There are no sous chefs ready to do the bidding of each finalist. There are no assistants, just a lone entrant at each station. The bell rings, the announcer begins the contest. "You have one hour....ready, set, BEGIN."
Impervious to the crowds that wander from station to station, unmoved by bells, microphones, the eyes of judges, the scrutiny of a supervising Rabbi, the finalists set about cooking with deliberation and with respect for the ingredients that will make their dishes.
Sharon Ricci smiles and looks up as she snips sausage patties into even, bite-size pieces. Andrea Bloom explains her pea and fennel soup to the camera even as she slices fennel into fine strips. Candace McMenamin answers questions from a visitor with one eye trained on a piece of chicken that she is lightly breading with sweet potato pancake mix. Raykel Yaish, surrounded by an adoring family, sautes ingredients in not one, but two pans under the scrutiny of a judge. Michaela Rosenthal gently opens puff pastry on her table, preparing to turn the pastry into a knish. Laura Diamond meticulously dabs the inside of her perfect large mushrooms so moisture won't steal taste or turn the mushrooms soggy. None of the finalists appear nervous, all are riveted by the foods they are creating.
These women have made many meals, served many hungry people. They are mothers from America, and their food is what mamas kitchen is about - creativity, variety, taste and efficiency. This is a contest, however, and though we expect them to be jittery, to reflect the chaos of a cookoff, they are calm. Of course they are calm: these women have cooked with children under their feet, have manned oven and stove for large holiday meals. What is a camera or a microphone compared to a child wanting attention?
And they clean up as they cook.
Entering a Cookoff - Creativity, not Competition
Almost any good cook has thought that she or he might produce a prize-winning dish, yet most back away, imagining that entrants are people with nerves of steel and fierce competitive personalities. These finalists at this cookoff are the nicest of people, and not one has an aggressive gleam in their eyes.
Why do they enter a cookoff? COULD YOU ENTER A COOKOFF? Their reasons are varied but if you listen carefully you will find that each one finds a creative expression in cooking:
"I have always liked to create in the kitchen," said Candace McMenamin (who just happened to win). "I don't dance, sing, or paint so it's my creative outlet." Sharon Ricci tell us that, "I've been experimenting with recipes forever, its what makes cooking fun. My husband will tell you that we probably don't eat the same meal twice in a month. I really like variety."
Michaela Rosenthal, a veteran on the cookoff circuit and a frequent winner, agrees, "I do not get too rattled during the cook-offs because my main
goal is to get invited to the party so to speak. If I happen to win a prize, it's just 'cream cheese on my
bagel.' I love competition cooking and value the many friend I have
made. Friends that are as passionate about cooking as I am."
From Andrea Bloom we hear that same sentiment, though her inspiration is found in farmers' markets, "The thing that makes me want to experiment is pretty easy. Living out in Los Angeles I have the farmers market at my disposal. I try to get there at least a few times a month to see what is in season. I am a soup addict so I have been playing with different combinations to see what works. When I find a winning combination its the best feeling. I know that when you bake you have to keep to the recipe pretty strictly, the best part of cooking is the freedom to add a bit more of this and that. The hard part is remembering what you are doing to replicate the finished product."
The Outcome of the Cookoff
And the winner: Candace McMenahim's moist and juicy chicken encrusted in sweet potato pancake mix.
But this cookoff is more than a prize. Candace said, " I really enjoyed this contest because I learned so much about Kosher cooking. I didn't realize all the products out there that are Kosher. I also found the "purity" aspect of Kosher cooking interesting. When I compared the quality of these products, they just somehow tasted fresher and cleaner to me. I entered this recipe because I liked the simple aspect of this contest, too. I am always looking for different ways to change up easy meals. Now I have one more type of cooking--Kosher---in my menu planning."
About the Cookoff
The contest was judged by a panel of experts: cookbook author, Susie Fishbein (click for book review); Executive Chef Jacques Sorci of the Ritz Carlton Hotels; Chef Bill Strynkowski from Cooking Light magazine, broadcaster of WFMU Jewish Music Nachum Segal; representative from GE and Manischewitz, editor of the Jewish Week Liel Leibovits as well as the Executive Chef Achilles Poliviou from the Marriott Marquis. They judged the recipes based on taste, 50%; ease of preparation, 20%; appearance, 15%; and originality, 15%. The competition followed kosher guidelines under the supervision of the Manischewitz Rabbi, Rabbi Horowitz.
The contest is over, but we show you this as a guide, just in case you want to think about entering a cookoff yourself in the future.
Manischewitz stated: "Recipes must be original, must be Kosher, must include at least one Manischewitz product and have no more than a total of eight ingredients, including any garnish (water, plain salt and pepper are not counted)."
The prize the winner won was a State-of-the-art GE Profile™ Stainless Steel Kitchen Appliances including a single Trivection® Wall Oven, Built-in Advantium® Oven, Profile Stainless Dishwasher, 36” Gas Cooktop, 36” High Performance Hood and Built-in Profile Refrigerator, Sponsor-selected Manischewitz products, to be awarded in 4 shipments over the course of 1 year (Total ARV: $2,000), a Cooking Light Cookbook, a $5,000 check from Manischewitz and a $3,000 U.S. Savings Bond (ARV $20,000).
The six finalists had an expense paid trip to New York City! Worth entering, just for the trip.
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