Malibu Seder

malibupch1ox9.jpgDecades ago, as a fledging (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’s I—VI”). We met on the basis of our identical surnames, but traced our ancestry back to different origins.  It seemed our 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 feeling like we were kin, felt almost like the miraculous 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. How fortunate for me, who’d been thrilled when Robert first put our name in lights and on the big screen with “They Shoot Horses Don’t They.”

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.  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.  But in those days, 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 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 flashy car that screamed “Arrest me!!”  I should have been tethered 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 philosophical views similarly skewed as rebel Reformed Jews.  Again a fortuitous accident of the 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 great kids (now an attorney, an opera singer, and a film director) and their friends, plus me and my pisan boyfriend, guests included John, a Franciscan monk replete with floor length, roped robe, a plain-clothes guru named Allan, Maude Adams, Burt Young, and Burgess Meredith.

malibuable.jpgWhy was this seder different from all other seders?
For a displaced East Coaster, it was so arrogantly L.A.; by the Pacific, by the pool, with such a diversity of personalities. I don’t recall every delicious morsel of that seder catered by Bob’s groovy Black cook, Larry, although I recall delicious variations on familiar Passover themes: a charoses with champagne raisins and crab apples, Caribbean koogle with plaintains, and the kosher creme de la crème of the feast: chicken roasted in kosher white wine and prunes, which seemed the most deliciously ethnocentric and practical Jewish chicken dish I’d ever tasted.   

But most vividly I recall the sonorous tones of Brother John, Guru Alan and Burgess, reverently reading the Haggadah, and the whole event breaking down when the non Jews challenged the Chosen people to “prove it” on the spot.  As Elijah had not arrived to drain his goblet that sacred day, the Jews made the wine disappear.

(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 350°F.

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.