This week, on the third night of Hanukkah, the Fourth Annual Latke Festival took place at BAM: Brooklyn Academy of Music. Over 400 eaters and drinkers, and over 17 restaurants, chefs, or chefs-in-training convened in the theater’s lobbies to sample latkes of various kinds. Eaters were presented with a scorecard and a fork upon entrance and invited to go wild.
The “people’s choice” award went to taco-obsessed Micah Fredman, 25, for his Yucca and Sweet Potato Latke which was topped by queso fresco, cilantro, spicy green hot sauce, a red colored delicate pickled onion leaf, and a droplet of apple plantain sorbet. Micah, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household and recently graduated from Yale, was attracted to the culinary arts, met a chef, and is now training under him in the kitchen of famed Gramercy Tavern. Fredman’s ingredient list included yucca, plantain, sorbet, queso fresco, red onions, pickled onions, jalapenos, apples, cinnamon, beets, coriander, shallots, cilantro, and cider vinegar.
The judges’ award was presented to Balaboosta for its Potato, Yam and Carrot Latke topped with Honey, preserved Lemon and Yogurt Sauce. Balaboosta, which can mean perfect housewife in Yiddish (or is related to Ba’al HaBayit – Master of the House – in Hebrew) is a casual Middle Eastern trattoria in Manhattan’s Little Italy. It is run by Einat Admony. She also owns the popular Taim felafel locations.
The judges included Leonard Lopate, the host of NPR/WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show;”
Gabriella Gershenson of Saveur magazine; Lee Schrager of the NY Wine and Food Festival; and authors Leah Koenig and Rozanne Gold.
Other popular latkes were Clinton Street Baking Company’s he Latke with house-smoked salmon, salmon roe and chive creme fraiche; and The Spud Maccabee, which was a thick croquette-like latke with pickled fennel jam, butternut squash and creme fraiche from The Farm on Adderley.
I avoided the Plaza’s Potato Latke with juniper-spiced venison and Fuji apple-huckleberry jam from The Plaza, and the latke topped with crab from Fatty ‘Cue. I personally thought that the BAMcafe’s Indian Spiced Latke with cauliflower chutney and crushed cashews was the tastiest latke. As was the Laid Back Latke that was topped with a deviled egg from Dizzy’s Cafe.
Sadly I did not get to sample Berlyn’s Ganz Gut Latke with was topped with Goose Confit and Roasted Squash Apples, since I wanted to stay on the dairy side of things. I sort of expected the Sussman Brothers to have a bacon topped latke, but they did latkes three ways, which were latkes with a variety of three sauces.
Other particpants included: A Voce (Potato Latke with Fontina, Apple, and Truffles);
Blue Ribbon Brooklyn (Potato Pancakes with Vanilla Applesauce and Schmaltzy (chicken fat) Onions); Mae Mae Cafe (Local Latke: Potato and Celery Root Latke with Hudson Valley Duck Confit, Huckleberry and Crispy Kale); Norma’s (Magic Mushroom Cakes: Traditional Latkes made with Mushrooms & Onions and topped with Porcini Mushroom Sauce and Cranberry-Apple Sauce); Stone Park Cafe (Short Rib Latke); The Vanderbilt (Potato and Mountain Yam Latke with Beef Short Ribs topped with Brussels sprout, Apple, Caraway Kimchi, topped with Housemade Sourcream ); Veselka (Duo of Potato Latke with Balsamic Lemon CrÃ¨me Fraiche, Fresh Shaved Black Truffles and Micro Green Salad); and miniature bialys from ethic bakers, Hot Bread Kitchen.