Behind the metal doors to the kitchen at the Turnberry Isle Resort in Aventura, employees work behind Saran-wrapped rooms, vigorously washing dishes in a cacophony of clattering china while moving along an assembly line.
It’s not your usual hotel kitchen scene. The nine workers meticulously scrubbing every surface on every piece of tableware are preparing to welcome 800 guests for Passover, which begins at sundown Friday.
“I call this a cruise ship on land,” said Abe Fuchs, CEO of Long Island, New York’s New Star Caterers, the caterer for the event.
New Star, the Turnberry and Lasko Getaways, a luxury kosher travel company, partnered to provide travelers an escape from the laborious preparations for the Jewish holiday, which commemorates Jews’ liberation by God from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
Traveling for Passover has been a Passover tradition for many families. The Laskos started offering travel packages for the eight-day holiday in 1989, spending 10 years at the Eden Roc Miami Beach Resort and 20 years in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, before moving to the Turnberry this year for the first time.
“The popularity has gone up substantially,” said Sam Lasko, president of Hollywood-based Lasko Getaways. “There is a lot of fine competition out there, hotels in the Caribbean, New York — there are probably 40 to 50 programs around the world.”
South Florida has been a popular destination because of its large Jewish population. The Miami metropolitan area is home to the second largest Jewish population in the U.S., after New York, according to a 2015 project by the Public Religion Research Institute.
I call this a cruise ship on land.
Abe Fuchs, CEO of New Star Caterers
The appeal of a Passover getaway is in the comfort it affords families. For observant Jews, Passover requires cleaning every inch of the home, eliminating traces of non-Passover items, known as chametz, including leavened breads, pasta, cereals. And in keeping kosher foods away from non-kosher ones, families have to have separate dishes and separate silverware.
“Women sit down at the table like queens and princesses and don’t have to worry about preparing dinners and Seders,’’ Lasko said.
Turnberry’s event this year will be a first for Lasko’s program. The entire 408-room hotel has been bought out for Passover, which runs from Friday evening to the evening of April 30, rather than just a section of the hotel like in years past. About 800 guests are flying in from New York, Chicago, California, London, Canada, Mexico and a host of other countries around the world for a Passover experience without the stress.
A stress-free holiday doesn’t come cheap. Packages begin at $4,600 per person and can run up to $10,000 at the hote, near the Aventura Mall, off Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 199th Street.
Behind the scenes, preparing an entire resort for Passover guests begins about a year in advance with meetings between the groups.
By Monday, about a week before the event, the Turnberry was already beginning its physical transition to kosher kitchens.
Fuchs and his team brought in five 26-foot tractor trailers of equipment, with everything from cutting boards to convection ovens, to serve all 800 guests. That’s enough space to fit more than 25,000 standard dinner plates.
Each guest needs two sets of tableware for meat and dairy to comply with the rule from the Torah that prohibits the two being consumed together.
Much of the new equipment brought in will replace items in Turnberry’s kitchen that can’t be koshered, such as plastic. In order to bring the equipment to its newest state, it is both meticulously cleaned and heated to eliminate any unseen food particles. Plastic would melt if heated to the necessary temperature.
“We have to get it to the closest new state as we can,” Fuchs said. “Sometimes that requires sitting there with a commercial toothbrush and literally getting off non-kosher particles.”
50,000 The number of meals the Turnberry Isle Resort will serve to its 800 Passover guests over eight days.
Behind Saran-wrapped walls, workers washed small dipping sauce cups on Monday, piling them into a crate. In a room off the kitchen, plastic-wrapped crates were piled with signs that read: “Wash complete.”
With some of the kitchens completely koshered — five will run simultaneously once Passover begins Friday evening, including separate kitchens for meat and dairy — cooks started prepping spare ribs.
Throughout the course of eight days, the Turnberry and New Star will serve 50,000 meals.
Four 52-foot tractor trailers of food from outside Florida were shipped in — enough to fit 88,000 racks of ribs.
Then every day, the hotel will get truckloads of produce and beverages, Fuchs said.
“Even though we all think of breakfast, lunch and dinner, there are plenty of meal periods available to the guests in between, so it’s a nonstop process,” he said.
To make sure the process runs smoothly, 120 culinary staff, 50 to 60 stewards and 100 servers will be employed, including Turnberry’s regular crew and additional team members brought in by the caterers.
But staff requirements extend far beyond the kitchens and meal preparations.
270 Approximate number of staff needed to prepare and serve food to the Turnberry’s Passover guests.
Another set of Passover rules dictate the use of electricity on the first two and last two days of the holiday, which falls on the Sabbath this year. Observance of the holiday varies by family, but some of the general rules include not pressing elevator buttons, not turning on light switches, not driving, using the phone or watching television.
Jeffrey Klein, vice president and managing director of the Turnberry, said employees will be waiting in the hallways to escort guests to their rooms — using the electronic door keys is also prohibited — and press elevator buttons. Lights will be left on in the rooms so guests don’t have to worry about the switches.
Ultimately, Klein said, having an entire hotel dedicated to the holiday makes it easier for guests to follow Passover guidelines.
“A sense of place becomes far more important to them and they become the only fish in the pond versus a small fish in a big pond,” Klein said. “When you’re sitting at the pool during Passover you never have to worry that the guest next to you is eating non-kosher food, so ... no interaction throughout the experience is non-kosher.”
That detail is a drawing point for Chicago businessman Shael Bellows, who has been traveling with his family for Passover for more than 35 years. Often, he has traveled to Miami with his five children and their families.
This year, their party of more than 25 — including 17 grandchildren — will spend the holiday at Turnberry.
“The significance of being able to sit around a family Passover table for eight days and 24 meals is simply an amazing experience because it really reenergizes and reinforces the family bonds,” he said.
Bellows said the combination of food, religion and activities, such as a day camp for the kids, a lazy river, a ‘70s night and performers, makes traveling for Passover the only time the entire family can come together for vacation.
All told, the combined efforts are earning the Passover vacation a common comparison.
Bellows, too, called it “a land-based cruise ship, if you will.”