The annual Manischewitz cook-off is more than food; it is a media spectacle with celebrity chef judges, public officials, and journalists from newspapers, magazines, television stations, and blogs covering this national live cooking competition.
The 5th annual Man-o-Manischewitz contest fitted five hobbyist chefs against each other at the JCC on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I had attended last year’s cook off and had been fairly impressed because of the spectacle that Manischewitz creates around this media event. There were celebrity judges, like French Chef Jacques Pepin, to preside over the cook off competition and there was a representative from Mayor Bloomberg's office who brought an official deceleration that the day was to be known as Man-o-Manischewitz day.
All but two of the contestants were “professional cook off competitors” who had in the past participated in a number of cook offs and other culinary challenges. The other two chefs, Stuart Davis from Cherry Hill, New Jersey; and Dina Burcat from Baltimore, were avid cooking enthusiasts whose creativity had landed them a much deserved spot in the competition. My objectivity was absent from the event because I’ve been friends with Dina for almost a decade, since I’ve first met her during a visit to the University of Maryland.
Back then, I didn't have the ability to cook myself a box of pasta but Dina made a Shabbat meal that I remember 10 years later as really amazing. Since then she has continued to hone her cooking skills and after submitting recipes to Manischewitz for the past three years, she was finally given a chance to compete at the cook-off.