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 .