Jewish cuisine icon Molly Yeh made history on the Food Network by hosting the channel’s first Festival of Lights special. Talk about a Hanukkah miracle!
On Saturday, the Girl Meets Farm host was joined by fellow celebrity chefs Sharone Hakman and Duff Goldman to judge the “Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge” contestants cooking skills. Before you watch the special, be warned, Yeh is of the minority of Jews who pronounce latke as “lat-key.”
The four chef contestants — Jeffrey Eisner, Kwon Benowitz, Ryan Costanza, Penny Davidi — competed against each other in an elimination process for the grand prize of a free trip to the City of Lights, AKA Paris, France. Read on for spoilers, if you dare!
In the first round, Yeh asked the gang to cook latkes in 30 minutes. Sounds simple, right? Here’s the catch: no potatoes were provided. Instead, the contestants had to create “out of the box latkes,” as Yeh calls them, with limited unconventional ingredients: beets; carrots; brussels sprouts; parsnips, and zucchini. Sauce ingredients included pineapple, sriracha, cranberries, tomato, and horseradish.
Eisner from Long Island, a self-taught chef, served up a carrot-based latke with sriracha mayonnaise for a sweet and sour palate. How’d it fare with the judges? Sharone admitted it looked quite basic, but the flavor was delicious. Duff agreed, noting it’s “not culinary genius, but it’s delicious.” When Eisner heard the compliment, he began to cry! “This guy’s verklempt!” Duff exclaimed.
Next up was Benowitz, a personal chef in D.C. and mom of two. The judges were happy with her brussels sprout latkes with tomato sour cream dipping sauce, but weren’t in love.
“I’ve been making brussels sprout latkes since Thanksgivikkuh!” Yeh said to Benowirtz. “Do you remember when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapped?” Duh, Molly. Who could forget?
Costanza, the executive chef at Freedman’s Restaurant in LA, prepared a latke dish made of beets and horseradish. Yeh loved that it was thick like a burger, while Sharone wished there was more horseradish.
Davidi, a culinary consultant from LA, was disqualified in the first round for her zucchini grilled cheese latkes with pineapple and labneh sauce.
With only three contestants left, Yeh segued into the second incredibly tough Hanukkah challenge: brisket in 90 minutes.
Ryan prepared a red wine glazed brisket with roasted root vegetables and tzimmes. How’d it fare? Yesh said the entree “gave bubbes everywhere a run for their money.”
The judges then tried Jeffrey’s brisket meatballs with egg noodle pasta, and a salad with halva croutons (a mix of challah and halva). Kwon then served her braised brisket and braised red cabbage to the judges.
All the brisket dishes were so scrumptious the judges couldn’t choose a winner! They jokingly spun a dreidel for destiny to choose who should be eliminated, but ultimately, they couldn’t give anyone the boot. In a Hanukkah miracle of sorts, all three contestants continued on to the third round.
But will there be enough oil for all to share? For the final challenge, Yeh asked the three chefs to bake two sufganiyot with the following ingredients: tahini; blueberries; sour cream; pear.
Jeffrey served up a double-decker donut with blueberry compote and a gelt cream donut. Ryan concocted a fig and white chocolate sufganiyah, as well as one with coconut cream and mango. As for Kwon? She baked a sweet tahini cream donut and a saffron creme Anglaise — and won.
Mazel tov to Kwon for winning the best Hanukkah gifts ever: pride, glory, and a trip to Paris! Sadly the special isn’t airing on television again anytime soon, but you can log in onto The Food Network app and watch throughout the rest of Hanukkah this year.