Why is the seder at Spago, Beverly Hills different from all others?
For starters there is the menu, which includes shallot and thyme matzo, homemade gefilte fish, carp and pike, and cookbook author Judy Gethers’ matzo balls, prepared with carbonated water for extra lightness. Chef de cuisine Tetsu Yahagi and executive pastry chef Della Gossett are the culinary masterminds behind the selections.
Then there is the iconic and glitzy setting in the heart of Beverly Hills, where celebrities are an everyday sight.
On top of all that, the event raises funds for MAZON: The Jewish Response to Hunger, a national nonprofit working to end hunger among all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. The restaurant’s 34th annual seder is set for March 31, the second night of Passover.
Barbara Lazaroff, co-owner of Spago, Beverly Hills, who came up with the idea of holding a seder at her partner and ex-husband Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, said organizing the event for customers, who are like her second family, is a priority.
“Many people experienced their first seder at Spago — where they get a sophisticated introduction to Jewish cuisine.” — Barbara Lazaroff
“This night means a lot to me. It is so many years of my life in the community. You experience everybody’s family growing up, people being born and dying, and we take note of all that, like you would with your own family,” Lazaroff said. “A restaurant is kind of like an extended family.”
Lazaroff created the seder 34 years ago when she and Puck were still married, because she was interested in accommodating those who did not have family around for the holiday. But the renowned chef and restaurateur was not easily convinced.
“I remember the first year, [Puck] said, ‘Nobody is going to come.’ I said, ‘Wolf, if you don’t do it, I am going to get another chef to do it,’ ” Lazaroff said.
The rest is history. The event draws a diverse group of showbiz types as well as a large number of non-Jews, Lazaroff noted.
“Guests are more than 40 percent non-Jewish. Many people experienced their first seder at Spago — where they get a sophisticated introduction to Jewish cuisine,” she said. “I feel if you open your traditions and celebrations to all, no matter your religion, background or customs, it fosters tolerance, greater harmony and closer understanding among all people.”
The event is not cheap — $195 per adult and $80 per child age 12-and-under — but the restaurant ultimately loses money on the venture, Lazaroff said. And while Spago’s seder is not strictly kosher, the service hews to convention. “The service is traditional without being exhausting,” she said.
Leading the service this year will be University Synagogue of Irvine’s Rabbi Arnold Rachlis and his wife, Cantor Ruti Braier. The West Los Angeles Children’s Choir will perform.
In addition to the multicourse meal, Spago’s wine director, Phillip Dunn, will offer a variety of Israeli wine pairings. Attendees will be given a box of oven-baked matzo and macaroons to take home.
To those planning to attend the event, Lazaroff had a piece of advice: Be prepared for some powerful horseradish.
“It is knock-your-socks-off horseradish,” she said. “I am always going around the tables saying, ‘Be careful.’ ”
The Passover seder takes place at 5:30 p.m. March 31 at Spago, Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Drive. Guests can make reservations by calling Spago at (310) 385-0880 or booking online at exploretock.com/spagobeverlyhills.