Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A winner in kosher cook-off


April 05, 2011

By Tirdad Derakhshani

Cherry Hill's Stuart Davis beat nine other finalists Thursday to win the fifth annual Man-O-Manischewitz Cook-off with a recipe inspired by a Japanese rice-bowl dish called oyakodon ("parent and child donburi").

"The Japanese dish uses a fish stock," Davis says of his chicken and egg donburi, "this was made with a chicken stock."

Davis says he felt confident throughout his ordeal, which had him execute his recipe at the JCC in Manhattan before international culinary megastar Jacques Pepin and a panel of judges featuring representatives from Weight Watchers,, and

"Obviously, it was intimidating," says Davis, 45, who has worked in mortgage banking for a decade. He says he became fascinated with Japanese cuisine when he taught English in Japan for four years.

Was it a dream to enter the kosher-cooking contest? "It was a fluke, my mother's friend told me I should apply," says Davis, who has three girls and a boy with his wife, Sarina, an English teacher. The couple, Davis says, split the cooking 60 [percent] to 40 [percent]," he says, "with me doing the 60."

Though he doesn't see himself opening a restaurant, Davis says he'd love to pursue a new career "developing recipes and marketing food products."

The contest had amateur chefs invent a dish using two Manischewitz products.

"I used the low-sodium chicken broth and their wasabi sauce," says Davis, who won a prize package of cash and kitchen appliances totaling $25,000.

You Don’t Have To Be Jewish...Manischewitz contest draws mixed crowd, but the top prize goes to a Hebrew school teacher with a Japanese recipe. By Amy Spiro


April 5, 2011

Three of the competitors at the fifth annual Man-O-Manischewitz Cook-Off last week couldn’t turn their ovens on.

That wasn’t due to technical difficulties. But since these competitors weren’t Jewish, they had to have others start the cooking process for them, so that all the food at the event could remain kosher.

Amid much fanfare in the basement of the JCC in Manhattan on a rainy Thursday last week, the five contestants — narrowed down from a field of more than 3,000 applicants — chopped, fried, sautéed and simmered their submitted recipes in front of an eager crowd.

Each dish had to include two products — one of which was broth — made by Manischewitz, a century-old company known for matzah and wine in addition to cookies, soups and pasta. The day began with a proclamation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office, naming the day “Man-O-Manischewitz Cook-Off Day.”

In the end, Stuart Davis of Cherry Hill, N.J., took home the top prize after cooking his “Chicken and Egg Donburi,” a Japanese dish that he started preparing when he taught English in Japan. He used a wasabi dip made by Manischewitz to round out the recipe.

Davis, the lone male and one of two Jewish participants in the competition, wasn’t selected as a finalist by the judges. Instead he was voted in by online users, from among four other semifinalists posted on the Manischewitz website.

“I had my students [at Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill] voting, and my wife had her students voting,” said Davis, of his online success. The 45-year-old father of four, who teaches Hebrew at the Conservative congregation, took home the $25,000 prize package, which includes a new dishwasher, oven and fridge from General Electric.

The panel of judges, headed by celebrity chef Jacques Pepin, awarded Davis the trophy and prize by a tiny margin; he received only a half point more than the second-place contestant.

The other finalists, who hailed from Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and West Virginia, brought an eclectic mix of flavors. One contestant’s “Simple Fisherman’s Stew” featured fennel and saffron, while another’s “Golden Sweet Potato Tagine” was flavored with plums, honey and garam masala.

Luckily, the 100-member audience didn’t have to wait until the contestants were done cooking for a sample: each of the competitors’ recipes was recreated by a catering service and available for tasting.

As the contenders cooked their dishes, the hosts, judges and viewers watched their kitchen skills and techniques. “I just like to see how comfortable contestants are in the kitchen,” said Lauren Salked, an editor at and one of the judges. “I want to see if it seems doable for the home cook.”

