Jewish Journal


March 29, 2010

Seder by the Sea


Decades ago, as a fledgling (broke) New York stage actress, I had the good fortune to be befriended by the film producer Robert Chartoff (”Raging Bull,”  “The Right Stuff,”  “Rocky,” and the “Rocky’s, 2, 3,  4, 5, & 6”). We met on the basis of our identical surnames and hoped we were kin, but, alas, traced our ancestry back to different origins.  It seemed our last names were accidentally namesake bastardizations of different, multi-syllabic and multi-Slavic monikers of yore, carelessly abbreviated by uncreative Ellis Island officiates.

Having the same name (although it came from different sources) and simpatico sensibilities made us feel like we were kin. This sort of serendipity felt miraculous, like the time my malfunctioning checking account was so out of balance, it somehow came out balanced to the penny.  Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. Lucky for me, who’d been thrilled when Robert first put our family name in lights and on the big screen with “They Shoot Horses Don’t They,” he made the Technicolor Chartoff name in lights look like I could do it, too.

When times were touchy during my first forays stepping my toe into television, hamisha Bob would take me to terrific restaurants for great meals.  He was a gourmand with a Pygmalion Complex, and I was a perfect pig.  Between acting opportunities, he also gave me a tasty, cushy job, a key to his office and parking spot near MGM’s main gate, later to become Columbia, then Sony Pictures’ main gate when I grew up to star on a series there and earn a Chartoff Parking Spot of my very own.  In those days,  when I was an up and coming new face in Los Angeles, folks in the biz would query if he and I were related and I would proudly say, “Oh, no, no, he succeeded completely on his own.”

There were other advantages to sharing the surname Chartoff, I learned whilst trying to talk my way out of a speeding ticket in Malibu one day.  Sprung from the New York Subway Systems into my first hit TV series and my first flashy car that screamed “Arrest me!!”  I should have been tethered, grounded, and punished.  I was a moving violation. But instead, mistaken by the Highway Patrol for a blood relative of Bob’s, they let me off with a flirt.

Bob and I both leaned so far left as to be horizontal and shared hectically eclectic views similarly skewed as improvisational Jews—again an accident of our same ideas arrived at through vastly different journeys.  So in the late 80’s he invited me to my first Malilbu Passover at his compound.  Aside from his three great kids (now an attorney, a countess opera singer, and a film director) and their friends, plus me and my pisan boyfriend, guests included Brother John, a Franciscan monk replete with floor length, roped robe, plus a plain-clothes barefoot guru named Allan, also starring Maude Adams, Burt Young, and Burgess Meredith.

Why was this seder different from all other seders?

To a displaced East Coaster, it was so arrogantly L.A.; by the Pacific, by the pool, with such a diversity of personalities. I recall every morsel of that ceremony, catered by Bob’s groovy Caribbean cook, Larry, with delectable variations on familiar Passover food themes: a charoses with champagne raisins and crab apples, Caribbean koogle with plaintains, and the kosher creme de la creme of the feast—chicken roasted in kosher white wine and prunes. This seemed the most practical Jewish chicken dish I’d ever tasted. 

But most vividly I recall the sonorous tones of Brother John, Guru Alan and Burgess Meredith, reverently reading the Haggadah, and the whole event breaking down when the non Jews challenged the Chosen people to “Prove why you’re so chosen” on the spot.  As Elijah did not arrive to drain his goblet that sacred day, the Jews and gentiles partying as one made the wine and the all dividing lines disappear.  We all felt like kin that night.

(from the Campbell’s website, of all things.)   

4 chickens, 2 1/2 lbs. each, quartered
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dried oregano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and coarse salt to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat oven to 350oF.

Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done with thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice.

With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.

To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temperature in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter. If chicken has been covered and refrigerated, allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juice over chicken.

16 pieces; 10 or more portions.

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