Let's Eat

Balaboosta does Seder

Israeli chef Einat Admony says she isn’t daunted by making a Seder night for 55 in New York


Passover dinner for 55? When you're used to catering family Seders for almost that many - and happen to be a chef - it's a joy rather than a nightmare. And Einat Admony's public Pesach celebrations have become an eagerly awaited feature of New York culinary life since she launched the annual event four years ago.

"Tickets went on sale for this year's dinner on March 2 and the phone has been ringing off the hook ever since," laughs the Israeli who set up shop in the Big Apple in 2005 with a falafel joint and has just opened her third eatery in the city.

But while the food she is serving this year at Balaboosta on New York's Lower East Side sounds traditional, it's anything but. There will be shredded duck buried in the matzah balls and the brisket which follows will be studded with Asian spices. As for dessert, what Admony calls her "chocolate soup" - a rich, very liquid chocolate sauce - will be laced with cardamom and lemongrass.

This exotic fusion of East meets Middle East on the menu comes from the fact Admony has developed her menu with Chinese-American chef Anita Lo, proprietor of Annisa restaurant - who will be beside her in the kitchen on April 6.

"I choose a different chef each year with whom to collaborate, but this is the first year we have planned the menu together and will be side by side cooking all the dishes," she explains.

"Actually, for me brisket is very strange, because I come from the Sephardic rather than the Ashkenazi tradition, and it's not something I eat or cook. We always had lamb for Passover in Israel - my father would get it from the moshav, where it would be slaughtered on the spot and brought home to share the whole beast with a neighbour.

"But Anita really wanted to make brisket - and when she said she wanted to make it with red dates, that was another memory of home. My mother used to stock up on these dates - which are smaller than the ones we know at home - whenever she visited Chinatown."

Lo's influence is also felt in the filling for the matzah balls, which are an Admony fixture for this annual feast, served at a long table which seats 55 - her entire complement of covers - at a single sitting. "They are different every year; my mother is Iranian, and two years ago I made them Persian style, which involved chickpeas and ground chicken. This year they will contain water spinach as well as the confit duck, and the soup will be duck, rather than chicken broth. It will be seasoned with Hoisin sauce and flecked with small pieces of foie gras." There will also be the crunch of duck grieben for textural interest, she adds.

Side dishes will be a reflection of the heritage of both chefs - the Asian tahini, for example, which accompanies butternut squash ("It's loosened with soy, honey and rice vinegar," explains Admony) - and the rice, which is made in the Persian manner, with a crunchy base, as taught by her mother. There will also be Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce and a green salad with ginger dressing.

Interestingly, only 50 per cent of the tickets sold for this year's feast have been bought by Jewish diners. "It's been 90 per cent in the past," explains Admony, "but this year there is so much interest from outside the community. I have one couple coming who have never been to any kind of Seder."

Not that this one is strictly traditional: "We will have Haggadot on the table if people want to read them, but it won't be the kind of heavy service I grew up with, although we will do the four glasses of wine. We'll also have a band on one side of the table who will play the traditional Passover songs." With tickets costing $181 - about £120 - per head, guests will certainly expect to be entertained as well as fed.
They will also have an afikoman to look forward to: "But instead of running all over the restaurant to find it, the winner will be drawn from ticket numbers hidden behind their name badge," explains Admony.

This meal will not be served on the first Seder night, which Admony always reserves for family - she lives with her French husband, Stefan Natziger, who co-owns and helps run their restaurants, and their children Liam, eight, and Mika, soon to be six, in Brooklyn. "Plus my sister, brother and cousins live in New York, so every year I cater for 30 or 40, and every year I say this will be the last time."

For once, Admony is getting her wish as she is taking her sous-chef and an Irish friend on a whistlestop tour of Tel Aviv restaurants from which they will only return the day before Passover: "And with some of my family away this year, I'll make a smaller family Seder at my cousins' house on Long Island."

She is thrilled to be making the trip, not only because it's a rare chance to see her parents, who still live near Tel Aviv, at this family time of year for once, but because of the chance it will give her to showcase what Israel has to offer. "I'm so proud of our culinary traditions, and I can't wait to show them off; until they get there, outsiders have no idea how wonderful our food is."

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