Tradition meets Hollywood at annual Spago Seder


Actress Lainie Kazan, restaurateur Barbara Lazaroff and singer Melissa Manchester lit candles on the evening of April 4 at Spago Beverly Hills, prompting Claudia Cagan, a Hollywood producer and Manchester’s sibling, to wax nostalgic for a moment.

“My mother used to do that and never told me what she was doing,” Cagan said of the lighting, seated at one of the many tables at the restaurant’s 31st annual second-night Passover seder, which raised approximately $10,000 to $15,000 for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, according to Lazaroff, co-owner of the Wolfgang Puck restaurant. 

Cagan was among the approximately 230 attendees at the evening, which was open to all — seating for adults was $190, and $80 for children. 

Run as a traditional family seder, it featured a menu of gefilte fish made from carp, pike and whitefish; chicken-liver mousse; chicken and vegetable soup with Judy Gethers’ matzah balls; braised beef short rib “flanken”; roasted wild salmon with ginger-almond crust; ratatouille and roasted Moroccan carrots; and a selection of deserts that included a “Menagerie of Macaroons.” Live music was provided by Cantor Ruti Braier of University Synagogue of Irvine, serenading with acoustic guitar, performing numbers that included the song “Web of Women,” along with singer Carol Connors and the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir and more. 

Held in one of the city’s finest restaurants, the seder began at approximately 6 p.m. and continued past 11 p.m. 

A paperback of the Silverman haggadah was at each place setting in the restaurant’s open-air dining area. Participants did everything from dipping their pinkies into the wine glasses and letting fall onto their plates a drop of red wine for each of the Ten Plagues, to munching on matzah — shallot and thyme matzah, that is. 

Executive chef Lee Hefter, chef de cuisine Tetsu Yahagi, chef Justin Katsuno and executive pastry chef Della Gossett prepared the meal. 

Throughout the night, Lazaroff mingled, making her way from table to table, saying hello, embracing the likes of Kazan’s granddaughter, Bella Kazan.

“We have a number of celebrities here tonight, but I think of everyone as a celebrity, Lazaroff, wearing a sequined dress, said as she strolled the restaurant’s courtyard. 

Rabbi Arnie Rachlis of University Synagogue led the proceedings, sprinkling a self-aware humor about the seder into his shpiel

“Just like our ancestors did,” he said of waiters who passed warm Japanese towels to each of the participants to use during urchatz — the hand-washing  segment of the seder. He instructed each guest to wash the hands of the person to his or her immediate right (which meant that I was washing my mom’s hands). 

The event has come a long way. Lazaroff began the event in 1980, at the urging of Spago regulars, as a way to ensure that people like her would not be alone during the holiday. 

Lazaroff said that this year’s was the largest group the event has ever had.

At the seder, Lazaroff spotlighted MAZON’s crucial work, telling the crowd that the Los Angeles-based nonprofit has given out grants totaling more than $73 million for hunger-relief programs and policy work since its inception in 1985. Lazaroff said the organization helps many, including the low-income elderly,  who often must choose between life-saving medicines and food. Funds raised by MAZON can help empower seniors to have both, she said.

“We’re very proud of the partnership with Spago and delighted that Barbara continues to host the seder to benefit MAZON and the work we do to fight hunger,” Cari Uslan, director of development at MAZON, said in a phone interview afterward. 

Lazaroff spoke to the Journal about the preparation that the event requires, saying she closed the restaurant for the night to accommodate the affair. This was no small matter, given that the second night of Pesach took place on a Saturday this year, Lazaroff said. 

Guests appreciated the effort. Manchester — who recently released her 20th studio album, “You Gotta Love Life” — said Lazaroff deserves props for organizing the lavish seder year after year. 

“This becomes an extension of Barbara’s family and friends, and an extension of her heart and [she is] bringing her community close to MAZON,” Manchester said in an interview. “And the food is fantastic.” 

Attendees included Todd Krim, president and CEO of The Krim Group. The former attorney, who now connects celebrities with charities, attended with Matt Cook of the Tyler Perry television series “The Haves and the Have Nots,” and others. At one point, Lazaroff told the room that there were eligible bachelors in the crowd, signaling toward Krim’s and O’Connell’s table. 

