Four teams of chef-testants and four judges combined to create a lively, circuslike Hadassah competition, “Almost Chopped,” to raise money for research into neurological diseases Sunday, Jan. 21, at Spring Hall.
Most of us are touched by friends who have suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Jewish rock icon Neil Diamond, for example, just announced that he is retiring from touring because of a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
The Spring Hall ballroom had four cooking areas with a pantry of spices and other items any team could use in the middle. Over 250 guests sat theater-style on three sides of the room. Screens showed the action while MC Michelle Venter presided. Each chef-testant had the help of a sous chef and a runner.
Twice, the teams were given 30 minutes to prepare a course (appetizer and entrée) using identical baskets of mystery ingredients.
The appetizer allotment consisted of eggplant, popcorn, beets, anchovies and apples. For the entrée, the teams worked with halibut, fennel, barbecue sauce and maraschino cherries.
Judges and chefs Pano Karatassos of Kyma, Mimmo Alboumeh of Red Pepper Taqueria and Vince Scafiti of The Farmhouse at Persimmon Creek made insightful comments about texture, presentation and creative use of the ingredients. Chef Suzanne Vizethann of Buttermilk Kitchen had a death in the family and was replaced as a judge at the last minute by Micah Serwitz of Instead of Flowers.
Earlier in the afternoon, Karatassos, with his movie-star silver hair, said, “I think Hadassah chose an excellent charity to support, and I hope we raise a lot of money today toward finding cures.”
The teams — Sugar and Spice, Hash Slingers, Samantha Lives Next Door and Jersey Tomatoes — shared their humor and love of cooking in an intro video.
One woman said she rolled cabbage before she formed sentences as a toddler. Another combines clean cooking with fitness and the culinary talent passed down from her father. Hash Slingers sous chef Andy Stenmark said his son, team runner Tristan Bjorn Stenmark, was actually the best chef and their secret weapon.
Some took inspiration from the Food Network and celebrity cooks such as Ina Garten.
Samantha Ellis’ Samantha Lives Next Door team, with Rebecca Carey as sous chef, won the competition.
The spirited Jersey Tomatoes team of chef-testant Barbara Flexner, sous chef Michele Vernon and runner Judi Schnitzer revealed as a sidebar that Vernon will be commuting between New York and Atlanta, where she is executing Aurora, a free summer camp at the Davis Academy for children with cancer and their siblings. Schnitzer is best known for her Passover gefilte fish terrine.
Barbara Lang, who chaired the event with Holly Strelzik, said: “We were thrilled to see this project through from start to finish. The community has come together to help Hadassah combat these debilitating neurological diseases. Thank you to everyone who has participated. It does take a village.”
Hadassah women are well known for their grit and hard work in moving the needle forward for good causes like this one.