Monday, March 27, 2023

New York—It is no secret that for hundreds, maybe even a thousand years, Jewish cooks have had an ongoing, unceasing chulent competition. Whether this typical Shabbos lunch competition took place in shtetlach in the old country, where families would swipe each others’ stewpots from the baker’s ovens on their way home from shul, or among our grandparents who made the Kiddush rounds, tasting and judging the chulent (and potato kugel) at every stop along the way home—including in their own homes—in places like Crown Heights, Borough Park and Williamsburg in 50s and 60s, or college kids at YU in the 21st century who have managed to come up with their own dorm room and kitchenette concoctions.

Hence this week’s hot Chulent Contest among YU foodies, open to all students at YU and Stern. Like all kitchen competition shows on cable and network, these “kitchens” (if a folding table with a crockpot qualifies as a kitchen) came stocked with some supplies for each of 23—that’s right, count ‘em! 23 Chulent teams. The legacy continues.

Last week, the teams gathered the night before judgment and headed to their stations, where they found potatoes, onions, beef, barley, beans, salt and pepper. Each team was then handed a bag filled with their requested secret ingredients.

Top among them were paprika—smoked, Hungarian, Spanish—sriracha, hot dogs and pastrami. Only one team requested fresh garlic. They went through 50 lbs. of potatoes and 50 lbs. of onions, and everyone got at least a pound of meat, some requested additional meats in their secret ingredients.

The secret ingredients varied; they ranged from spices, to bone marrow, to Dr. Pepper and hit everything expected and unexpected in between. One team, the Hasmonean Turkey, served a Thanksnukkah chulent made with the expected cast of ingredients and then added latkes, turkey, cranberry sauce and butternut squash to the pot.

Los Pollos Hermanos (The Chicken Brothers), a trio who entered in Hazmat suits, created an homage to the popular television series, Breaking Bad, in their crock pot—with the power of blue chulent. Another team, featuring Teaneck local Michael Billet, had chocolate in their secret ingredient bag—to snack on for inspiration while they cooked.

Yet another team had a pineapple, but it wasn’t for snacking. The Four Chulenteers put the pineapple, maple syrup, soy sauce, eggs and hot sauce in their chulent.

“We’re trying to be avant-garde and go for a sweet, tangy taste,” one of the Chulenteers, a Stern student from Baltimore, explained.

This year’s competition was open to both Yeshiva University and Stern College students. In addition to all boy and all girl teams, there were collaborations between the schools.

Ariel Relich, YU Senior, has been cooking chulent every week since his freshman year of high school.

The winning team? The Spice Boys, using kishka, sriracha and hotdogs to create a delicious chulent that everyone could agree on.

By Aliza Chazan

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