The crowd was not exclusively Hollywood, however. Mitchell Flint, a U.S. Navy veteran who, despite laws that make it illegal for Americans to fight on behalf of foreign nations, flew with the Israeli Air Force during the 1948 War of Independence, turned out with his son Michael. However, even those two apparently aren’t completely immune to the allure of the entertainment industry: Michael Flint is currently working on an Israeli Air Force documentary titled “Angels in the Sky,” due out in 2016, for which Connors — according to a recent Times of Israel report — contributed a song. 

Among the participants who described for the Journal their favorite Passover memories were Marc and Louise Sattler of San Pedro, who were seated with Manchester and Kazan. Marc Sattler kept it real, if simple: “The seder, and getting the family together for a seder.”

Passover


 

Seder at Spago,et. al.

More and more restaurants put Passover on themenu.

By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer

“I’m a Jewish girl, and my husband’s a Catholic,”says Barbara Lazaroff, who has been married for 15 years to renownedchef Wolfgang Puck.

About 12 years ago, Passover was a lonesome timefor Lazaroff, most of whose Jewish relatives lived out of town. SoSpago regulars nudged her to create a restaurant seder, and she consulted withhubby Wolf (“He said, ‘We can make shrimp.’ I said, ‘I don’t thinkso,'” Lazaroff quips).

The result was the first seder ever held in anupscale Los Angeles eatery, with kosher-style (i.e., not strictlykosher) fare a la Puck’s trendy-interpretive cuisine.

Forget bubbe’s chopped liver and matzofarfel. In recent years, the 250 Spago seder guests have munched onfois gras withkosher red-wine sauce; herbed whitefish gefilte fish; Moroccan lamband, of course, flourless chocolate cake. This year, there’s no setmenu as yet: “Wolf hates to do menus, except a few days beforehand,” Lazaroffsays.

The seder is set for April 11, the second night ofPassover, in the airy, sky-lit dining room at Spago Beverly Hills.The interactive program will be led by Lazaroff, a rabbi and a cantor– the latter two had yet to be selected by press time. The tickets,which will cost around $150 per person, will benefit Mazon: A JewishResponse to Hunger. But don’t just show up, Lazaroff warns. Spago’sseder has so many regulars, it may be tough for newcomers to purchasetickets.

On April 10 and 11 in Santa Monica, GerriGilliland’s nouvelle-American restaurant, Jake & Annie’s, willoffer Passover-style fare amid the fried chicken and meatloaf. The$21.95 price-fixed meal will include entrees such as hot-poachedsalmon and cucumber-dill sauce, minty roasted leg of lamb andapricot-glazed chicken. Chef Jesus Navarro will prepare the recipesfrom Judy Zeidler’s Jewish cookbooks. “Gerri and Judy are friends,”says Jake & Annie’s general manager Gary Allen, “so we try tofollow Judy’s recipes to the T. If her chopped liver calls forschmaltz, we useschmaltz.”

Gilliland’s nouvelle-Irish cafe, Gilliland’s, alsoin Santa Monica, will have some Passover victuals, but the menuwasn’t set as The Journal went to press.

If you crave traditional Passover viands, tryJerry’s Famous Deli, whose eight Los Angeles-area restaurants willoffer an $18.75, four-course meal, with sliced roast brisket, matzokugel and more. Some, but not all, of Jerry’s locations are open 24hours, so check before you set out at 3 a.m. with a yen for roastchicken and macaroons.

For those who require strictly kosher cuisine, ahandful of area restaurants are kashering for Pesach. It’s ameticulous endeavor that requires a blow torch for all that stubbornchametz stuck inthe oven cracks, says Rabbi Nissim Davidi, kashrut administrator forthe Rabbinical Council of California.

Simon’s La Glatt, on Fairfax Avenue, will preparestandard Ashkenazic takeout (stuffed cabbage, tzimmes, kishke) andsit-down meals during the intermediate days of the eight-day holiday.If you want barbecue chicken wings, chicken picata or grilled ahituna, try the Rimini Restaurant at the Beverly Carlton Hotel inBeverly Hills. Rimini is also catering the hotel’s seders on April 10and 11 ($45 per person, plus tax and tip).

