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Latke MasterChef set at Chabad Jewish Center

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Latke MasterChef and Adult Social

When: Sunday, Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma, 205 Keller St., #101

Website: jewishpetaluma.com

The Latke MasterChef and Adult Social is back for its second year after a successful inaugural run last December.

This year’s event is Sunday, Dec. 8, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma (205 Keller St., #101) and hosted by Rabbi Dovid Bush and his wife, Devorah. Pronounced without the “C,” the Chabad Jewish Center welcomes all, both Jews and gentiles, to enjoy the holidays, learn more about Jewish traditions but most importantly, to share in our community.

Upon arrival, guests are treated to appetizers, including a homemade soup bar, cheeses and Kosher wines, while the competitors prepare their take on the potato latke. Potato latkes are a traditional Eastern European and Jewish potato pancake. Potato pancakes seem to pop in many cuisines around the world, each with its own style. Shredded, then blended with other veggies, herb and spices, latkes are then usually topped with a sauce of choice.

Once the competitors have submitted their latkes to the judges, all the guests get a chance to sample each latke and decide a winner for themselves while the official judging panel of restaurateurs, chefs and industry types picks the winners and awards trophies.

I was one of those industry types last year and had a great time tasting the fresh and very diverse flavors of latkes while spending time with my incredible co-judges. They were Sarah Meeks of Sarah’s Eats & Sweets, Jarret Dennis of Simply Strudels and Jan Rosen of Rosen’s 256 North and J.M. Rosen’s Cheesecakes. We were thoroughly impressed with the entrees, which ranged from vegan to gluten free. In the end, the entry that we felt best incorporated and celebrated the potato flavor was a vegan latke from Marci Howard and Piper Frank, who will return this year as judges.

You can attend as a guest, but why not join as a competitor? Other than your imagination, everything else is provided by the organizers, from the potatoes to the cooking instruments to a wide variety of accompanying veggies, herbs and spices. Latke recipes abound. Although I call myself an eater, not a cooker, even I have tried my hand at latkes before and found them to be fun and easy to make, with an endless number of options for adding your own individual flavor.

Tickets are $18 for singles and $30 for couples and available at jewishpetaluma.com. When you purchase, you will be prompted to choose between “I’d like to lead a team,” “I’d like to be on a team” and “I just want to enjoy.” The price is the same no matter what, and all the money is going towards a good cause. I highly recommend joining a team to help prep and cook. It is a blast and takes that special community vibe, and holiday cheer, to a higher level.

Judges this year include Meeks, Shaina and Joe Ferraro of Penngrove Market, as well as the above-mentioned winners from last year.

Last year’s champions Howard and Frank were kind enough to pass along their winning recipe with the caveat that they pretty much cook by feel, so cannot offer exact measurements. Their formula starts with grated potatoes, of course, with one diced onion for every two-to-three potatoes. They add lots of kosher salt, as well as garlic powder and a handful of chopped/minced parsley. Then comes a little bit of turmeric, which quickly gained popularity in the culinary world due to its unique flavor and widely touted health benefits. Finally, the recipe calls for just enough kosher egg-replacement (remember, this is a vegan) to bind the latke, with a little bit of matzo meal to “absorb any excess liquid.” Heat the oil until hot, add one ice cream scoop size at a time to the pan, “patting it down to make a pancake” and turn once golden brown, which is about four minutes per side. Once finished, they drain the latke off on a brown paper bag and keep them warm in the oven at 250 degrees until ready to eat, at which point they encourages diners to top the latkes any way they see fit.

Latke MasterChef and Adult Social

When: Sunday, Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma, 205 Keller St., #101

Website: jewishpetaluma.com

Devorah Bush, who is a true gourmet and a master in the kitchen, also offered up her latke recipe. “Devorah’s Smoky Sweet Potato Latkes” start with two medium sweet potatoes (about two pounds), add one medium red onion, two large eggs, half-a-teaspoon each of bittersweet smoked paprika and flaky sea salt. Add freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper and 3-4 tablespoons of flour or matzo meal.

Devorah’s instructions show just how easy it is to create delicious latkes – just shred the potatoes, mix the ingredients and fry up your latkes. Devorah prefers hers topped with caramelized onion sauce. She also makes all the latke topping sauces you will find at Latke MasterChef, including caramelized onion, mango jam, cranberry jam, sour crème, apple sauce and jalapeno crema. I grew up topping potato latkes with applesauce so the added choices were welcome and every one was a delightful addition to fantastic and freshly made latkes.

Last year, dessert included a Gelt cake, which will hopefully make a repeat appearance. Gelt is the traditional gold foil-wrapped chocolate “coins” that dreidelers compete to win.

Chanukah was incorporated into last year’s Lakte MasterChef, but is later this year so there will be no lighting of the Menorah. That will start on the first night of Chanukah, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 22, at Chabad’s fifth annual “Chanukah at the River” with the lighting of a mega 9-foot-tall Menorah. It will be followed by the Great Chanukah Gelt Drop, latkes, donuts and chocolate gelt, as well as fire juggling, face painting and a photo-op with a life-sized dreidel. There will also be music, Chanukah crafts, a grand raffle and giveaways for the first 50 kids.

Back at Latke MasterChef, Rabbi Dovid is sure to give a brief presentation explaining the festival of Chanukah and how it teaches “us about the power of light over darkness and right over might” as well as how we can strive to make a difference in our community, which as we all know, is the Petaluma way.

We enjoy all the Chabad events we have attended because each time we learn a little more about the Jewish culture in a relaxing, inclusive, community environment. Dovid and Devorah Bush are simply delightful people, who aim to make the Chabad Jewish Center and all its great events open, educational and welcoming to all.

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