|Barton Lee (left) and Yitzi Tabler (right) display their medals, flanking host Stuart Kahan. Josh Lipowsky|
TEANECK ““ A little rain couldn’t keep these gastronomic gladiators from festively feasting during Ma’adan’s annual Chanukah caloric challenge.
A light drizzle forced the eighth annual latke-eating contest inside Ma’adan’s Cedar Lane store on Sunday, instead of its usual spot on the pedestrian plaza, but new and returning contestants still turned out for the annual test of epicurean fortitude.
Seventeen-year-old Yitzi Taber of Bergenfield claimed the title in the 13-17 age division, finishing off four latkes. There were no entries in the under-13 category this year.
“It feels great,” he said. “I just really wanted to win something. And I love latkes.”
In the adult category, it came down to a tie of eight latkes each between three-time champion Shalom Krischer of Teaneck and newcomer Barton Lee of Allendale. The pair headed to a “sudden-death” run-off to finish two latkes in the fastest time. When the crumbs finally settled, Lee was triumphant.
Lee credited his win to “a lot of willpower and determination,” he said. “And putting applesauce on the potato pancakes and pacing myself. [The applesauce] allowed the pancake to go down easier.”
This wasn’t Lee’s first foray into competitive eating. He had participated in hot dog eating contests while a student at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. This, however, was his first kosher eating contest, he said.
“I just wanted to try it on a whim,” said the 45-year-old information analyst, who said he learned about the contest from reading the Jewish Standard. “I just said I had to do what I had to do in order to try to accomplish this feat. I was monitoring my progress and the progress of my competitor.”
This year’s contest was a real “nail bitter,” said Stuart Kahan, co-owner of Ma’adan and the contest’s organizer. Last year’s winner, a first-time entrant and semi-professional eater, did not show, but contestants set new records for latkes devoured. At the end of the day, Lee and Krischer each had finished 10 of the quarter-pound latkes, or 5.5 pounds each.
(This reporter, continuing a losing streak of gastronomic proportions, finished only five latkes, a total of 1.25 pounds. It should be noted, however, that this feat was accomplished one-handed, while snapping pictures with the other hand.)
As in past years, Kahan offered prizes to the crowd in exchange for correct answers to Chanukah trivia questions, which he said adds an educational dimension to the contest.
“We want it to have meaning,” he said. “I don’t want it to be just a food fest.”
With the recent closings of Louie’s Charcoal Pit and Cedar Lane Cinemas, long-time stalwarts of the Cedar Lane business district, Kahan said he hopes that events like the latke contest will bring some positive attention to the area and help spark more foot traffic.
“Anything that shines a light on this business district helps,” he said. “Every event, every good word. I’m hoping different organizations will come through and find a solution to the theater.”
Keeping in mind that many people still are suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, Kahan said that leftovers from the contest were to be picked up charities that would deliver them to those in need.
“This is what community’s about – doing things like this, helping out victims of Sandy,” he said. “When things like this happen, life still goes on, but you have to remember and deal with [tragedy].”
Besides the medals and gift certificates the winners receive, the contest has other rewards, he added. “You see the smiles, not just on the kids’ faces but on the adults’ faces. It’s a good Chanukah event.”