Meanwhile, kosher caterer Micheline’s will moveinto the Beverly Grand Hotel to cook for the hotel’s seders on April10 and 11 ($60 plus tax and tip). In the banquet rooms, Micheline’swill become a restaurant for the rest of the holiday, serving upchicken fajitas, grilled rib steaks, and deli sandwiches on homemadePassover rolls. Do the rolls taste like bread? “Sort of,” ownerMicheline Weiss says.

A less-expected seder milieu is the non-kosherrestaurant Cava, at 8384 W. Third St., whose flamboyant chef,Cuban-born Toribio Prado, is known for adventurous, Caribbean andSpanish cuisine. But for the past three years, Prado, also of Cha ChaCha, has been cooking up an anything-but-Ashkenazic sederfeast.

Cuban-born Toribio Prado, above, chef of Cava and Cha ChaCha, says his Jewish grandmother taught him an appreciation forSephardic food, a variety of which will be served at Cava’s sedermeal. At left, grilled lamb, Passover-style.

It was Prado’s Jewish grandmother who taught himan appreciation for Sephardic food, where olive oil subs for theAshkenazic chicken fat, and exotic spices for heavy-on-the-salt. Hisfour-course seder ($55 per person, $30 for children) on April 12 willbe a virtual Sephardic world tour: Moroccan chicken soup with leeks,fava beans and coriander; Indian toasted mango salad with cucumberand fresh mint; Tunisian roast lamb with tarragon and plum-corianderchutney; pan-seared Pacific whitefish with green chili and tomatopuree, almond torte and pomegranate sorbet.

Food mavens Roy and Robin Rose willlead the seder with a historical /archaeological twist; St. Superykosher wines will provide the four cups; and a portion of theproceeds will benefit Vista Del Mar. “Reservations are a must,” saysCava consultant Gerry Furth. “One year, we had 40 people sign up, but80 people showed up!”

For reservations and information, call Spago at(310) 394-3922; Jake & Annie’s, (310) 452-1734; Gilliland’s,(310) 392-3901; Jerry’s Famous Deli, (818) 766-8311 (or phone yourlocal Jerry’s); Simon’s La Glatt, (213) 658-7730; Rimini Restaurant,(310) 552-1056; Micheline’s, (310) 204-5334; The Beverly Grand Hotel,(213) 939-1653; Cava, (213) 658-8898.

Passover Gefilte Fish

By Wolfgang Puck

1 head (about 2 1/2 pounds) green cabbage

2 cups matzo meal

1 quart fish stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium (5 ounces) onion, minced

2 pounds whitefish fillets, such as pike, carp orwhitefish, cut into chunks

3 eggs, separated

1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons (6 or 7 sprigs) chopped freshtarragon leaves

2 to 3 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Cayenne pepper, to taste

1 medium carrot, peeled and cut intojulienne

1 medium leek, white part only, cut intojulienne

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2) Blanch the head of cabbage in boiling saltedwater, about 5 minutes, then place in a basin of cold water. Removethe whole leaves and cut away the tough core. As you peel off theouter leaves, you may have to return the head of cabbage to theboiling water to soften the inner leaves. Dry on a clean towel andreserve.

3) Place thematzo meal in a small bowl. Coverwith 1 cup of stock and let soak until needed.

4) In a small skillet, heat the olive oil. Overmedium heat, sauté the onion until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Donot brown. Cool.

5) In a wooden bowl or on a chopping board, chopthe fish fine with a chopper or large knife. Add the matzo meal withthe stock, the cooled onions, 3 egg yolks, the chopped parsley andtarragon, 2 teaspoons of salt, white pepper and cayenne, and continueto chop until well-combined. In a clean medium bowl, whisk the eggwhite until firm but not stiff. Stir a little into the fish mixture,then quickly but gently fold in the remaining whites. To test forflavor, bring a little fish stock to a simmer, add a small ball ofthe fish mixture and cook for about 5 minutes. Taste and correctseasoning.

