Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov doesn’t hesitate when asked if he is planning to apply any lessons learned from last year’s inaugural Bubby’s Cook-Off to this year’s event. “A lot less speeches,” he says. “This year, we are trying to slim down the program and just honor the volunteers and focus on the cook-off.”
That’s probably good news for the estimated 300-plus attendees who will be sampling kosher interpretations of classic Jewish comfort food by some of the region’s top chefs during the Feb. 26 fundraiser for The Friendship Circle North, a nonprofit organization created by Lubavitch of Bucks County to help local special needs children and their families. This year’s competition at Vie on North Broad Street will feature five chefs competing in the savory category: Rich Berardi, the chef de cuisine at Rat’s Restaurant in Hamilton, N.J.; Sonny Pache, the executive chef at Ocean Prime’s outpost in Philadelphia; Yehuda Sichel, the co-chef of the upcoming Abe Fisher restaurant; Pat Szoke, executive chef at Alla Spina in Philadelphia; and Laura Frangiosa, of the new Lansdowne spot, The Avenue Delicatessen.
People in the restaurant business are constantly asked to participate in fundraising events, so for Shemtov to attract so many well-known participants for his event is no small feat. Given how the issues affecting special needs families have never been more prevalent, it is no surprise that The Friendship Circle should prove to be such a draw.
Frangiosa says she can’t wait to pit her yearling against the more established establishments. “I’m very excited to be involved with all of these fine-dining guys,” she exclaims. “Because I’m the new kid on the block, I’m gonna come out swinging.” Her dish, chopped liver arancini with hearts of palm, celery and schmaltz aioli, is a spherical microcosm of her interfaith marriage to one of The Avenue’s other partners, Josh Skaroff. “Jewish cuisine isn’t terribly challenging for me,” she says. To her, it is as familiar as the Italian specialties she began cooking with her mother when she was 2 years old. “It’s all comfort food! Kasha varnishkes — it’s a pasta dish!”
Frangiosa is the only female chef competing in the savory category, but both chefs competing in the sweet category are women: Julia Deppe, the executive chef at Pure Sweets, which will be opening a retail location in Center City this spring; and Karen Nicholas, the executive chef at Merion’s Citron and Rose, one of the presenting partners, along with the Jewish Exponent, of the event.
In addition to the chefs’ offerings, Shemtov says there will be Israeli wines paired with each dish, as well as a full vegetarian station for people who don’t eat meat dishes like Pache’s veal-porcini kreplach or Berardi’s lamb shoulder with white bean puree, pickled beet salad and pistachio pistou. This year, texted votes to determine the best savory dish. For the dessert, Shemtov has assembled a panel of three celebrity judges: Hope Cohen, the media personality/ cookbook author; Marciarose Shestack, the veteran journalist; and Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office and one of the co-chairs of the event, along with Joe Weiss, chairman of Electronic Ink.
IF YOU GO
Feb. 26, starting at 5:30 p.m.
Vie, 600 N. Broad St., Philadelphia