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Contestants Have a Soup Fight

February 13, 2013 By:
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Steven Safern (right), owner of Hershel's East Side Deli, with Claire Mattukonis-Sweeney, the winner of the deli's first kosher-style soup contest on Sunday, Feb, 10, 2012. Andy Wash, a partner in the deli, is also pictured.

If you want to enter a kosher-style soup contest, clam chowder and lobster bisque aren’t the only varieties that are off-limits. But at Hershel’s East Side Deli on Sunday, a few contestants were unsure of the dietary boundaries and experimented with illicit treif substances.

One used ham to flavor his broth. Another included milk even though participants were asked not to use dairy products. 

The business, a Philadelphia incarnation of the classic New York kosher deli, saw more than 10 people haul pots from home to where the contest was held near the deli, inside Reading Terminal Market. Participants were asked to submit a list of ingredients with their concoctions and upon review, the judges — Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Michael Klein among them — discovered the performance-enhancing ingredients.

The participants were, of course, disqualified. No soup (prize) for you! 

The judges voted a Sweet Potato Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup to be the winner. 

“It tasted very good, very healthy, very unique,” said deli co-owner Steven Safern, who sampled the goods but was not one of the judges. 

The top three finishers won $500, $250 and $100, and can brag to their friends that their dish is now a regular soup du jour at Hershel’s.

Claire Mattukonis-Sweeney won the top prize, which pleased Safern because she is in the midst of paying college tuition for two kids. The second and third place finishers were a beet borscht and a cabbage soup.

Safern opened the deli seven years ago and named it after his uncle, a Holocaust survivor who saved his brother — Safern’s father, whose leg was crippled from polio — when the Nazis invaded Dy­now, Poland, and killed most of the Jews in the city. The two spent the war at a work camp in Siberia before eventually immigrating to the United States. 

Relatives owned Katz’s Delicatessen, a Lower East Side landmark, and Hershel worked at the restaurant as a meat carver and later as a chef. “My father always said, ‘If it wasn’t for Uncle Hershel, I never would have made it,’ ” Safern said. 

The deli plans to make the soup contest an annual event.

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