Eleven Chefs Put the Sizzle In Philly’s Latkepalooza

By Jordana Horn

Published December 16, 2005, issue of December 16, 2005.
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Last Sunday, Philadelphia’s Gershman Y assembled an array of the city’s top chefs for its third annual Latkepalooza. The scene would have made the Iron Chef proud:

One room, 11 chefs, two-and-half hours and more than 5,000 sizzling latkes.

Twelve dollars was all that the mere mortal needed to play food critic for the day. And as one might have expected, opinions differed wildly as to which latke was the winner.

“The Whole Foods latkes were your basic traditional latkes, with good heirloom applesauce,” Philadelphian Jeremy Kukafka said.

“The Bookbinder’s latkes were the best,” Meredith Goldsmith of Phoenixville, Pa., countered from her place farther up in the line. With roughly grated potatoes topped by smoked salmon, crème fraîche and salmon roe, these weren’t your bubbe’s latkes. Then again, Bookbinder’s — a Philadelphia temple of trayf — is perhaps not where one’s bubbe would have gone looking for latkes. Latkepalooza, however, is a strictly kosher affair.

The participating chefs did not allow this small fact to fetter their imaginations. Unconventional latkes were to be found in abundance. A couple of the offerings — the wasabi latkes, for instance — were, in the eyes of some a little too unconventional. Some didn’t even look like latkes. The boxy ginger-cilantro “latke” being offered by chef Joseph Poon looked much more like kugel.

By far, the longest line in the room led to Fritz Blank and his cabbage latkes. Blank, chef de cuisine of the elegant Deux Cheminées, eschewed potatoes entirely. The relative lightness of his batter was an unequivocal word-of-mouth hit.

“Is there at least some onion in there?” a reporter asked.

“I completely forgot the onions!” Blank laughed, assigning blame for the omission to his assistant. “But they taste good anyway, right?”






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