Heat the remaining fish stock and spoon a littleinto an 11-by-17-inch baking pan. Divide the fish mixture into 12portions, about 4 ounces each, and enclose each portion in one or twocabbage leaves. You will find that when the leaves get smaller, youwill have to use two leaves to wrap the fish. As each package isformed, place in the prepared baking pan, seam-side down. This sizepan holds the 12 packages comfortably. Pour the remaining stock overthe fish and top with the julienned carrots and leeks. Cover the panwith foil and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool in the stock andrefrigerate until needed.

Serves 12

Presentation: Placeone package of fish on each of 12 plates, garnishing with some of thejulienned carrots and leeks. Serve with homemade horseradish, whiteor red.

Homemade Horseradish

To make white horseradish, finely grate peeledfresh horseradish into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, andrefrigerate until needed.

To make red horseradish, boil 1/2 pound red beetsuntil tender. Peel and then finely grate into a medium bowl. Addabout 1/2 cup grated horseradish, or to taste, and combinethoroughly. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.

Two women who don’t hate Pesach: BernieGruenbaum, left, with her daughter, Julie.

Why My Mom Doesn’t Hate Passover

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax,

Religion Editor

I always thought women hated Pesach. I guess theimpression came from watching my mother at seder: After weeks ofcleaning and days of cooking, she usually sat at the seder table,exhausted and testy — at least until she downed the second or thirdcup of wine.

But my mom insists that she loves Pesach, andespecially the seder.

Sure, she said, you have to get yourself organizedand plow through the cleaning, but once the house is turned over andall that’s left is the seder, it’s the connection with the past, thechildhood memories and bringing the family together that takes theforeground.

And it turns out that, for many women, that’s thesentiment which lingers well beyond the Brillo pads and manglednails.

But after talking to other women my age, I foundout that I’m not alone in my perception of women’s great animositytoward the festival of freedom. Many of us who have never made aseder but have known the pleasures of scrubbing a two-bedroomapartment tend to see more of the housekeeping horror — and theconsequent sexism — of the holiday.

Of course, my generation has moved apron-lengthsfrom my grandmother’s, when, more often than not, men waltzed intothe holiday with no concept of what went into it.

In fact, a few years ago, when I told mygrandparents that my husband had cleaned and kashered the entire kitchenwhile I was at work the Sunday before Pesach, they didn’t believeme.

The seders themselves have changed as well. WithJewish women and girls educated and interested in our heritage,discussion is no longer confined to the men at the head table — infact, the head table is no longer reserved just for men.

At one seder, when I was about 12, after my cousinand I had brought the bowl and pitcher around to wash all the men’shands, I asked her to hold the bowl for me as I washed mine. That wasa dramatic change from the way things were done “back home, in theold days,” but after some bemused smirks, it didn’t take long for allthe women to hold their hands out.

And, for many years, the men have been the mainservers at our seders, allowing their tired wives to rest.

When I think about my preparations for Pesach lastyear — even with the cleaning and the cooking — I can see my mom’spoint about looking past the drudgery. Despite my intellectualindignation at turning into a seder slave, memories of Pesachs pastonly make me smile. I love the cooking and the excuse to call oldfriends and distant family to check what they meant when they wrote”bake till done” on the recipe card. I relish challenging myself tomake my bagels come out as fluffy as Tante Mina’s (I’m convinced thatshe’s withholding an ingredient, because mine never do), and lookforward to pulling out Amy’s chocolate-chip cookie recipe, written onthe “Things To Do Today” memo with a big frog in the corner.

Then there’s the family seder. Everyonecontributes a dish because we never have fewer than 25 people –extended family, their neighbors and friends, and a Russian familythat just arrived. My grandparents’ dirge-like, but indispensable,Vizhnitzer tunes mingle with our more modern — some would saytwisted — traditions, most stemming from someone’s nursery-schoolmodel seder: a resounding round of “Adir Hu, you know it’s true, Mr.Potato Head I love you!” (please don’t ask); L’shana Ha’ba’s verticalclapping (imagine your hands are sandpaper); and the chest-thumping,ooh-aahing version of “Who Knows One?” that wakes up even thesleeping 4-year-olds.

