Following the success of Netflix’s competitive baking series “Is It Cake?” comes season two: “Is It Cake, Too?” The premise is much the same: 10 “cake artists” wield their skills and creativity to bake very realistic cakes based on real-life objects. So realistic that they could be confused for said objects by a panel of celebrity judges. (From a distance, that is. One of the most infuriating aspects of the show is that the judges aren’t able to examine the bakes up close.) If they fail to convince the judges, they are put up for elimination and at risk of losing out on the $100,000 prize.
This, alas, is what happened to Jewish contestant Jarid Altmark in the first episode. The Florida native tried to fool the judges with his matzah ball soup cake — all while wearing a very large, gold chai necklace — to no avail.
Altmark is no stranger to competition. “I’ve competed on three Food Network competition shows,” he told The Nosher, “and on two of them I had to decorate Christmas trees, [and] sculpt elves and Santa. It was really uncomfortable to ‘put on a mask’ and have myself jammed into the storyline of the Jew who had never seen ‘A Christmas Story’ or never decorated a tree before.
“This show was the first time while being on TV where I felt comfortable enough with my own identity as a Jew to share something so personal and vulnerable.”
Altmark’s matzah ball soup (MBS) cake was spectacular, which is not surprising, as creating elaborate, hyper-realistic cakes is his day job — he founded Jarid’s Awesome Cakes and is about to launch lifestyle brand Bored and Baked. On the show, he explained that the concept was “as if I were preparing to make the matzah ball soup.”
“My Nana… used to feed our whole dysfunctional family each of the Jewish holidays, but especially Passover,” he told The Nosher. “In so many ways matzah ball soup symbolizes resilience and perseverance, qualities my Nana and Poppy embodied and transferred to me slurp by slurp.”
On a wooden chopping board sat a bright orange pot surrounded by onions, celery and baby carrots, all made of vanilla-orange sponge cake with mango curd and chocolate ganache filling.
These cake-vegetables were gorgeous, if anything more so than their real-life counterparts: the onion skins were paper-thin and looked like they would crumple at the slightest touch; the stalk of celery was a blend of perfect green shades. Even the pot was impressive, with subtle details like a charred handle enhancing its realism.
What might flummox some viewers was the addition of four (incredibly lifelike! Perfectly burnished!) sheets of matzah inside the pot.
It’s unusual to begin matzah ball soup prep with whole matzah sheets. We have many, many MBS recipes on The Nosher, including from Jewish chefs like Andrew Zimmern and Gail Simmons (humble brag) to name a few — but none of them call for whole matzah sheets.
That’s not to say it’s illogical: Way back in the day before matzah meal was available in basically every American supermarket — not to mention boxed matzah ball mix — Jewish cooks did have to grind whole matzah sheets into crumbs to make their matzah balls. Perhaps Altmark’s nana was just incredibly old school (if so, huge respect to her for embracing the patchke life). Or perhaps the addition of matzah was artistic license. We’ll probably never know for sure.
One thing we do know is that we love to see traditional Jewish dishes getting the attention they deserve on the international streaming stage. So thank you, Jarid, for your bling-y chai, your beautiful cake-soup and speaking for all of us when you said “matzah ball soup is so, so special to me.”
All eight episodes of “Is It Cake, Too?” are available to watch on Netflix.