Avi Stieglitz arrived home from camp in New York last summer and told his family he had a great idea for his next birthday. He wanted something different. Something a tad out of the ordinary. Something "away from the city"--that city being Beverly Hills.
So Avi's mother, Mala, set out last October to prepare a "unique and different bar mitzvah" for her son's transition into manhood, what his 13th birthday signifies in the Jewish religion.
Fortunately, Mala Stieglitz got an early start. She needed it.
"Are all those kosher, Fernando?" pastry chef Karl Helfrich, busily swirling meringues into shape, asked Fernando Rosaletti of a nearby cart filled with aluminum plate covers.
"They will be," responded Rosaletti, assistant executive steward at The Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa.
One blowtorch, 600 gallons of boiling water and half a night later, the plate covers were kosher, the pots and pans were kosher, the large rotating oven the size of a small closet was kosher, the silverware and other amenities needed for a group of 240 guests were all kosher, or freed from traces of non-kosher foods, in adherence to an ancient dietary law which calls for, among other things, the separation of meat and dairy products.
Met by Limousines
Guests were soon to arrive from Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey and Israel. Those flying in would be met by limousines. And 110 rooms were booked for the weekend to house them. The family paid for everything but steadfastly declined to give the cost of the three-day celebration, although estimates put the cost of the food--not the bar--for Friday night's gala at more than $7,000. Such lavish affairs are not uncommon in places like New York or Miami Beach, but are very unusual, if not unheard of, in Orange County, according to hotel management.
The whole affair would have been a little simpler if held in one of several Los Angeles hotels that maintain kosher kitchens to cater to that city's Jewish population of 500,000--but Avi wanted "an away" party, so his family settled on Costa Mesa, 46 miles from Beverly Hills.
"There's a big need for this in the West Coast," said Mala Stieglitz, who found no other facility in the county willing to undertake the three-day kosher event. "We did the same thing for our older son in the Catskill s in New York. But here, it's much harder. You have no idea. I started researching in October."
The hotel management and staff, which began catering kosher banquets about two years ago because of Orange County's growing Jewish population (now about 80,000), knew some of the aspects of keeping kosher but were not as familiar with observing the Sabbath, when Jews put work aside from sunset Friday until sunset Saturday.
During this day of rest, Orthodox Jews don't drive cars, use phones, turn on television sets, use hair dryers or mechanical equipment of any kind.
No Mechanical Equipment
It also means they don't use elevators. But that's nearly impossible in a 17-floor hotel, so to accommodate bar mitzvah guests, the hotel designated one of its four elevators as the "Sabbath elevator." An employee spent the day running the otherwise automatic elevator up and down, stopping at each floor to ensure that those who could not use the stairs could take the elevator without themselves having to push a button--a piece of the forbidden equipment, explained Catherine Boire, public relations director.
The hotel staff was alerted to other details, such as accepting requests on sight of a room key instead of a signature, which would translate into a business transaction, forbidden on the Sabbath. They were also told to not be alarmed if a bar mitzvah guest who requested a Saturday morning wake-up call did not answer the phone (typically, the hotel would then check the room), said Cynthia Jorgensen, convention services director. On the Sabbath, the phone also is forbidden.
One of the toughest jobs for the 394-room hotel involved the kitchen.
It was no small task for Jan Solomon Moore--dressed casually in his "Chabad of Anaheim" T-shirt ("I dress for comfort; the job is very long and hot")--but by late Thursday night, he had "kosherized" more than half of the Westin's kitchen.
Blow torch in hand, Moore used water to steam clean and purify the large kitchen equipment and tables. For the smaller metal items, he used two of the kitchen's three giant soup kettles, which he also made kosher by slightly spilling their boiling content all around the rims.
Now, the real work had just begun for the restaurant and hotel's staff.
Ready to tackle the strictly kosher affair was its multinational staff, including executive chef Maurizio Binotto, an Italian; executive sus chef Ted Shibata, Japanese; banquet manager Joel Ayrault, French, and executive steward Guillermo Martinez, Mexican.
And this wasn't an ordinary kosher banquet. These guests were not going to come in, eat and leave. They were staying. For three days and two nights. And that's a lot of meals--a lot of kosher meals.