Barbara Lazaroff can still smell her grandmother’s matzo ball soup from childhood seders.
Nostalgic over that familial memory, she concedes the food didn’t compare to the the seders she presently hosts at Spago, her high-end restaurant in Beverly Hills, which pairs cuisine with charity by supporting a nonprofit dedicated to fighting food insecurity.
“The food is infinitely better, and it’s nice to generate goodwill in the community and most importantly give money away to an important cause,” Lazaroff, co-founder and owner of Spago Beverly Hills, said in an interview. “Bless my grandmother, but the food is a lot better.”
This year, the 39th annual Passover seder at Spago Beverly Hills, an interfaith evening benefiting Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, is expected to draw more than 300 attendees. Taking place April 6 and costing $250 per person, the luxurious seder includes homemade gefilte fish, roasted Alaskan salmon, braised beef short ribs, vegetable ratatouille and Moroccan carrots. Of course, chicken and vegetable matzo ball soup will be provided.
All the food is served with fine Israeli kosher wines, coming from vines dating back thousands of years, from Taub Family Selections.
While the meat isn’t kosher, those who do not mix meat with milk products will be pleased to know the desserts, which include matzo toffee, fromage blanc cheesecake, Passover puffs with caramel sauce and sorbet, don’t contain any dairy.
The annual seder draws members of the Jewish community observing the holiday along with Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and those without any religious affiliation.
“Basically, the idea is to put community together, dispel the notion of the other and create commonality as we support people in L.A. who can’t afford a meal like this and some of whom who can’t afford to eat, period,” Lazaroff said. “We have a very diverse community here in Los Angeles.”
A memorable experience helping others has been the objective since the inaugural Spago seder took place more than three decades ago. Recently, the seder raised money for HIAS, an international humanitarian organization that supports refugees and asylum seekers. When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, Lazaroff knew she wanted to support Ukrainian refugees.
This year, by raising funds for Mazon, she is aiding food-challenged families. The national organization is dedicated to eradicating hunger in the U.S. and Israel. The group promotes systematic change through better anti-hunger policies at the federal, state and local levels. This includes strengthening federal nutrition programs.
Beverly Hills residents and those from outside the city are expected to attend. Many of the guests will be unfamiliar with Passover rituals, which Lazaroff welcomes.
“Every year, there are people who have never been to a seder,” the restauranteur said.
Organizing the seder in a popular restaurant requires closing the entire establishment for the night. The culinary team includes Executive Chef Ari Rosenson, Chef de Cuisine Areg Avanassian, and Executive Pastry Chef Della Gossett.
During the height of the pandemic, the restaurant offered to-go seder meals for their guests. Last year, the seder was held in the restaurant’s outdoor pavilion on N. Canon Drive, extending from Clifton Way to the public art wall. It made for a unique, festive experience.
This year’s seder will be held indoors.
Even with the time and energy it takes, Lazaroff is happy knowing people look forward to it.
“It’s a very important event to me, and it means a lot to other people,” Lazaroff said. “I try to make it as warm and festive as it can be.”
Leading the Haggadah service this year will be University Synagogue in Irvine’s Rabbi Arnold Rachlis and Cantor Ruti Braier, who have taken part for years. Also, guests enjoy live musical performances by the Klezmer Kings and the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir.
After a satisfying evening, you’ll take home a bag of the restaurant’s incomparable shallot-and-thyme matzah along with a to-go bag of macaroons.