‘They’re very cute — none of them know how to cook’

‘They’re very cute — none of them know how to cook’

Local clergy — and sous chefs, who do know how — join a cook-off to encourage healthy eating

Franci Steinberg, left, Shelly Wimpfheimer, and Rabbi Jordan Millstein
Franci Steinberg, left, Shelly Wimpfheimer, and Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Rabbi Jordan Millstein may be cooking-impaired, but that won’t stop him from competing in a clerical celebrity cook-off to promote healthy eating.

The spiritual leader of Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly will join two Christian ministers in a cuisine contest on August 25 presented by the Community Chest of Eastern Bergen County and Alstede Farms in Chester, in Morris County.

The cook-off at St. Paul’s Church in Englewood promotes the Partnership for Healthy Eating. The collaborative effort of several organizations brings farm-fresh meals to people in need and provides nutritional education in the community.

“It’s really wonderful to publicize the program they’ve created to bring fresh produce to people who otherwise can’t afford it or don’t have access to it,” Rabbi Millstein said.

The Rev. Preston Thompson of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Englewood and the Rev. William Allport of St. Paul’s also will compete in the hour-long contest to create one delicious main course.

“What I like about this is that it’s an interfaith effort,” Shelly Wimpfheimer, the Community Chest’s executive director — and also, and not coincidentally a Temple Sinai member — said. “It’s not a health problem for any one group. This is for everybody.” (She recruited Rabbi Millstein.)

The clergy members “were very enthused and happy to be working on it together,” Ms. Wimpfheimer said. “They’re very cute about the whole thing because none of them know how to cook.”

The cook-off allows each clergy member to bring two sous chefs to the cook-off at St. Paul’s.

Franci Steinberg, a board member at Temple Sinai and the new president of the Community Chest, will be at Rabbi Millstein’s side, kitchen knives at the ready.

“I’m thrilled about doing this to bring more awareness that people need to eat healthy because of diabetes, obesity and heart problems,” Ms. Steinberg said; she ran a catering business when she was a teenager. Her husband is trying to convince her to open a bakery.

“When the rabbi called and asked if I would be part of his team, I thought we work well together and this would be a lot of fun,” Ms. Steinberg said. Rabbi Millstein has yet to find a second team member.

Judges include restaurant owners and chefs, among them Alexander Gorant of Axia Taverna in Tenafly and baker Ayla Uram, a student at Tenafly High School.

The vegetables will be delivered the day before the competition, to allow the cooks some time to plan.

“Each one will be given the same four or five types of vegetables and they will be allowed to add anything to turn it into a main course,” Ms. Wimpfheimer said.

“We’re just inviting a lot of community people and we’re saying, ‘Come and see this, support your clergy.’ It’s just a fun evening.”

The cook-off is an “opportunity to learn more about our community-supported agricultural food collaborative called Neighbors Helping Neighbors Eat Healthy,” she continued. “Guests can savor the season’s harvest with a variety of farm-fresh produce. They will also receive tips, recipes, and techniques to use to make healthy eating a part of your everyday routine.”

They also can have the opportunity to buy into the collaborative, where they can get fresh fruits and vegetables every week for nine weeks during harvest season.”

The farm-fresh eating project grew out of a study of emergency room patients who have health problems related to poor diet and obesity, Ms. Wimpfheimer said.

The Partnership for Healthy Eating hosts dinners at churches once a month. The churches identify congregants with health issues and invite them to come. “It was free to them and they would have a really delicious dinner,” Ms. Wimpfheimer said.  “And then the chef and a nutritionist would give an educational talk for 20 minutes on how the food was bought and prepared.” The program went to curbside pickup online and Zoom during covid.

“It’s the focus of our project to introduce people to healthier ways of eating,” Ms. Wimpfheimer said.

Rabbi Millstein said Jewish tradition “calls on us to participate in the wider community. It goes along with tikkun olam, repairing the world. Feeding the hungry is an important mitzvah for us to fulfill and it’s great to have this opportunity to help our synagogue make a difference in the community and be part of these efforts.”

The cook-off takes place 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 25 at St. Paul’s Church, 113 Engle Street, Englewood. It is free and open to the public.  RSVP by Aug. 22 to shelly@communitychestofenglewood.org.

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