new and wants to broaden his horizons and add it to his own resume. I say to them I am going to give you a blank canvas and you paint a picture. There are no constraints except that it has to be kosher products and there are some traditional foods we want to have. It’s an opportunity for them to learn a whole new area of cooking.

JJ: Can you give me a sample menu?

MW: Let’s do the first night: We start with an appetizer of gefilte fish and an Italian antipasto salad and then matzah ball soup. There is a choice of entrées: slow roasted prime rib with horseradish whipped potatoes, basil-scented vegetables in red wine sauce; marinated grilled duck breast with orange star-anise spicy glaze with basil-scented vegetables and quinoa pilaf; or poached halibut with spinach and olive oil lemon garlic sauce.

Dessert is an ice pyramid sorbet with papaya and raspberry coulis, served with assorted cakes and cookies.

In addition, there is always just plain roasted chicken or boiled flanken or chicken, and we always have early dinner for the children with hot dogs and hamburgers and fries.

JJ: Have you had to adjust your menu to popular diets, such as low-fat a decade ago and low-carb now?

MW: We always have available a vegetarian choice, low-fat, low-salt — whatever people need. There is always someone in the back of the kitchen preparing special meals and needs.

JJ: But I bet most people give up on dieting for the whole week.

MW: Absolutely. One-hundred percent correct. I know people who go on diets two or three weeks before Pesach in anticipation of coming to the hotel and absolutely blowing it.

JJ: Do you ever take a step back and say, ‘Wow, this is really a decadent display of gluttony?’

MW: Not really. The truth of the matter is that given the natural advance in food technologies and the products available for Pesach, I would estimate that the cumulative consumption of people staying home for Pesach would not be very different from what they consume as a group in a hotel for Pesach…. It only sounds unreasonable when we add up all the numbers. When you break it up and divide it into people, it’s quite reasonable.

For more information on upcoming programs, visit www.koshertravelsunlimited.com .

Learning Lite in Laguna

If food really is a cipher, unusual tales are spilling from menus devised for a two-part Jewish holiday cooking class this month at Laguna Culinary Arts.

Mark Cleveland, a guest instructor at the year-old Laguna Beach cooking school, specializes in creating low-fat meals with natural ingredients that often are laced with unusual additions borrowed from other cultures. "I take classic things from any genre, reworking them to keep the spirit of the original and blend it," says Cleveland, 41, of Aliso Viejo, who is a personal chef, restaurant menu consultant and self-taught nutritionist.

His menus for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur classes, to be prepared by 15 or so students Aug. 21 and 28 at 6 p.m., are in the spirit of traditional Jewish holiday entrees, but with lighter ingredients.

"I love Jewish holiday food," says Cleveland, whose introduction to Israeli cuisine came from an Israeli-born friend. "Once I get the hang of it, I sail on my own."

His Rosh Hashanah menu is Moroccan baked fish, couscous with prunes and almonds, roasted sweet beets, Moroccan carrot salad and ginger almond shortbread. To break the Yom Kippur fast, Cleveland proposes a menu that includes herbal egg lemon soup with lemongrass, lemon verbena, fenugreek and orzo; fidelos tostados; carrot and yam kugel; vegetable salad with honey lime dressing, and apricot honey cake.

Among the dishes, perhaps the most unusual substitutes are in the lemon egg drop soup, where stock is swapped for various lemon-flavored teas. "My whole goal is food should be both healthy and delicious" with each serving containing less than 20 percent fat, he says.

While Cleveland may demonstrate a few techniques in class, most students learn the menus by divvying up the menu, with small teams each preparing an entrée. Afterwards, mistakes and successes are shared and sampled.

Cleveland’s culinary kindergarten began as a 5-year-old at the elbow of his Italian grandmother in Chicago. Educated as an architect at UC Berkeley, his transformation into a health-conscious chef took place serendipitously in Japan. A friend organizing a barbecue at the Canadian Embassy needed a hand creating vegetarian meals. Cleveland found his calling.

To keep up with trends in international cooking, he haunts the produce sections of the county’s varied ethnic markets such as Irvine’s Ranch 99, stocked with Asian delicacies, and Mission Viejo’s Crown Valley Market, a Persian grocery where labels are in Hebrew and Arabic.

His most recent find was sesame leaves in a Little Saigon grocery. "I’m fearless. If it’s in the produce section, it must be edible."

Lemon Egg Drop Soup

Recipe by Mark Cleveland

Preparation Time: 1 hour

1 stalk lemongrass

2 stalks lemon verbena

2 stalks lemon balm

2 whole fenugreek tea bags

10 cups water

1 cup dry vermouth

2 tablespoons white miso

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, reserve skin

black pepper

1¼2 cup barley

1¼2 cup brown rice

2 large organic eggs

1 medium lemon juice and zest

1¼4 cup fresh herbs, optional

Combine lemon herbs, tea bags, water, dry vermouth, miso and onion skin in a stock pot. Cover and bring to a low boil over medium-high heat. Once the stock has boiled for a few minutes, turn heat to low and allow to steep for about 15 minutes.

Slice, dice or mince the onion and sauté in a skillet with black pepper. Slice, dice or mince the onion and saute in a skillet with black pepper. Once the onion is translucent add the barley and rice and saute until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Strain the broth, cover the pan again and return to the simmer. Add the onion- barley mix and stir every five minutes until the barley and rice are tender.

Beat the eggs with the lemon juice and zest, and about a cup of the hot stock wisking constantly. Return the egg mix to the soup pot, continue stirring, raise heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, garnish with fresh herbs, if using, and serve. Serves six.

Per serving: 250 calories; 7g fat (29 percent calories from fat); 7g protein; 32g carbohydrate; 61mg cholesterol; 254mg sodium.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Recipe by Mark Cleveland

Preparation Time: 45 minutes

5 whole organic carrots

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon cumin seed

1 teaspoon coriander seed

1 tablespoon paprika

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon ginger, optional

2¼3 cup green tea

1 tablespoon harissa or hot sauce

2 tablespoons rose water, optional

1¼3 cup Italian parsley

1¼4 cup cilantro, optional

Slice carrots thickly on the bias. Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place coriander and cumin seeds in a plastic bag and crush them slightly with a rolling pin.

When oil is warmed, add garlic and toss until fragrant. Then add the spices, salt and pepper and toss again until you can smell the spices toasting. Mince or julienne ginger an add if using along with carrots. Toss until carrots are glistening and coated with the spice mix. Add tea and harissa or hot sauce, stir, cover and cook until carrots are crisp tender, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in rose water and fresh herbs and serve. Harissa is a Tunisian hot sauce. I make my own in myriad variations. It’s nice to use a more traditional red harissa in this dish. If you don’t enjoy cilantro, use more parsley. Serves six.

Per serving: 87 calories; 5g fat (49 percent calories from fat); 2g protein; 10g carbohydrate; 0mg cholesterol; 42mg sodium.