The doors opened on Sunday, May 7, at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun to a packed event that filled the social hall to its seams. Naomi Nachman, hailing from Woodmere, by way of Australia, a renowned personal chef and author of the cookbook “Perfect for Pesach,” played hostess, bustling around the room and setting up four tables with mystery food items. While guests enjoyed a sumptuous buffet catered by Teaneck’s own Gotham Burger, digging into a sliders bar, a taco bar, salads, wraps and assorted vegetables, Nachman prepared for Bnai Yeshurun’s first-ever Chopped Challenge, a cooking contest between groups of contestants.
The groups were given assorted food items in an Israeli theme, including raw chicken breast, falafel mix, couscous, pickles and package of Bissli, and in a half hour were required to cook and plate a meal. Doing so meant that groups needed precise teamwork, agreement and flexibility to pull it off in the allotted time and in the most innovative and delectable way. Heads bent over the ingredients, the contestants got to work as the smell of smoky oil filled the air and flames licked the edges of their plastic spoons. There was laughter in the room as participants raced around the table chopping, frying, slicing and breading. Falafel mix became too watery, pickles were fried and couscous turned into mush, but the teams brainstormed and figured out ways to salvage what could have been disastrous, turning these mishaps into minor culinary miracles.
Judges Henry Orlinsky, Rabbi Ari Zahtz and Ruthie Bodner were astounded by the falafel-crusted chicken, the deconstructed matbucha, the palate-cleansing water and the assortment of Israeli salad and fried pita chips that the teams presented. Each group worked hard and gave a memorable presentation, but ultimately the unanimous decision was that Team Four was the winner, with their Bissli-crusted chicken topped with spicy homemade matbucha; an Israeli panzanella salad with chumus, salsa and fresh za’atar pita chips; and vegan falafel-couscous fritters. Squeals of glee were heard as medals were distributed to the champions, and Nachman congratulated all who participated.
It was as if the attendees could not accept that the contest had ended as people continued to mill around the room, sampling the food and enjoying dessert, hoping for more fun. The event brought so many of all ages together, members and non-members of Bnai Yeshurun alike, and created a sense of achdut and camaraderie. CBY already has other events in the planning stages, and aims to continue to build the community through its novel and diverse programming.
Sarah Abenaim is a writer and also a contestant on the winning team of the Chopped Challenge! She proudly wears her medal all around Teaneck.
By Sarah Abenaim