Though the contestants came from varied backgrounds, they all were eager to adapt to kosher ingredients. “It would be ignorant to limit myself to one cuisine,” said Naylet LaRochelle, as she chopped pistachios for her “Moroccan Chicken Bowl.” LaRochelle, a competitor from Miami who said she is Catholic and of Cuban heritage, was inspired to enter by her Jewish co-worker, and sees Moroccan flavors as a new trend. “It packs a lot of flavor without being too complicated.”

Suzanne Banfield, a contestant from Basking Ridge, N.J., who cooked a fisherman’s stew, said she discovered kosher food after she was diagnosed with Celiac disease, and cut gluten and dairy out of her diet. “I’ve become an obsessive label reader,” she said. “I go nuts at Passover,” when many items are gluten free.

Other competitors received inspiration from TV personalities, like Dina Burcat, a Baltimore contestant who created her “Shallot Smothered Chicken” after seeing celebrity chef Rachael Ray use shallots in a pasta dish. “I’ve cooked this for Shabbat dinner with my friends,” she said.

The diverse backgrounds of the contestants came as no surprise to Alain Bankier, co-CEO of Manischewitz. “It says that Manischewitz products are good for everybody,” said Bankier. “It’s just great food that happens to be kosher.”


Japanese Rice Bowl Takes Top Honors at Kosher Cook-off By Leslie Albrecht


March 31, 2011

Donburi, a traditional Japanese dish, won the Man-O-Manischewitz Cook-Off.

UPPER WEST SIDE — Kosher chefs, grab your chopsticks.

Donburi, a traditional Japanese dish, was crowned the winner Thursday of the Man-O-Manischewitz Cook-off, an annual event that showcases recipes made with ingredients from Manischewitz, the country's largest purveyor of kosher food.

More than 3,000 cooks submitted recipes for the competition, which awarded $25,000 worth of GE appliances to the grand prize winner, Stuart Davis of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Davis, who prepared a chicken and egg donburi, also called a rice bowl, cooked his dish along with four other finalists at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center on Thursday.

The five culinary competitors had one hour to whip up their kosher creations at stoves set up in the JCC auditorium. Then a panel of celebrity judges, including French chef Jacques Pepin, rated the dishes.

Competitors had to use two Manischewitz ingredients, including the company's new Ready to Serve Broth. Dishes were limited to nine ingredients, and were scored on taste, ease of preparation, creativity and originality.

As the five cooks bent over their cutting boards Thursday afternoon to cook fresh versions of their recipes for the judges, a crowd of Manischewitz executives and contestants' families and friends sampled versions of the dishes that had been prepared by caterers.

Manischewitz CEO Paul Bensabat said he was partial to the two recipes with a Moroccan theme — a golden sweet potato tagine and a Moroccan chicken bowl — because he was born in Casablanca.

Jeanette Nelson, a mother of three with a Southern drawl from Sophia, West Virginia, made the tagine, and Naylet LaRochelle of Miami cooked the Moroccan chicken bowl.

The two other finalists were Dina Burcat of Baltimore, who cooked shallot-smothered chicken, and Suzanne Banfield of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, who made fisherman's stew.

"The beauty is that we have contestants who are male, female, East Coast, West Coast, Jewish, not Jewish," Bensabat said, adding that only two of the five finalists were Jewish.

"We want to demonstrate the incredible versatility of kosher cooking. Kosher food should not be boring. It should be a culinary pleasure."

As the crowd feasted on the final recipes, Pepin walked to each station and chatted with the contestants. A veteran of cooking on camera for several TV cooking shows, Pepin told DNAinfo he had advice on how contestants could stay calm under pressure. "Have a glass of wine," he said. "You have to relax."

When the hour of cooking ended, each finalist presented their dish to the judges.

"Just like every Jewish mother has their version of chicken soup with matzo balls, every Japanese mother has a version of this," said Davis, who lived for several years in Japan.

When he was announced as the winner a few minutes later, he beamed and encouraged the crowd to try his recipe. "Make it at home, the low sodium broth works great," Davis said.

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