My Day as a Manischewitz Judge
March 28, 2013
Holy kreplach! I couldn’t believe it when, in January, I got a letter inviting me to be a judge in the Seventh Annual Manischewitz Cook-Off, scheduled for the week before Passover.
I was psyched. Finally, a chance to reclaim my Jewish roots! And eat! I was so in — especially if I could discover some new, family-friendly recipes to share with you all.
Last week I traveled to Manischewitz’s Newark headquarters, where a company executive greeted me and the five other judges. Among us was Jamie Geller, a cookbook author who’s a big star in the Kosher world.
We were briefed on the contest and rules: More than 2,000 entries had been submitted and narrowed down to the top five. The five semifinalists would get an hour to whip up their concoctions. Our job would be to monitor their progress, and, of course, taste-test. There was some serious gelt at stake for the winner: a new Maytag kitchen and enough cash to cover the taxes, for a total value of $25,000.
Soon enough, we gathered in the contest-staging area, clearing away section of the factory floor. Pallets of soup cans were stacked to the ceiling. An avid audience was on hand—media, VIPs, and even local kids. After introductory remarks by the company’s CEOs, it was game on.
We’d been asked to rate each dish’s ease of preparation and factor it into our overall scores, so I spent the hour assessing the chefs’ efforts. Were they using tons of pans? Fretting as they fried falafel balls or chicken breasts?
The hour flew by. Before we knew it, my fellow judges and I were seated at a long table, cameras trained on us as each contestant presented his or her scrumptious dish. We took our nibbles, and rated each offering. It was tough to choose a favorite!
Our score sheets where whisked away for tabulation.
For her Faux Pho, an Asian noodle dish made with Manischewitz broth and noodles, Josie Shapiro from Sah Francisco took top honors—and twenty-five grand to boot. It was amazing to watch her get teary as she accepted the trophy.
Shapiro truly earned her big win, for showing that you can still enjoy Far-East flavors while keeping kosher. You can get the recipe (and another fave of mine, a chicken, potato, and leek pie) online.
I returned home with a lovely engraved serving tray, commemorating my service as a judge, as well as stories I’ll be dining out on for many a Seder to come.
Happy holidays to all our Jewish and non-Jewish friends, and if you should enter the Eighth annual Manischewitz Cook Off, may the top prize not “pass over” you!