In the past, the big finale has been held in Manhattan; this year, the finals of the seventh annual Man-O-Manischewitz Cook-Off took place right in the heart of kosher country, at the company’s headquarters in the industrial area of Newark.
Even as the five finalists from all over the country started their ovens, the massive matza production line continued its output — about one million sheets a day as Passover approached.
Guests who had trekked to the unfamiliar reaches of the city got a tour of the facility. They also got a recipe demo by the contest’s chief judge, celebrity chef Jamie Geller, and a lunch featuring the caterers’ version of contestants’ recipes — which must include the 125-year-old company’s All-Natural Broth, plus one additional Manischewitz product.
The judges chose Josie Shapiro of San Francisco as the winner for her “Faux Pho,” a hearty Thai-style coconut soup with noodles. She was as cool as a cucumber at her work station. “I have two kids and a job” — as a fund-raiser for Jewish Learning Works. “If I couldn’t manage time I’d be in chaos,” she said. But faced with victory and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, she declared herself speechless.
Booker wasn’t. Always easy with Yiddishkeit, he read out a proclamation declaring the date “Manischewitz Day” in recognition of the company’s commitment to the city, and concluded by saying, “Baruch Hashem! And Yasher koach, Manischewitz — thank God, and congratulations!”
The focus of much of the nachas was 17-year-old Yitzi Taber of Bergenfield, the only Jerseyan among the finalists and the youngest finalist ever. “I love cooking, and I love doing this,” he declared.
In addition to his family members, he was cheered by a big contingent of classmates from the Torah Academy of Bergen County. Asked about his best dishes, one of the students drew nods of agreement when he said, “His chocolate mousse pie.”
Last year’s winner was another young male kitchen maven, 20-year-old Eric Silberman, a pre-med student at Princeton University with strong family ties to New Jersey, which he called then his “second home.” He was there this time to present the winner with her award. He recalled his own prizes: $25,000 in cash and kitchen equipment. “I gave some of the equipment to my mother,” said Silberman, who lives in a dorm, “and the rest I donated to a group home. It was really great to see how it was put to use.”
Yitzi said he was disappointed that his garlic chicken rollatini didn’t win, but he was already thinking ahead to the Shabbat meal he would be making the next day for family and friends, as he does every week. “They urged me to take a break, but I don’t want to,” he said. “I never want to take a break from cooking.”