By “Chad Gad Yu” (there’s that weird Vizhnitzeraccent showing up again), my mother and her sisters, who may havebeen about as lively as wet rags at Kadesh, are usually engaged inuncontrollable, adolescent fits of Yiddish-punctuated laughter. Theyinsist that it has nothing to do with the four cups. I didn’t believethem, until I saw it happen on grape juice alone.

But I guess it makes sense. They, like womenworldwide, have spent the last few weeks physically runningthemselves down. And they’ve spent the past few days encountering thepast and the future, carrying on traditions that, more than anything,keep a family together, keep a family Jewish. Add to that a sederwhere their kids get to show off their Jewish educations, where thenewest additions recite the “Ma Nishtanah” and where the souls ofdeparted loved ones squeeze in at the head of the table, watching andparticipating as always.

Who wouldn’t get drunk on that? Who wouldn’tmuster up every bit of reserved energy to celebrate?

It’s enough to squeeze the life back into a wetrag.

Gindi’s Version

By Rob Eshman, Managing Editor

The goal of Passover is to transmit the lessons ofthe Exodus to our children. The challenge of Passover is to transmitthe lessons of the Exodus to our children. The dinner is long. Mosthaggadot uselanguage that confounds a lot of grown-ups. Add the distractions offamily and friends, and you have several good reasons nothing shortof seat belts will keep children at theseder table.

Elie Gindi’s just-published “Family PassoverHaggadah” may be the solution. A few years back, Gindi, a CenturyCity internist, designed his own haggadah for his family’s seder. Hecut and pasted selections from dozens of liturgies, adding his ownchild-friendly translations and the kind of Passover songs his ownthree children, now aged 12, 9 and 6, brought home from school. Theresults astonished him. “There were 25 adults and 16 children, andnot one kid got up from the table.”

Gindi’s friends suggested he publish his homemadehaggadah, and, two years later, he has. Just like its prototype,Gindi’s version retells the Passover story at a reading levelsuitable for children. The story is substantially shortened too — itruns about 40 minutes before dinner, 10 minutes after.

For adults, the design, which Gindi himself puttogether after teaching himself advanced page layout on his Applecomputer, is a small seder feast in itself. Interspersed with thetext are examples of some of the holiday’s finest artwork, culledfrom more than 200 haggadot and museum collections around the world.Gindi spent the better part of a year acquiring the reprint rights toworks such as Toby Fluek’s “Making Haroset” and Reuven Rubin’s “FirstSeder in Jerusalem.”

High art shares space with more child-appealingillustrations. To illustrate the Ten Plagues, Gindi took his ownphotos (his children appear throughout with the subtlety ofHirschfield’s Ninas) and doctored them Newsweek-style. A snapshot ofSanta Monica Bay, the water ruddied by computer, provides a chillingdepiction of the plague of blood. The text of the haggadah combinesthe child-friendly narration with Gindi’s helpful commentary and aninsightful introduction by Rabbi Lee Bycel. There is a sampling ofSephardic traditions, a Holocaust poem, and several “How To” sectionsto help first-timers negotiate the holiday. Gindi’s wife, USCprofessor of medicine Pamela Schaff, edited the manuscript.

Those who prefer a more traditional haggadah havedismissed Gindi’s as truncated and incomplete. He reduces the longHallelbenediction, for instance, to just three lines. But Gindi said thathis work belongs to a tradition of interpretive haggadot. The test,he said, is whether or not it reaches children.

The book, which retails for $7.95, is now widelyavailable at synagogue and Jewish museum gift shops and Border’sBooks and Music. Proceeds from synagogue sales go to benefit theindividual shuls. A portion of the profits benefit the Los AngelesRetarded Citizens Foundation, and Gindi has donated copies toHadassah, the Westside Jewish Community Center and the JewishFederation, which will give them to major contributors at its April14 Salute to Israel dinner (see Page 12).

“It’s a real charge for me to get it out there andsee it be used,” said Gindi. His father, Moses Gindi, died on thefirst night of Passover in 1965, and, since then, the holiday hasheld a profound significance for him. “My dad was very much intoteaching his children,” Gindi said. “This is a legacy for him and atribute to him.”

For more information and to purchase the”Family Passover Haggadah,” call (310) 476-1565.

 

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