April 9, 2024
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YINR Cholent Throwdown Returns

Popular vote second-place team of Ari Farkas and son Gabriel.

On Friday, February 9, the Young Israel of New Rochelle held its 10th Cholent Throwdown; the previous competition was in 2020. Carmiel Schonfeld reflected, “This was such a popular event that we just wanted to get it back on the calendar and get it back in the community.” After 14 contestants prepared their cholents on Thursday night, only minor tweaks were allowed before candle-lighting.

With several father/son teams, YINR Rabbi Reuven Fink observed: “This is a legacy passed on from fathers to sons. Jewish tradition and Shabbos are important not only from mothers to daughters. They go to shul together, daven together, and cook special Shabbos foods together.”

Jonathan Jacobs and daughter Penelope guarding their family’s secret recipe.

Ari and Gabriel Farkas comprised one father/son team. Displaying cutting techniques, Ari explained, “I enjoy showing my kids how the kitchen works. New this year for our cholent is homemade kishka.” The Farkas cholent has barley and quinoa but no beans. “Some people may find that interesting or different.” Gabriel said, “It’s fun making cholent with my dad.”

YINR Associate Rabbi Chaim and Rebbetzin Yael Axelrod were first-time entrants. Yael remarked: “The YINR Cholent Throwdown is one of the highlights of the year. Of course we wanted to participate!” Describing their dish, “It is the simplest cholent you will find.”

YINR Associate Rabbi Chaim Axelrod (left) with his chefmate Rebbetzin Yael.

Previous winner and The Kosher Dinner Lady Rachel Berger entered the competition hoping to reclaim her champion title. Berger chose boneless short ribs and kielbasa. “I use whatever meat is on sale and looks good. The first time I won, I used kielbasa; I decided to use that again.” Chili sauce was one new ingredient. “I thought I’d add something different; I know it’s risky to mess with the perfect recipe.” Berger’s seasoning included maple syrup, tomato paste, paprika and garlic powder, as well as garlic-pepper salt she received from her Lev HaOlam subscription.

Father/son team Gerald and Zachary Cohen submitted Moroccan cholent, which Gerald noted is called Dafina or Chamin. They used cheek meat, bone marrow, potatoes, rice and wheat berries. Gerald explained: “Rice and wheat berries are cooked in bags, separated for serving and eating. In Ashkenazi cholent, you can’t tell one ingredient from another. Here, you have rice on one side, wheat berries on the other, potatoes and meat in the middle.” Cohen’s spices included saffron, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon.

Popular vote YINR winner Rachel Berger.

The father/daughter team of Jonathan and Penelope Jacobs wouldn’t reveal anything about their recipe, claiming it’s a “family secret.” Jonathan, a previous YINR winner, also won two cholent competitions at Columbia University.

First-time contestant Anthony Sneag, who has been cooking a lot more in the past couple of years, also used cheek meat, because “it’s a softer, fattier cut of meat.” Contestant Josh Stein explained: “I use lamb. I don’t need to do anything else. The basic recipe is salt, pepper and lamb.” His cholent had barley but no beans. “The lamb adds all the flavor. The fat of the lamb gets into everything, it’s a lazy man’s cholent. If you don’t like lamb, you will not like my cholent.”

Jack Goldberg joins his family team effort.

The Goldberg family also returned as contestants. Michelle Goldberg described how her family first sears the meat before adding it to the pot. Her husband, Justin, explained, “Our cholent is spicy, not as traditional.” As for their son Jack, “I am not really a spicy guy, but I like my dad’s cholent!”

Two separate voting versus judging processes yielded two distinct winners. Three judges named a winner after each judge blindly sampled each cholent behind closed kitchen doors immediately preceding the event. Afterwards, every guest taster was allocated one vote, with winners decided via a ticketing system.

Over 200 cholent enthusiasts attended to taste the creations. The popular vote went to Rachel Berger, with Gabriel and Ari Farkas coming in second and the Cohens placing third. The judges awarded the 2024’s Top Cholent Chef title to the Malina family led by Abie Malina, with second place going to Shamir Seidman, and a tie for third between Yoni Ellman and the Goldberg family.

Gerald Cohen (right) showing his son Zachary the fine art of Chamin with YINR Rabbi Reuven Fink (left).

Berger believes it was the color and texture that set her cholent above the rest. “I am so excited. I saw I have a very young following. Lots of young fans made me believe in myself and my cholent. My fans were very discriminating. After they tasted my cholent, they said, to be fair, they needed to taste the other cholents, but they came back to give me their tickets. It was very gratifying.”

While Abie Malina would not reveal the family’s secret recipe, it was noted that their cholent pot was otherwise empty after the contest, with only a large bone remaining. He exclaimed: “I knew what the judges wanted. I just knew how to deliver.” Malina, who makes cholent every week, attributed his success to consistency and experience.

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