Sunday’s latke-eating contest in Teaneck featured a number of surprises.
"The weather and sudden death," says Stuart Kahan, co-owner of Ma’adan delicatessen on Cedar Lane, which sponsored the contest and provided the freshly cooked latkes. Fortunately "sudden death" in this context doesn’t refer to the health problems caused by eating so many latkes in a short time, but to the tie-breaker necessary to choose a winner in two of the three divisions of the contest, which was held for youth, teen, and adult contestants.
Contestants in the ages 7-1′ category line up with their latkes before the contest starts.
The weather was balmy for December, enabling the competition to be held outside for the first time, in the Chestnut Street pedestrian mall in the center of town. The event attracted about 70 people.
Anyone who has gone through the laborious, last-minute, and messy process of making latkes for a Chanukah party will appreciate the stacks and stacks of hot potato pancakes that arrived just before the start of the contest. Kahan had mixed the batter for ’00 latkes at Ma’adan, with others doing the frying just before the contest; about 90 were downed in short order. The tantalizing scent of crispy latkes filled the air as referees began filling paper plates; applesauce and water were available as well to help ease the eating.
Akiva Chasan, 1′, of Bergenfield, beat out eight other boys and girls to win the 7 to 1′ age group and the prize package of a $’5 gift certificate to Ma’adan, the board game Teaneck-opoly, and a bag of Chanukah gelt.
Akiva’s training regime? "I skipped breakfast, as I usually do on Sundays," he says. The seventh-grader also pronounced Ma’adan’s latkes "okay" but not quite as good as his dad’s homemade ones. During the three-minute contest, he downed two latkes, approximately four ounces each. His parents confirmed that he has no upper limit in latke consumption at home.
In the teen division, ages 13 to 17, there were only three contestants, including two brothers from the Herskowitz family of Teaneck. After an intense three minutes, two of the contestants were tied. Winner Benny Herskovitz, 17, who attends the Frisch School in Paramus, had appeared to falter in the final seconds of the first part of the competition, but took several deep breaths and then plunged in again to best his rival and win the division and $100, a $’5 gift certificate to Ma’adan, and the board game. Benny pumped his raised arms in victory as his win was announced.
Shalom Krischner, below, and The Standard’s Josh Lipowsky, above, celebrate winning and mourn losing, respectively.
His worst moment? "When I realized we were going into sudden death, and I had to eat more!"
Then came the moment of truth for the adult division, where The Jewish Standard’s own Josh Lipowsky was ready to munch for glory against seven other men. Bracing himself against the table like a runner at the start line, Lipowsky waited out the countdown to the start, then ripped into his latkes. He was soon in trouble, however, washing down the food with water, gasping for air, while his co-eaters plunged ahead, robotically consuming pancake after pancake. Lipowsky made a valiant effort to catch up but suddenly it was over for Standard’s contestant.
When the crumbs settled, there were three men standing (or at least trying). All had consumed five full latkes. There was no way to settle the matter but to require that they eat two more. The first one to finish would be the big winner.
And a minute or two later, it was software engineer Shalom Krischer’s day. Kirscher, 45, had calmly downed two more pancakes and had been the first to finish. For good measure, he had one more as he talked with this reporter. The slender father of three from Teaneck said his secret was that he hadn’t expected to win and didn’t particularly try to; rather, he was there for the latkes. "Stu’s are the best," according to Krischer.
The next day Krischer reported no digestive after-effects whatsoever and said that the $’50 prize money will go toward a digital camera or camcorder "we haven’t decided yet."
Karel Littman, director of the Cedar Lane Business District/Teaneck Economic Development Corp., which handled publicity for the event, said that she was "happy to promote Chanukah, and holidays of all faiths. Just yesterday, we had Santa and a toy collection right here."
Her own daughter, Beth L. Weinshank, 11, was a latke-eater in the 7 to 1′ division. "She didn’t win, but she’s already strategizing for next year!"
In the meantime, Kahan reported that as of Monday, his delicatessen had made and sold 5,300 latkes at $1.50 each.
And that’s not just chopped liver.