When I started my blog in 2009, there were a few Kosher food brands that I wanted to build a relationship with; Manischewitz was at the top of my list. While at Kosherfest 2010, I met the marketing team behind the new face of Manischewitz and we have been good friends ever since. I was at the Maniscehwitz Cook-Off the past two years, but this year I was unable to attend and see all my Manischewitz friends. I did receive a wonderful box of Manischewitz kosher for Passover products. The Manischewitz brand has really made an effort to provide healthy, gluten-free food options. You don’t have to be Jewish to love them either. Now, here is what Shira saw and tasted at the 6th Annual Manischewitz Cook-Off.
Contributed by Shira Frager
The sounds of sizzling vegetables and boiling broth filled a cozy room of Manhattan’s JCC on March 28 as contestants prepared their dishes to be presented to judges for the 6th annual Manischewitz Cook-off competition.
Guests lingered, taking in the aromas of Crispy Chicken and Cherry and Torti Vegetali, two of five recipes chosen as finalists among thousands of other entries for the renowned Manischewitz competition. We browsed the room taking pictures, speaking to various Manischewitz staff and making small-talk with guests while contestants prepared their specialty dishes. A sense of anticipation could be felt in the air, in wonders of who would be chosen as the Man-o-Manischewitz 2012 cook-off finalist.
Following rounds of food-tasting and a few tense moments in which judges discussed their thoughts regarding most qualified dish, they presented their decision to the group of excited audience members. We held our breaths as the judges selected small-town Illinois resident Eric Silberman as the winner with his “Mod” Matzo Ball Soup, and this announcement was accompanied by loud cheers in excitement for the best-tasting and most original kosher dish in America.
Although Silberman said he generally has little time for cooking, the 21-year old biology student at Princeton said his matzo ball soup is what he calls a simple recipe that was embedded in tradition. “Making soup for the competition brings tradition to the forefront,” said Silberman as he carefully chopped up an onion. His grandmother created the matzo ball soup recipe and passed it on to his mother, which Silberman decided to share with others. “My friends didn’t grow up with matzo ball soup and I wanted them to try it,” he said.
Judges at the competition included various members of news organizations, Kosher food companies, and individual at-home cooks. Renowned figure Claire Robinson from television shows Food Network Challenge and 5-Ingredient Fix was seated as the head judge, and chef celebrity at the event engaging in the excitement of the event.
According to Robinson, selecting the winner was a difficult decision. “This was one of the hardest contests to judge,” she said in awe. “We kept going over the numbers. There was a 3 ½ point difference.” On a more personal level, Robinson finds these cook-off competitions fun and fulfilling. “For me, what’s so exciting is… tasting food from cooks around America.”
According to Manischewitz staff members, the competition encouraged experimentation with Kosher products while preparing tasteful recipes, both at home and outside the home. “Manischewitz is a company that is so strong because of the health safety behind kosher food,” said Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who works for Manischewitz.
In addition to its health benefits, Manischewitz CEO and Co-President Paul Bensabot prides his business in being one of the oldest privately-held food corporations in America. “Manischewitz is the king of kosher quality food,” he said.
A table at the event displayed specially-manufactured products for Passover that were meant to be both appealing and health-conscious. This included products that were free of gluten, cholesterol, and trans-fats, and those considered “natural” foods.
According to Manischewitz Marketing Vice President David Rossi, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed March 28 as Man-o-Manischewitz Cook-off day. “Manischewitz knows the importance and value of good food. We are pleased they’ve chosen a prestigious area of New York,” said Rossi.
The Manischewitz cook-off sponsors and benefits the hunger-relief organization “rock Can roll Inc,” a non-profit organization that aids emergency food agencies across the country. Manischewitz had created food collection bins to encourage others’ support, and it matches all donations. It also raises awareness for Jewish American Heritage Month celebrating Jewish achievements of people in various career fields.
The finalist received a $25,000 award which included new Maytag kitchen appliances, cash, and a trophy. “I’m sweating and I’m hungry but feeling good,” said a smiling Silberman following this major announcement.
Among the finalists were Jennifer Daskevich from Los Angeles, Jacquie Serebrani-Kesner from Lexington, MA, Ronna Farley from Rockville, MD, and Andrew Dorsch from Scotch Plains, NJ.